Sunday, 29 April 2018

Forest Gardens, Wildlife and Water Harvesting - Week 4 of the Polyculture Project

With the new perennial garden plantings in, raised beds prepped and seeds sown for the market garden, this week was mainly maintenance (watering, weeding) and time to start work on an unfinished project. 

Check here for Week 1Week 2  and Week 3 updates

Water Harvesting Reservoir 

We're looking to supply the irrigation needs for the garden at the volunteer house with just rain water by storing the water collected from the roof in a reservoir. This will be the first pond/reservoir that we've made with a rectangular shape (approx 2.5 m deep 2 m wide and 6 m long). The rectangular shape and depth of this reservoir will reduce evaporation but it's unsuitable for attracting the diversity of aquatic plant life and insects that we usually have in our ponds. We do plan to introduce some habitat in the way of floating islands and land/water interfaces for frogs and other aquatic wildlife Rectangular shape reservoirs often become breeding grounds for mosquitos and the habitat should provide control for the mosquitos and offer some pest control and support in the gardens.   

Last summer we excavated the hole for the reservoir. The pond is located on the highest point in the garden. The guttering as seen on the left side of the photo, will be extended over the grape arbor and into the pond. 

Angela and Malcolm using the transit level to establish a level bank around the reservoir.

Stakes in and string tied around each stake to mark the level of the pond


Quite a bit of soil had washed into the hole over the winter so we cleaned the hole up removed sharp stones ready for applying the liner.  Here's Malcolm undertaking the vital role of selecting a playlist before the digging commences :)

We still need to level the banks of the pond but we thought we'd get the liner in before the spring rains come down. We're using a trilaminate  LDPE liner for this pond 

Last year I wrote a series of blogs on small pond installations for farms and gardens, so if you are interested you can find much more detail about the process there.

Planting in the Perennial Polyculture Trial Garden - Ataraxia 

Seeing as it has not rained for the last 3 weeks or so we checked this season's plantings and watered where necessary. We also planted the last of the plants for this spring into an overflow swale that we prepared last year on our Regenerative Landscape Design Course. 

The lovely folk from last years Regenerative Landscape Design Course creating the overflow swale.  

The swale takes the overflow from the pond. The basin (low section) was sown with nitrogen fixing ground cover and the berm (high section) was planted with various trees, shrubs, herbs and bulbs.

The above photo does not capture the diversity of planting but this 2.5 m x 10 m swale is currently inhabited by the following plants




 Green Manure of Onobrychis viciifolia - Sainfoin  and Trifolium repens - White Clover has established well since the sowing last June. 

Wildlife in the Gardens

Been seeing these bagworms around recently which despite the name are actually moths. These guys are quite the architects  building mobile homes with pieces of twigs, leaves and other plant matter.  The larvae begin to build the case as soon as they hatch.  The females will remain in the case their entire lives while the males will eventually take flight for a day or two, find a mate and then perish. 

Psychidae - Bagworm or Bagmoth - genus, species unknown 

Carpenter bee - Xylocopa sp. - Photo by 
Lyubomir Durankiev 

European green lizard (Lacerta viridis) taking cover in a hawthorn shrub in Ataraxia. We've had to remove some of the shrubs in the garden to make way for the raised beds but we pile the branches at the side of the garden to provide the cover these amazing reptiles require.   

Lacerta sp. taking cover in shrub  

Lacerta sp. taking cover in the piles of sticks from the shrubs we removed 

Here's a short video from Dylan of some wildlife in the gardens last week


Forest Garden

Despite the fact we have had next to no rainfall since April, the forest garden is looking lush and all the plants are doing great.  The forest garden is composed of several layers and when planted appropriately, a forest garden allows for a greater density of resources and can be a  largely self- fertilising, and healthy ecosystem. In the picture below I have labelled the tree and shrub layer ,although there are probably over 300 species in this photo if you include the smaller shrubs, herbs and ground layers. Profiles of some of the plants we grow in each layer in our forest gardens can be found here.
Forest Garden / Food Forest

Comfrey among the Raspberry and Blackcurrants.  As Symphytum x uplandicum - Comfrey Bocking 14 starts to flower is the ideal time for cutting to ground level and applying as mulch but it's always good to let a few plants flower for the bees and beauty.

Symphytum x uplandicum - Comfrey Bocking 14 

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Sunday, 22 April 2018

Sowing seeds, planting out and open day - Week 3 - The Polyculture Project

We've had a productive week in the gardens planting out more of the biomass beds, sowing the bulk of the market garden crops and tidying up the forest gardens for our open day at the weekend.

Garden Plants - left - Right  Tulipa sp. - Lunaria rediviva - Akebia quinata - Caragana arborescens 

Planting in Ataraxia -  Perennial polyculture Trial Garden 

This week in the garden we continued to plant out the biomass trial beds as well as the windbreak and pond embankment. For more info on our polyculture trials see our webpage here.

Biomass Plantings

C4 perennial grass Miscanthus x giganteus - Giant Miscanthus were planted into the trial bed. These plants grow well on marginal land having very low nutritional requirements and growing very fast. These attributes may make this plant an excellent "grow your own" mulch option. We'll see.....

Young  Miscanthus x giganteus - Giant Miscanthus  plant grown from a rhizome

We are also growing Morus alba cultivars that have been bred for the silk worm industry where fast growth and large leaves are the desirable attributes.  The leaves are reported to be 22 cm x 17 cm and under rain fed conditions with planting distance 3 m x 1 m,  16,000 kg/ha of biomass has been recorded.

Morus alba - 'Kokuso 27' 

Victoria planting out Alnus cordata  - Italian Alder into the biomass beds. Like other members of Alnus genus, the plants associate with a group of nitrogen fixing bacteria called Frankia that are able to fix nitrogen from the air.

You can see the colonies of Frankia sp. nitrogen fixing bacteria forming on the roots of the Alnus cordata  - Italian Alder  trees.

Pond Embankment Plantings

Last year we installed an irrigation pond in the perennial polyculture trial garden. You can read more about our pond installation process in a series of posts here and below is photo taken shortly after the pond was installed.

Almost 10 months later it's great to see native cover establishing on the embankment and it will be interesting to watch the natural succession occurring around the pond.  Specifically, I'm interested in what will survive the coming dry months of high summer.  There are some bare patches on the embankment so we thought we'd try some lavender plants to fill these spots.

The ground being compact and stony Malcolm used an iron pole to make holes and we planted the lavender into the holes with some potting mix (50% compost 50% sand).

Sowing for the Market Garden

This week we sowed beans, squash and sunflowers. We try many cultivars looking to discover those that are well suited to our gardens providing reliable yields and little disease/pest problems. These are some of best performing bean cultivars saved from last year. Thanks Alex for the photo.

 Photo by Alex Camilleri - Facebook and Instagram

For the seedling mix we use 50% sieved mature compost and 50% River Sand (granular sand)

Malcolm and Alex mix up the compost and sand and add water.  

The moist medium is then shoveled into the flats and patted down. The flats have 28 cells of 70 x 70 x 80 mm per cell. Approximately 6 L of medium is needed to fill each tray. 

The flats are great for sowing larger seeds that typically can be grown on to approx 10 -15 cm tall before planting out into permanent positions.

Labeling the seeds well at the sowing and planting stage is essential if you want to remember what cultivar is what. The squash and bean species/cultivars that we sowed into the flats are as follows:

The Forest Garden

We spent the end of the week tidying up the forest garden before the open day. The job entails weeding around the plants, topping up the mulch and mowing pathways around the garden. 

The annual task of topping up the mulch around the young fruit trees and removing the encroaching weeds.  

This 4m long section of a perennial polyculture bed includes Ribes rubrum cv. - Red currant  and  Ribes nigrum cv.- Blackcurrant  inter planted with  Allium cepa proliferum - Tree Onion and is flanked by a Cornus kousa - Korean Dogwood on either side. The Cornus kousa trees are still very young.

Sophie and Victoria clearing the weeds from a one of the swale plantings

Around the Garden 

Mid to late spring in the valley is probably my favourite time of year.  The landscape, a living slideshow, changes every 4 or 5 days with a new array of flowers as the surrounding greenery becomes more and more intense. 

 A climber climbing a climber,  Akebia quinata - Chocolate Vine grows up an 80 year old Vitis vinifera cv. - Grape in the home garden.

Akebia quinata - Chocolate Vine this time climbing a nitrogen fixing shrub Caragana arborescens - Siberian Pea Tree.  

More Akebia quinata - Chocolate Vine. I planted a 2 year old plant 3 years ago next to one of our rainwater catchment IBC's. The idea was to conceal the tank which hopefully it should achieve by the end of this year    

In the under story of a magnificent Cherry tree in the back garden, the ground layer planted out 3 years ago has established well. The main cover is Rubus caesius - Dewberry an excellent ground cover for deep to partial shade producing tasty purple fruits in mid - late summer. This has achieved almost 100% cover but does allow a range of bulbous plants such as Tulipa sp. and Narcissus poeticus  - Poet's Narcissus  to emerge in early to mid spring as seen in the photo below .

Late flowering Tulips in the ground layer under a cherry tree.

Open Day 

Thank you to everyone that visited us for the open day at the weekend.  It was a pleasure to meet you and to send our plants out to new happy homes all over the country.  Thanks Angela for the photo.

The visitors at the market garden - Photo by Angela Rice 

Our next open day will be in late Autumn, dates will be on the website soon.

If you are interested in what we are doing at the project and would like to learn more about regenerative landscape design, permaculture and ecological gardening we have a seven day course coming up in June. For more info click on the poster below.

 If you appreciate the work we are doing you can show your support in several ways.