Saturday, 27 November 2021

Elaeagnus - Week 25 - ESC Project - The Polyculture Project





This week the ESC volunteers have been busy completing a Permaculture Design Course organised by Green School Village, as part of  their planned project activities. We're looking forward to seeing their designs at the end of next week and what they come up with. We'll feature some of them in next week's post, along with the wrap up of the ESC project.

This post is going to focus on one of our favourite plant genera, Elaeagnus. When we think about Nitrogen-fixing plants, many of us might think of Elaeagnus which contains around 60 species of evergreen and deciduous shrubs.  We're going to look at three of our favourite plants and at what might help us to decide which one to choose for any given design. For a closer look at how Nitrogen Fixation works see our previous post here.


Elaeagnus angustfolia - Oleaster, Russian Olive



Overview: A deciduous large shrub or small tree growing to approximately 7m high and 7m wide, it is the largest of the three Elaeagnus species featured in this post. Hardy to zone 2 it can tolerate part shade, salt and air pollution. It is drought tolerant with thorny branches although there are many named varieties some of which are thornless. Leaves are willow-like in appearance. Sweet-smelling flowers appear in June with yellowish-silvery fruits ripening in October. The plants begin to flower and fruit from three years old and are really tolerant of pruning. Fruits hang on the plant for much of the winter providing a valuable source of winter food for birds. The fruit is readily eaten and disseminated by many species of birds. This species is considered invasive in the United States.




Uses: Thorny habit makes this plant a great choice for hedges and tolerance to maritime exposure means it's a good plant to consider in coastal regions. The flowers are attractive to bees and other beneficial organisms so may be used as a companion plant. We have used this plant as an understory shrub on a south-facing edge in our forest garden and to take advantage of its drought tolerance, in a dry bed on the outside of the property.  In our experience, it is the most drought tolerant of the three species. Classified by USDA as being a high nitrogen fixer.


 Elaeagnus x ebbingei - Ebbinge's silverberry 


 

E. x ebbinge in autumn. In severe winters there may be a degree of leaf loss

Overview: A medium evergreen shrub that is a hybrid species typically growing to 5m high and 5m wide but  Hardy to USDA  zone 5. Can tolerate deeper shade than the other two species featured in our experience. It is drought tolerant with smooth branches and stems that are a reddish brown in colour. Leaves are dark green, often with a silvery appearance.  Flowers are scented and appear in the autumn with ripening fruit ready the following spring. Fruit production can be variable with this plant, possibly due to the fact it flowers at a time when there aren't as many pollinators about, but more likely due to the fact that we regularly trim the ornamental bushes in our home garden. As Elaeagnus x ebbingei flowers and fruits most freely on the current year's growth, if the plants are trimmed in the growing season, fruiting potential will be lost. 

The fruit of Elaeagnus x ebbinge


Uses: The tender and soft shoots make excellent biomass and are trimmed and applied as mulch under the productive plants in the forest garden. The dense form means you can harvest a good quantity from pruning. Flowers in the autumn provide late nectar/pollen to pollinators. Fruits are attractive red berries produced in the spring and are very pleasant when fully ripe. High ornamental value, and evergreen, which is useful when creating a privacy screen. Can be used in hedging for this purpose. The dense, shrub-like form provides nesting habitat for birds. Makes an excellent stand-alone ornamental.


Elaeagnus umbellata - Autumn Olive

 



Overview: A large deciduous shrub growing 4.5m high and 4.5m wide, hardy to zone 3. It
tolerates part shade and is very drought tolerant. Branches are often thorny while leaves are bright green, silvery beneath. Yellowish white, fragrant flowers, are produced in May-June attracting many beneficial organisms.  Round, silvery brown (ripening red) fruits appear in Sep-Oct, and it's often a battle between us and the birds as to who gets them first. Although quite fiddly to eat, they are delicious when fully ripe and are sometimes cultivated exclusively for their edible fruit. There are many named cultivars. Plants can fruit in 6 yrs from seed. Like Elaeagnus angustifolia, this species is considered weedy in the U.S. The species is classified by USDA as being a MEDIUM  nitrogen fixer

Uses:  The plant is used as a nurse tree, when planted with fruit trees it is reported to increase the overall yield of the orchard by 10%. It's a great hedging plant and is also fairly wind tolerant. A candidate for coastal regions as can tolerate maritime exposure. The fruit of E. umbellata is probably my favourite of all three plants and seems to reliably fruit prolifically. As the birds adore the berries, there is a significant increase in numbers to the garden when the berries are ripe.

Reliable yields from E. umbellata


Nitrogen Fixing Hedges

A Nitrogen fixing hedge supplies a significant biological source of Nitrogen and biomass, habitat for wildlife including a number of beneficial species, and makes an excellent living boundary/fence on the perimeter of a site or as a subdivision within a site.

The hedge below is composed of three or more different species of Nitrogen-fixing shrubs, and it's possible to use any of the above Elaeagnus plants, depending on the specifics of your site and preference.

Below is a design illustration of a mature Nitrogen fixing hedge composed of Caragana arborescens, Elaeagnus umbellata and Cytisus scoparius.  


If you would like to learn how to design, build and manage regenerative landscapes we'll be running our third Regenerative Landscape Design - Online Interactive Course that starts on May 4th, 2022. 

We're super excited about running the course and look forward to providing you with the confidence, inspiration, and opportunity to design, build and manage regenerative landscapes, gardens, and farms that produce food and other resources for humans while enhancing biodiversity.

You can find out all about the course here and right now we have a 20% discount on the full enrollment fees. Just use the promo code SUB2022 in the section of the registration form to receive your discount.

Regenerative Landscape Design Online Course
 

We are looking forward to providing you with this unique online learning experience - as far as we know the very first of its kind, and if you are thinking of reasons why you should do this course and whether this course is suitable for you, take a look here where we lay it all out. Looking forward to it!


We offer a diversity of plants and seeds for permaculture, forest gardens and regenerative landscapes including a range of fruit and nut cultivars. We Deliver all over Europe from Nov - March. - Give a happy plant a happy home :)

Our Bio-Nursery - Permaculture/Polyculture/ Regenerative Landscape Plants 

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Monday, 15 November 2021

Autumn Leaves - Week 24 - ESC Project - The Polyculture Project

This week has been all about leaves. Autumn leaves provide a valuable source of organic matter that can be used in our landscapes in many ways.  The ESC volunteers have been helping the Mayor to clear the leaves from the streets and taking some of them back to the crew house garden where they are being used to build the soil. We're going to look at three different ways to use leaves in the garden to help create healthier soils. But first, let's look briefly at the science behind the colours of autumn. 

Leaves get their green colour from their photosynthetic cells, chloroplasts, that contain light-absorbing pigments. These pigments respond to different wavelengths of light. You are probably familiar with the main pigment used to help plants photosynthesize -  Chlorophyll - but Chlorophyll is also assisted by the pigments Carotene and Xanthophyll. Carotene is responsible for the orange colour of the carrot while  'Xantho' is Greek for yellow. These two pigments are always present in leaves, unlike Chlorophyll which stops being produced in a response to the shortening days. It's commonly thought that leaves get their green colour in the growing season due to Chlorophyll reflecting green light, but regardless of where the actual reflective action goes on, it is clear that with Chlorophyll not being produced, the orange and yellow pigments of the Carotine and Xanthophyll become visible. The red hues that we see come from pigments called anthocyanins, which actually not all trees produce. There are many theories as to the role of  anthocyanins, the most widely accepted being that they protect the leaves from excess sunlight and help the trees to recover any last remaining nutrients before shutting down. In addition to the processes described above, trees also form a separation layer of cells at the bottom of each leaf to seal it from the tree. Once the layer is complete the leaf falls. This entire process is known as senescence and can be seen as a coded or programmed shut down before the death of the actual cell.


It's not essential for a grower to understand plant physiology and the scientific basis of how everything is working but it does also seem an inevitability. The book that we recommend delivered this knowledge in a way that only someone who has dedicated their life to trying to understand the complexity of plants and plant care can  - the brilliant Botany for Gardeners by Brian Capon.




We're now going to look at 3 ways in which you can use leaves to create healthier soils. In each of the examples it is advisable to gather the leaves soon after they fall. This is in part because leaves contain Lignin, an important component of a plant cell wall which among other things enhances rigidity. This function can slow down decomposition and as the leaf falls from the tree or shrub, it often further dehydrates and toughens, reducing its ability to transmit nutrients into the soil as readily. If you gather the leaves and store them together, keeping them reasonably moist they will become hydrated and break down more quickly.


1. Leaf Mold


Autumn leaves are generally considered as a carbon rich material but most will still contain some nitrogen. It can take a year or sometimes more for leaf mold to have fully decomposed but it will then become a valuable addition to your soil.  It has excellent drainage and water holding capabilities and may be dug into the soil, applied as mulch in its semi-decomposed state and may also be used to create a potting mix. We have never tried this as we generally use sieved compost and river sand at a ratio of 1:1, but see no reason as to why leaf mold would not make an excellent alternative if your compost supply is thin on the ground. Simply gather the leaves using a rake and pile them into a designated compost station, preferably one with with open sides and top, allowing the air into the leaf pile. If it's dry you can add some water.

Leaves piled up and not mixed with other organic matter for leaf mold


2. Compost


If you have access to a lawn mower that can collect the trimmings, it's an excellent idea to mow over any autumn leaves on a lawn as this shreds the leaves which helps them to decompose more quickly and also adds a proportion of nitrogen to the carbon rich leaves. A word (or perhaps a few hundred) here on carbon to nitrogen ratios: although many elements are required for microbial decomposition, carbon and nitrogen are the most important and are the basics on which we build our compost heaps. The ideal carbon to nitrogen ration is generally accepted to be around 30:1 by weight. This encourages the best performance of the composting microbes that require carbon for energy and nitrogen for protein production. It's easy to become somewhat fixated on this ratio, but we have found over the years of building compost piles that keeping it simple and piling lots of carbon rich and some nitrogen rich organic materials in alternate layers works very well, especially if the dry materials are soaked, and the pile is kept light and fluffy during the build for good air circulation. 




In the above compost pile we mainly used grass clippings, straw and cow manure, but the more diverse your supply of organic matter a more diverse range of microbes should populate your pile resulting in a higher quality compost. If you are adding autumn leaves to your compost pile you may simply treat them as a layer of carbon rich materials, although it should be considered all of the materials we compost have both elements within them, just to a higher or lesser degree or ratio.


Ratio of Carbon to Nitrogen (C:N) in Common Compostable Materials
MaterialRatio of Carbon to Nitrogen (C:N)MaterialRatio of Carbon to Nitrogen (C:N)
Activated Sludge6:1Mustard26:1
Alfalfa16-20:1Newspaper812:1
Blood3:1Oat straw48:1
Bone meal3.5:1Onion15:1
Buttercup23:1Peanut hull meal11:1
Cabbage12:1Pepper15:1
Carrot, whole27:1Pigweed (Amaranthus sp.)11:1
Clover, red27:1Potato tops25:1
Cocksfoot19:1Purslane8:1
Cottonseed meal5:1Ragwort21:1
Fern43:1Sawdust, raw511:1
Fish scrap5.1:1Sawdust, rotted208:1
Garbage, green18:1Seaweed19:1
Garbage, raw25:1Sewage, fresh11:1
Lawn clippings, young12:1Slaughterhouse wastes2:1
Leaves (autumn)35 - 90:1Soybean meal5:1
Manure, farmyard (avg.)14:1Timothy grass58:1
Manure, chicken7:1Tobacco13:1
Manure, cow18:1Tomato12:1
Manure, horse25:1Turnip tops19:1
Manure, human6-10:1Turnip, whole44:1
Manure, pig6-1Urine8:1
Manure, poultry15:1Vegetables, non-legume11-19:1
Manure, sheep13-20:1Wheat straw128:1
Manure, steer25.3:1Wood. white fir767:1
Adapted from Robert Kourik - Designing and Maintaining Your Edible Landscape Naturally - 1988


3. Mulch

Autumn leaves may be applied to all areas of the garden - directly onto productive beds or under trees or shrubs. It's fine to pile them up to around 50cm in height as the leaves will lose height with the rains and as the seasons progress. If you want to avoid the leaves being blown out of position in strong winds, you can soak them after laying them in position. Leaf mulch has insulating properties which can be very useful when applied to an Asparagus bed, for example, or an area where autumn planted crops such as garlic is growing, as it will create a micro-climate and reduce the chance of the soil freezing.

Pyrus spp. - Pear leaf mulch on a bed of Garlic planted in October

 Although leaf mulch can increase the acidity of soil, it shouldn't be a problem adding it to productive beds, especially if, like us, you add wood ash during the winter and other organic matter during the spring. Pine needles also have the potential to lower the soil pH, but in small quantities shouldn't cause major issues. If you have a larger amount you can always collect them separately and reserve for acid-loving plants such as Blueberries.



We always leave a certain amount of leaves where they have fallen to feed the trees and also sprinkle some on the more formal grassed areas, supplying nutrients to the lawn. It's also good to remember the old tried and tested ways - gather leaves into a huge pile and jump or fall into them, as demonstrated here by ESC volunteers Fanny and Markus :) To read the ESC crew's personal blog see here.









If you would like to learn how to design, build and manage regenerative landscapes we'll be running our third Regenerative Landscape Design - Online Interactive Course that starts on May 4th, 2022. 

We're super excited about running the course and look forward to providing you with the confidence, inspiration, and opportunity to design, build and manage regenerative landscapes, gardens, and farms that produce food and other resources for humans while enhancing biodiversity.

Regenerative Landscape Design Online Course

You can find out all about the course here and right now we have a 20% discount on the full enrollment fees. Just use the promo code SUB2022 in the section of the registration form to receive your discount. 

We are looking forward to providing you with this unique online learning experience - as far as we know the very first of its kind, and if you are thinking of reasons why you should do this course and whether this course is suitable for you, take a look here where we lay it all out. Looking forward to it!


We offer a diversity of plants and seeds for permaculture, forest gardens and regenerative landscapes including a range of fruit and nut cultivars. We Deliver all over Europe from Nov - March. - Give a happy plant a happy home :)

Our Bio-Nursery - Permaculture/Polyculture/ Regenerative Landscape Plants 

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Support Our Project 




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

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References


Friday, 12 November 2021

Planting out the Butterfly Polyculture - Week 23 - ESC Project - The Polyculture Project


In an earlier post I introduced the 'Butterfly Paradise' polyculture, a perennial infrastructure polyculture with the primary function to attract butterflies. The plants we selected were; Buddleia davidii - Butterfly bush, Phlomis russeliana - Turkish Sage, Lavandula angastafolia - Lavender, Origanum vulgare - Oregano and Echinacea purpurea - Echinacea.

Illustration by Ruxandra Brad

It can be useful to organise polycultures into categories, as this stops us from becoming overwhelmed when designing as there are such a wide range of options at our disposal when working with plants.  We categorise the 'Butterfly Paradise' polyculture as an amenity planting polyculture, as the main purpose is to make a landscape more attractive rather than to produce a crop. Many examples of these kind of planting schemes can be found in formal gardens or parks. With a little imagination, amenity planting has great potential to support biodiversity or yield some produce while at the same time maintaining its main function to look good. 

Polyculture design - Amenity planting 

We met with the local mayor to confirm the exact spot for the bed. There will be an information table mounted on the pathway in the image so that local visitors can read about what they are seeing and the plant selection.

Our polyculture is a circular design, and so to work out the bed size, we calculated that the mature growth of the plants in the polyculture would need the space of approximately 2.5m diameter. When we found our central spot, we sited a peg there with some string attached and measured out to 1.25m. Holding the string, we walked around marking out the circle and continually checked our positioning during the initial dig to make sure we were on course.

The ESC volunteers were planting out the polyculture into a grassed area in the central community park, so the ground was somewhat compacted. As we've found with compacted soils, it's worth breaking the compaction and relieving any hardpan that may be present before adding mulch. We used a broadfork for this purpose and can highly recommend the ones made by Krasimir from Gligans Handmade Broadforks. Krasimir makes these tools and they are great quality and super useful. Check out his your video of his tools in action and check their Facebook page here. 


Once the area had been forked over, the grass was flipped upside down and reapplied to the area rather than removed, to recycle the existing organic matter. The new plants were added along with a bucketful of well rotted manure. The mature growth of the plants was again taken into consideration before putting the new plant into position. Once planted, 15L of water was applied to each plant with slight earthworks made on the slope side to create a basin ensuring that the water infiltrates the specific area and reaches the plant roots, rather than running off.

Markus watering a newly planted Lavender plant. Notice the mini berm built on the slope side that helps to prevent run off. Once covered with woodchip (below) this feature isn't visible. 


The Mayor added some coloured woodchip that she had around the main plants

Thinking about this polyculture in term of layers,  the canopy layer is represented by the Buddleia which is the tallest plant in the centre. The other plants make up the shrub layer, so we decided to add two more layers-  ground layer plants from the Delosperma genus and also Allium moly - Golden Garlic for the bulb layer.

Whilst creating this bed we noticed that the ground was really wet and soggy in one place, causing us to wonder whether we had inadvertently struck a pipe while digging. Investigation led us to discover that the local tap actually had an underground pipe for drainage, which emerged just on the north easterly side of our bed. We realised that this was actually an incredible resource that would provide extra irrigation in the summer months, but Markus went a step further and created an underground gully that actually channelled the water more directly to the bed. We added some pebbles to keep it functional and then replaced the turf so it wouldn't be visible.

A delightful find!
 
As this is an amenity planting located near an area where young children play, we wanted to prevent little feet from disturbing the new plants while at the same time enhancing how the bed looked visually. We decided to create a woven decorative fence made from Hazel sticks and Bamboo canes harvested from the gardens. We're lucky enough to have a talented crafter, Ruxandra, in our midst, who led the way with this project. Markus had made wooden pegs for support and we used 12 to support the main poles. The whole team spent a fair bit of time harvesting, preparing and painting the canes.


The longest Bamboo sticks around 2m in length were selected and each one placed inside a designated peg before being woven around the following 2 or 2 pegs. As the fence built up, it was important to remember which pole was in which position and at what level, as it can be easily confused.

Ruxandra working her magic!


The finished bed, reminiscent of a mandala or perhaps a pepperoni pizza!

To read the ESC crew's personal blog see here.

If you would like to learn how to design, build and manage regenerative landscapes we'll be running our third Regenerative Landscape Design - Online Interactive Course that starts on May 4th, 2022. 

We're super excited about running the course and look forward to providing you with the confidence, inspiration, and opportunity to design, build and manage regenerative landscapes, gardens, and farms that produce food and other resources for humans while enhancing biodiversity.

Regenerative Landscape Design Online Course

You can find out all about the course here and right now we have a 20% discount on the full enrollment fees. Just use the promo code SUB2022 in the section of the registration form to receive your discount. 

We are looking forward to providing you with this unique online learning experience - as far as we know the very first of its kind, and if you are thinking of reasons why you should do this course and whether this course is suitable for you, take a look here where we lay it all out. Looking forward to it!


We offer a diversity of plants and seeds for permaculture, forest gardens and regenerative landscapes including a range of fruit and nut cultivars. We Deliver all over Europe from Nov - March. - Give a happy plant a happy home :)

Our Bio-Nursery - Permaculture/Polyculture/ Regenerative Landscape Plants 

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Support Our Project 




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

  • Comment, like, and share our content on social media.