Friday 10 June 2022

A Welsh Project, Pathways and Pollination Support

It's Sophie here writing from Wales again and here to share an excellent local food growing project, I've been helping out with, Einion's Garden.

Welcome to part 1 of a part mini-series I plan to write about the interesting gardens and projects that I visit in West Wales. It's always a joy to roam around the Dyfi Valley and I'd always wanted to visit Einion's Garden, run by John and Ann, as my good friend Susannah volunteers there every Friday and I'd heard a lot of good things about it. I'd also seen a video presentation by Ann before on what plants tend to do well in the local area. It was wonderful to get the chance to volunteer and visit in person, just as the growing season was getting underway. 

The garden is located on the main road between the town of Machynlleth and the city of Aberystwyth, in a village called Furnace, easily accessible yet with a very rural feel, surrounded by rolling hills. Two polytunnels packed full of different species of annual and perennial crops greet you as you enter the plot.

Susannah preparing a bed outside the polytunnels

Inside one of the two polytunnels. A fig tree not yet in leaf sits in the center bed

The relatively mild winters experienced in this region mean that there are usually always fresh greens available to eat then, although likely not enough to send to market. Einion's garden offers their products in a local veg box scheme which other growers also contribute to, local food co-operatives, and in some local shops. They also mentioned that they are part of an emerging food system that is a possible model for a lower carbon future, but more on this coming up in the second post as I hope to uncover more details when John and Ann are a little less busy with garden work :)

Scrumptious green goodies :)

The productive beds are mainly next to and behind the polytunnels, laid out in a rectangular formation with pathways, not dissimilar to how we have laid our own beds out in our Market Garden, Aponia. Our raised beds are each 23m x 1.2m and approximately 30cm high with 50 cm paths between the beds. These dimensions enable easy access to the soil and plants without ever having to tread on the beds.

The raised beds in Aponia

It's extremely beneficial to keep the access restricted to the same area to avoid compaction. In fact, one of the simplest and most effective things you can do to create healthy soil and plants is to avoid compaction. Compaction reduces the spaces between the soil particles. These spaces store vital gases when the soil is dry, and water when the soil is soaked, and are the primary habitat for the soil microbes that protect and feed the plants and that build long-term water and fertility storage in the soils. So permanent fixed access should be a design priority.

Surrounding the beds in Aponia is a diversity of perennial plants including herbs, shrubs, and trees with some small ponds and various microhabitats such as rock piles, old tree stumps and stick piles, something I observed also in Einion's garden.

Early season in Aponia, our market garden. The productive annual beds are surrounded by lots of different habitat types and the boundary is a hedge of native trees and shrubs, including many Prunus insititia - Damson trees

Einion's Garden is also flanked by native trees and shrubs

I really appreciated that the width sides of the beds were growing a selection of flowering plants, attracting a lot of pollinators to the garden. Pollinators are a diverse group of animals that pollinate crops and wild plants. The pollination support offered by these organisms is huge and it makes sense to do as much as we can to both attract them and encourage them to take up residence in our landscapes. Many of our pollinators also play a role in protecting our productive plants from pests.

Diversity of flowering plants on the edges of the productive beds at John and Ann's

Just to clarify the difference between a polleniser and a pollinator. A polleniser (sometimes pollenizer, pollinizer or polliniser) is the plant that provides pollen and a pollinator is the biotic agent that moves the pollen. The word pollinator is often mistakenly used instead of polleniser.

It's a good idea to factor pollination support into our designs, and one idea that could work for a rectangular bed formation is to design a combination of flowering plants in a strip and repeat this throughout the bed every 4m or so. If plants with different flowering times are selected hopefully the pollination support they provide can be maximized as the polyculture can be designed to feature plants whose bloom times overlap to always have flowers available to pollinators.

We have also experimented with leaving a section of our annual productive beds to go fallow. The benefits of leaving land fallow to improve the fertility of the soil have been well known by growers ever since humans started growing and a wide range of beneficial organisms love these plants. 

The power of ecological succession is quite remarkable!

Here's a more detailed look at a few of the plants I found growing in the strip at the edge of the productive beds at Einion's Garden.

Borago officinalis - Borage

Image from Tamar Organics

Overview: Borage grows up to 0.6m and is hardy to USDA zones 6-9. An easily grown plant that can tolerate poor soils and really flourish and grow large in rich ones. Although an annual, it usually is a reliable self-seeder and is a good companion plant for many annual vegetables including tomatoes and courgettes. It's in bloom from May-August and the flowers are reportedly edible although we haven't tried them and there are some contraindications for those with pre-existing liver conditions. The flowers are attractive to many beneficial organisms including bumblebees, wasps, and hoverflies, making it a great choice for pollination support.

Bellis spp. - Daisy

Overview: Daisy grows up to 0.2m and is hardy to USDA zones 4 -8.  Frequently found in lawns and meadows, it's an easily grown perennial that prefers a sunny outlook and good drainage. A good ground cover plant. It blooms from early spring until late autumn from May-August and the flowers may be eaten and are often added to salads. Butterflies, bees, and other types of flies enjoy visiting the blooms.

Allium schoenoprasum - Chives 

Overview: Chives are a bulbous perennial plant growing up to 0.3m and hardy to USDA zones 3-9. They like to grow in rocky pastures and damp meadows, generally preferring calcareous soils. They grow well with most plants, especially roses, carrots, beet, and chamomile, but may inhibit the growth of legumes. Beautiful purple flowers are much loved by pollinating insects such as bees and wasps and like other Alliums, the plant is said to have pest-resistant properties.

If you are interested in looking into pollination support in greater detail you might like to check out The Early Polleniser Polyculture which aims to provide pollination support for farms and gardens, nutritious fruits and nuts, valuable nesting sites for endangered native bees, and spectacular flower displays to shake off the winter blues :)

Huge thanks to John and Ann for the visit and for creating such an inspiring edible landscape! We're looking forward to visiting further on in the growing season and learning more about the plans in progress for the future. During the next post we'll be revisiting the beautiful garden of Claire and Ems and finding out what they're up to in the garden.

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