March 3, 2012

First Plantings

After two years of sitting in pots, being shunted from one temporary home to the next, our two apple trees finally find their permanent home.

Two years ago we grafted an “Ashmead’s Kernal” and a “Kids Orange Red” (both old Gloucestershire apple varieties) onto rootstocks at Days Cottage in Gloucestershire, where we had both worked the apple season on many occasion. Both trees have survived the ordeal well.

It was an incredible feeling to lay them in the earth for good, for a future that we have committed to and that they have waited so long for.

First we examined the front pasture. Many young trees have been planted along the roadside and slightly up the drive way. The natural curve that they make protects the pasture from the nearness of the road and shapes the farm entrance in a welcoming embrace.

Our first tree - with a vigorous rootstock for full growth - we place on the crest of the slope in the middle of the pasture with the view to add more trees in its vicinity. Sheep and chickens will take it in turns to graze and forage around the trees - the sheep keeping the grass low to enable the trees to breathe and the chickens controlling the bugs and pest population. They will be the first to welcome visitors to the farm.

Our second tree, whose rootstock is slightly more dwarfing, we place in the upper garden near a cluster of older fruits trees and close to where we plan to grow our vegetables. Here the land is flat, protected on three sides by trees, yet open enough to gain full light from the south.

Once the trees are snugly packed into the earth we place the clods (that we had removed to make the holes) face down onto the bare earth around the tree to stop the grass from taking root once again and to encourage it to rot back down into the earth feeding the tree. Then we mulch around both trees, covering all the bare earth with woodchips and grass cuttings. This will stop strong weeds from taking root and extracting nutrients from the earth that the young tree will need to thrive.

This is the first day of the planting season and it feels so good to begin with trees.

The next urgent task is to develop a wormery. We need a location close to the house so that emptying the compost bin does not require a huge trek.

To the right of the north entrance is an old cesspit. The retaining walls are beginning to crumble and the cover on one side is unstable. The surface area is the perfect size and location for a wormery, and without blocking access to the pit, it is relatively easy to construct. We clear the concrete area, shift and lay rocks to form the front edge and find an old gate to provide the side barrier. We will begin by placing a layer of twigs and small branches on the concrete base (there are plenty lying in heaps from previous prunings) to create an aeration layer, followed by a layer of good fertile earth for the worms to make a home. As compost begins to pile up, the worms will work upwards. It will be important to include more woodchips and twigs higher up to avoid it compacting.

The cesspit itself is also an urgent matter of concern. For now, we stabilise the supporting edge for the cover and make it safe. The question is how we will proceed with establishing the right system for our waste when we move in.

The initial connection to the main sewerage system has been installed, which would mean relatively little expense to complete the connection and enable the conventional flushing down of waste into a sewerage processing plant. Some plants have been developed to process waste without negatively impacting upon the environment. Yet we would like to find a system that can utilise our waste to positive effect. The classic alternative is a reed bed system where the reeds do most of the purifying work, and you are ultimately left with clean water. Could it be possible to convert an existing cesspit to directly feed into a reed bed system?

It has become clear to us that every step of designing our farm must enable multifunctionality, low energy input and the re-using of existing materials wherever possible.

Weekly column 'A Taste of Earth' published @

No comments:

Post a Comment