Sunday, 8 October 2017

slow gardening

We worked through the rain, the three of us, asters above us glowing purple-blue from the water-washed prairie beds. The beds are at their bedraggled best now with hazes of golden grasses, the architectural stems of seeding Turkish sage and patches of sedum spectabile now claret-coloured in the autumn light.

The meadow around the pond is in its second, glorious year. During the spring it shone cerise and white with the flowers of red campion and oxeye daisy. During the summer, gatekeeper, small skipper and meadow brown butterflies feasted on ragwort and red clover nectar and five species of dragonfly hunted. The seed heads of wild carrot have now curled and browned and it is time to do some meadow management. We need a range of grass heights and must remove some of the vegetation each year to encourage floral diversity.
There is a school of thought that would see us shaving off all vegetation rather in the manner of an old hay meadow. This won’t do as small mammals, amphibians and invertebrates would be denied cover and a safe place over winter. There are a number of moths and butterflies that over-winter in grassland. Cutting the meadow removes the habitat for these hard-pressed creatures. Harvest mice are said to thrive best in a three-year old sward. The two juvenile kestrels (a sister and brother?) that patrol the garden and peer down at the meadow from their perching place need no help from us. A less draconian regime is needed. Something more gentle, more subtle.

Mike and I scythed five metre wide bands of the meadow down to a height of around 40-60mm and left connecting sections so that the inhabitants of the meadow can move between uncut sections safely. A bridgehead of cut grass was laid across the path from the meadow to give access to the pond. Jill barrowed the rest of the arisings away and left piles that will decay over winter and spring, providing potential shelter for hedgehogs, wrens and slow worms among others. 

I am glad that we scythed. Scything is a management tool that works with nature rather than blasting through it as mechanised methods can do. Scything enabled us to avoid frogs, to move aside caterpillars and moths and to discover and avoid what looked like a field vole ‘lawn’ in front of an entrance hole in the thick grass. Slow gardening.
Bramley apples

The busy kestrels may be the reason why we are seeing so few small birds on our feeders. Kestrels will take small birds and our little birds may be mindful of this when selecting their cafe of choice. We haven’t set the ringing nets in the garden for some time. Long overdue.

Mike didn’t seem so slow the following day. I had had a minor knee operation a couple of weeks ago and was milking it for all it was worth. As you’d expect we have a development plan for autumn 2017 to spring 2018. With Mike and his brush cutter scythe blade, development work for the next phase began promptly. The Head Gardener wanted another connecting path within the massed banks of bramble and rosebay willow herb that have flourished beneath the conifers. Mike set off with his scythe, through head-high jungle and single-handedly created our new wide path. I’m delighted to say that the path was christened overnight by an appreciative fox who left a nice pile of faeces as its calling card. 

There has been a silent congregation of miniature be-wigged judges on the lawn: a ‘bench’ of over a hundred shaggy inkcap toadstools. The fungus has lived in the soil beneath the lawn throughout the year, its mycelia interacting with the roots of the lawn plants improving the plants’ access to nutrients. In September and October the characteristic fruiting heads of the fungus appear above ground, giving us the shaggy lawn toadstools. Out of respect I delayed mowing until their moot ended with each withered to ink and I regretted it. There is little pleasure in mowing in October. To reduce the vigour of broad-leaved plants in the lawn, I raise the mower blades so that the grass is healthy and able to out-compete broad leaved weeds. But I had let the grass grow too long and it was too thick and clogged the mower. Observers from space would have seen the driver of a red ride-on mower gesturing angrily to the God of lawns, remonstrating at unsightly piles of disgorged grass cuttings that were following him on his journey to and fro.

We hear the distinctive bass ‘cronk’ of ravens frequently. 
Presumably they’re confused by the large black cuboid members of their family that have set up their territory with us. Our outbuildings were painted a corporate ecosote raven black during the summer when our WWOOF visitors joined us. Ravens have had success in expanding their populations from the west: they were once birds we only heard in the distant uplands during walks. Two of these huge black birds landed in the conifers by George’s Pond during the week.

Mike, cutting his way through the bramble jungle
During my convalescence, the Head Gardener set about de-weeding the Vegetable Garden. It now looks a picture. Field beans have been sown where potatoes thrived as this will be the legume bed for the 2018 growing season. Our use of copious quantities of manure and compost has enriched the soil powerfully - charging it with nutrients and weed seeds that we then battle to remove. I have another cubic metre of grass cuttings to incorporate into compost or use thinly as a mulch next week.
Another auction bargain

And now the apple season is with us. We’ve collected boxes and baskets of apples. I'd bid successfully on a lot of wicker baskets at the local auction. The Head Gardener is an auction sceptic borne from bitter experience. The broken and lop-sided chair I bought that gave me the appearance of Sir Steven Hawking is remembered at this time. But the baskets came in useful immediately. and were loaded with apples.


The windfalls will be peeled and frozen and the sound apples taken from the trees wrapped in magazine paper and stored in the polytunnel. We now have a slow juicer so that we can enjoy fresh apple juice. Utterly decadent!!

My 2019 plan is already shaping - I need a root cellar as used in the United States - to store root crops and apples. 

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