Hooters Hall

Posts Tagged ‘forest garden’

Horticulture Update

After a flurry of new arrivals and the start of tupping things have now calmed down on the livestock front at Hooters Hall which is just as well because I really need to catch up with the horticulture jobs. We’ve had a few heavy frosts over the past week or two but the plants in the unheated polytunnel seem to be coping with the autumn temperatures. I’ve covered the most tender herbs (turmeric, vietnamese coriander, stevia, kaffir lime, curry tree and the tea plants) with some fleece and they seem to be thriving. The more hardy herbs in the polytunnel beds are also doing well and the pot marigolds are still flowering.

Here’s a picture

We’re continuing to harvest the saffron and make use of the culinary herbs.

In the outside beds I’ve covered some of the herbs with fleece and others with cloches. The herbs grown outside are noticeably smaller than those in the polytunnel so it will be interesting to see how the two compare over winter. I think the main factor inhibiting the growth of the outdoor herbs is the effect of the wind rather than soil conditions or temperature. If I’m right then over time, as our windbreak hedging and shelter belt trees grow we should be able to improve on the growth of the outdoor herbs.

The horseradish in the outdoor beds has started to die back so we’ll be harvesting the roots in the next week or two and making horseradish sauce. We should be able to leave some root in the ground so the plants will regrow next year and so we can transplant some to the forest garden.

All the bare root hedging and trees that we planted last winter have established well and we’re planning on planting some more willow this autumn and winter to extend the wooded area in the large paddock. As well as providing more shelter from the ever present wind we will hope to coppice this willow to use as firewood. We’ve chosen willow because it grows well in our soil, grows quickly and is an acceptable tree for coppicing for fuel.

Next weekend I’ll be planting garlic in the polytunnel. We’ve chosen a soft neck selection from the garlic farm ( http://www.thegarlicfarm.co.uk/Softneck-Pack-A1C7CF5FD5.aspx). The other additions to the polytunnel will be two grape vines, suitable for eating and wine making, which we plan to train along the supports in the polytunnel. They won’t fruit for a couple of years yet but hopefully we’ll have a Hooters Hall vintage in the near future.

The main project over the next few weekends will be the forest garden. We need to clear the wildflower annuals that we planted, put the weed suppressant fabric down and then plant out the bare root plants as they arrive. We have some hops and raspberries coming amongst others.

As well as all the productive horticulture I’ve treated myself to a selection of tulip, scented daffodil and allium bulbs which I’ve planted in pots and plan to put at the front of the house around the front door and on the driveway. The livestock and productive horticulture takes up so much time any ornamental horticulture gets a bit neglected. My plans for a lavender and box topiary garden at the front of the house have been shelved because there simply wasn’t enough time to plant or maintain it. I do like ornamental flowers and shrubs though so I’ve decided to have a pot garden of ornamentals with lots of bulbs and annual that can be easily rotated and maintained. I’ll start off just with basic plastic pots but plan to add any interesting containers as I find them.

Once all those jobs are done it’ll be time to peruse the seed catalogues and decide what we’re going to be growing next year.

Forest Garden Project: herbaceous perennials & ground cover

I’ve spent most of this weekend busy in the polytunnel potting on plants that I’ve grown from seed and taking cuttings. Generally these have been plants that I’ll be using in the forest garden. Although we’re not ready to plant them out yet we are going to need a lot of them so it makes sense to get started now. As well as the nursery beds in and outside the polytunnel I’ve also got plenty of plants in pots grown on from seed and cuttings the majority of which will be making up the ground cover and perennial layer of the forest garden.

This bottom layer of the garden can actually contain plants with a variety of heights although it is generally a good idea to have a proper base layer not taller than 30cm that can grow below other perennials. This will help prevent unwanted weeds taking hold in the garden. Base plants will need to be shade tolerant and it’s a good idea to mix shallow and deep rooted plants to make full use of the soil. For the low base layer in our garden we’re going to use wild strawberries and bird’s foot trefoil. The strawberries have a shallow root structure and the bird’s foot trefoil moderately deep roots. Obviously the strawberries will provide fruit and the bird’s foot trefoil, as well as being an excellent bee plant, is a really good nitrogen fixer. Both are easy to grow and we already have a well stocked nursery bed.

There are a wide variety of perennials that you can plant in the forest garden, among them many native plants such as muskmallow and solomon’s seal . We’ve decided to stick to just a few species to start off with, generally ones that are easy to propagate. As the garden progresses we’ll add in a wider variety. I definitely want to establish a wild garlic patch as part of this layer, mainly because I love the smell and we’d like to use the leaves to make wild garlic and pork sausages. There is a downside to using ramsons/wild garlic specifically the fact that they only really act as a good ground cover from February to June. This means that it needs to be grown in a polyculture, with a plant that will keep the soil covered from June onwards e.g. ground ivy. I’ve already planted some bulbs this year and I plan to get a few more to plant later this year.

One perennial that has been doing very well, both inside and outside the polytunnel, is lemon balm (Melissa officinalis). An aromatic plant that makes a very nice herb tea lemon balm is also a good bee plant and I’ve already taken multiple cuttings as well. Of course spearmint also makes a refreshing herbal tea as well as having culinary uses. Sticking with the culinary theme we’re also going to have a lot of oregano (Origanum vulgare) which being 45-60cm in height makes a very good ground cover plant. I’ve grown all our oregano from seed and I’ll be dividing plants in spring.

One plant that we’ve only been growing outside the polytunnel is horseradish ( Armoracia rusticana).  Large robust leaves and deep roots mean it’s done very well at keeping the weeds at bay in the nursery bed and hopefully it will do the same in the forest garden. Of course the main crop from the horseradish is the root although you can eat very young leaves if steamed. We’ll be harvesting our first lot of horseradish root this winter and hopefully making some horseradish sauce. Horseradish grows easily from root cuttings, so when harvesting leaving a small bit of root behind means the plant will regrow.

Another big leaved plant like horseradish is comfrey (symphytum spp.). I’ve grown comfrey very successfully when we lived in London and it’s such a useful plant I definitely want to make it part of our forest garden. Again like horseradish comfrey is easily grown from root cuttings. One of the best mineral accumulators, particularly of potassium, planting comfrey beneath and in close proximity to fruiting shrubs and trees will be beneficial. The large leaves can also be cut and used as a mulch several times throughout the growing season. The leaves can also be used to make comfrey tea which is an excellent plant feed. Here’s a blog post explaining how to do this  http://www.hootershall.co.uk/2010/06/19/liquid-plant-feed-factory/.

The final component of our perennial and base layer has been chosen purely on grounds of beauty, although you can eat the flowers. Violets are small and mostly clump forming so need to be planted densely to make good ground cover. I’m planning on a mix of Viola tricolour (one of my favourite plants) and Viola odorata.

I’m sure I’ll be tempted to add some other herbaceous perennials to the mix as we start planting but for now I’m going to concentrate on building up a stock of these ones so we can get fairly dense planting quite quickly and hopefully limit the number of weeds.

Forest Garden Project: Shrubs

The forest garden is currently full of annual wildflowers such as cornflowers, corn marigold and poppy. All to soon the flowering season will be over though and we’ll be rotavating the area clear ready for putting in the forest garden plants. I’ve reined in my plans for the canopy layer a bit . We’re going to be adding two Shag bark hickories (Carya ovata) and a Szechuan pepper (Zanthoxylum schinifolium). The hickory will hopefully provide us with wood to use in our smoker as well as pecan nuts and the Szechuan pepper tree with a spice to use in flavouring our sausages.

The next layer of the forest garden is the shrub layer. There are a wide variety of well known and more exotic plants that can make up the shrub layer. Many provide fruits, others are used as culinary herbs and spices or as a meal in themselves. For a full description of all the plants you can use have a look at some of the books in the forest garden section of out Amazon bookshop  http://astore.amazon.co.uk/hoote-21?_encoding=UTF8&node=6

Despite the fact that I would love to grow every plant possible I have restricted the choice for our garden to plants that we know we will use. For fruiting I’ll be planting some blackcurrants (Ribes nigrum) as well as raspberries (Rubus idaeus). These will arrive as bare root plants in the autumn. I’m looking forward to seeing how the raspberries develop when left to form suckers and move around the garden as opposed to the more standard approach of restricting them to a specific bed in the garden. The other difference, when growing raspberries in the forest garden, as opposed to a traditional fruit bed in the garden is to let the canes arch over and rest on nearby shrubs rather than tying them in. Apart from creating a more natural look in the forest garden the arching canes allow the fruit to be hidden from birds. This also means we won’t need to net the canes.

One shrub that I’ll be growing for the first time in the foret garden is Carolina Allspice (Calycanthus floridus). An American native the Carolina Allspice is grown predominantly for its bark which, when dried, makes a good substitute for cinnamon. The leaves can also be used as a disinfectant and insect repellent because they contain camphor. I’ve already got my Carolina Allspice and it’s happily waiting in the polytunnel ready to be planted out once we’ve cleared the forest garden.

Some shrubs grown in a forest garden can also be used in the canopy layer. To grow as part of the shrub layer they simply need more pruning to keep them at a suitable size. The well known Bay tree (Laurus nobilis) is one such dual purpose plant. I’ve decided to grow it as a part of the shrub layer to make harvesting the leaves easier ( we don’t want to have to get a ladder out everytime we want to make a bouquet garni).

Some well known herbs will also make an appearance in the shrub layer. Sage (Salvia officinalis), Rosemary (Rosemarinus officinalis) and Lavender (Lavendula augustifolia). These three shrubs are also drought tolerant an important consideration despite the amount of rain we’ve had in the early part of this summer.

As well as providing fruits and flavourings the shrub layer of the forest garden should also contain some nitrogen fixing plants to help maintain the nitrogen balance of the garden. Nitrogen fixing plants that are suitable for the shrub layer include the following.

  • False Indigo Amorpha fruticosa
  • Broom Cytisus scoparius
  • Goumi Elaeagnus multiflora
  • Dyer’s Greenweed Genista tinctoria
  • Bush CloverLespedeza bicolor
  • Green Alder Alnus viridis
  • Russet Buffalo Berry Shepherdia canadensis
  • Tree Lupin Lupinus arboreus
  • Bog Myrtle Myrica gale
  • Northern Bayberry Myrica pensylvanica

I’m still deciding which nitrogen fixer to plant. I was considering the Bog Myrtle because the leaves can be used like Bay but it likes acid soil and may not do so well on our plot. At the moment I think I’ll probably go for the Tree Lupin which as well as being an excellent nitrogen fixer is also a good bee plant . It’s also quite pretty and grown as an ornamental in more traditional gardens.