Wild Flower Experiment #1 – Killing the Grass

Wild Flower Experiment

Getting rid of the rye grass and clover

Welcome to our wild flower experiment, a trial looking to introduce wild flowers to the orchard. There are several reasons for this – one is to encourage pollinators to the orchard, and another is to cut down on the amount of grass cutting needed.

When we sowed grass, before the orchard was started, we thought we might graze it with sheep or geese. Local advice was to use a permanent rye grass lay, essentially a mix of rye grass, timothy grass and white clover. As many know, and we have come to learn, rye grass grows quickly. Really quickly. Which is great if you have animals that like eating a lot of it. As we primarily run chickens under the orchard trees, for their ability to eat a lot of ground-living grubs and bugs and their manure, grass is a secondary food for them. The geese are much better at it, but they’re next to useless as bug control. The result is that we end up mowing grass, which is a waste of resources and time.

It’s been an idea for a while to add more flowers to the acre, and after much deliberation we’ve decided to run a small wild flower experiment, adding a 3m wide ribbon of wild flowers that the orchard trees will sit inside. The immediate base of each trunk will be kept clear naturally by the chickens, it seems to be a favourite hangout for them which they then scratch around in. The first stage is to test the theory on just one row of trees in the half standard quarter acre orchard (or, as we call it, the ‘big’ orchard, because the trees are larger than those in the bush quarter acre orchard (the ‘little’ orchard).

We’ve bought wild flower mixes before from Charles Flower, of Charles Flower Wildflowers. He very kindly has given us some advice after chatting through our plan, and advised us that rye grass is awfully hard to get rid of once you have it. The initial idea was to rotovate to a shallow depth continually over the growing season, but with the space to rotovate, we’ve decided to lay weed suppressant fabric where we will eventually sow the wild flower seed. We’ve used two layers of 100gsm fabric, to hopefully cut the majority of light out. I know one layer will do it as we used it last year over the space of two months to gain more room to grow vegetables. Hopefully three months of two layers will do much the same, only better, and still leave us August in which to rotovate and hopefully nobble as much new seedlings as possible before sowing in September. So far we only have enough fabric to the cover the area you see here, but more is ordered, actually enough to cover two tree rows, but I’ll have to see if we can resist the temptation to do that before knowing if it works.

Hopefully the end result will be more nectar for the insects needing it, and a more interesting habitat for the chickens. As far as wildlife is concerned, it could be a haven for the voles we have here (and therefore the various owls), and the longer vegetation will hopefully keep the soil moist for longer, encouraging insects that the resident hedgehogs will also happily feast upon.

Diggin’ Dirt

Main Crop PotatoesThe sun is out, the sky is blue, there’s not a cloud, to spoil the view, and I’m diggin’… diggin’ in the dirt.

Today I’ve mostly been planting the main crop spuds, so called because they’re the ‘main’ crop – the crop we’ll be eating for the majority of the year and over winter. We have Cara shown here, and then I added a row of good old King Edward, for roasting at Christmas 😀

Root VegThe the root veg went in – three rows of Boltardy beetroot, two rows of Gladiator F1 parsnip and two rows of Nero di Toscana kale.

The last one is from the Seed Cooperative, well worth checking out if you appreciate organic seeds and an approach to growing based on caring for the planet.

Waney Edge Fencing

Phrase of the week…

“Waney Edge”

The story of a quick little project that turned out to be quite addictive!

It's a fence Jim, but not as you know it.

It’s a fence Jim, but not as you know it.

With it becoming imminent that next door will once again be rented out again after a fairly eventful year, we thought our good neighbours at the far end of our little collective might appreciate some privacy. We had fence panels in place, but they were infilled with mesh – great to view the hedge through but, at certain times of year, great to view absolutely everything through! Suz hit on the idea of fence panels that we could just attach to the existing framework, given that’s it’s solid wood (I suspect it’s ash). Looking at pre-made fence panels to buy I realised it wasn’t that easy – these are a standard size but they slot into the concrete posts, therefore anything of the same size wouldn’t sit happily on top because they’d be too long and cover a portion of the concrete post at either end.

“Can’t we just buy some slats and screw them on?” Suz questioned. “I quite like those wavey edge panels”, she added.

Peter of Mansfield Mobile Sawmill

Peter of Mansfield Mobile Sawmill

It turns out they’re actually called “waney” edge panels – with an interesting etymology that I shan’t bore you with here. Suffice to say I searched for a supplier and stumbled across a fairly local chap named Peter Ferguson, who runs the Mansfield Mobile Sawmill. A quick call to order some freshly cut locally sourced 12mm larch cladding found me driving up to collect it just three days later from his al fresco open-plan office.

The job the waney edge was bought for.

The job the waney edge was bought for.

And the end result was so much quicker to build, and will last around thirty years with no treatment! My kind of numbers – who wants to mess around with chemicals to preserve something so natural? The colour will fade over time to a silver-grey, much like oak does, but that will only add to the charm. After all, that is our shared destiny. I should add that it also worked out cheaper than buying pre-made panels too!

Another job succumbing to the way of the waney edge

Another job succumbing to the way of the waney edge

With the two main fence panels completed, I realised that the off-cuts Peter so kindly threw in with the job would allow me to replace the rotten end panel at the far end of the fence. Job done!

Patio waney edge privacy panel / Merrybower winds windbreak.

Patio waney edge privacy panel / Merrybower winds windbreak.

And then there was the patio area that last year was filled with tomato plants (“There may be a pandemic Suz, but we’ll never want for a decent passata.”). Suz liked the idea of a wind break that also doubled up as a privacy screen from the road when sat down, enjoying the last rays of summer sun.

Excellent, I got to work once more, grabbing three sweet chestnut fencing posts that we have lying around to replace the naff pine posts that rot within five years.

Finally the blackbod has a home!

Finally the blackbod has a home!

A couple of hours later and we had the perfect rustic background on which to hang a bird ornament Mark & Judy bought us a while ago (I say Mark & Judy – I suspect Mark has no idea he bought it for us). So I’m now busy searching for anywhere else I can add the waney edge to – my eye is on the tractor shed 😀

First Foray into the Allotment in 2021

And so it begins! So far this year has been great – not too much rain (after the very wet winter), and enough warmth on the back to make outside work pleasurable.

Spud Mountains

We’re getting into a great rhythm with the planting, despite last year being an odd one where so much extra was added to the workload and planting list. This year, with three less mouths to feed here at Merrybower, we’ve covered two growing strips to let them recuperate. The plots we knew we’d use, we add the waste from the poultry houses as a mulch for over winter. The worms and weather do their bit and we just then turn it over to create the tilth we need to plant in. You can see the first and second early potato rows quite obviously here – we popped in Accord as the first early variety, and Carlingford and International Kidney as the second earlies.

The Onion Patch – nothing much to see here, move along now

The onion patch is only identifiable by the clod hopper holes where I’ve tried to walk between the invisible rows of buried onion sets, and the scattered skins of onion and garlic sets. This year it’s enough Red Sun shallots for pickling, then the reliable Karmen red onions for salads and Sturon BC 20 for over winter use. Solent White garlic has always grown well here, even when, as now, it’s planted quite late. We can only hope for a decent growing season. At some point we’ll be adding Musselburgh leeks to this plot too, though I haven’t left much room!

Raise ’em high to deter the fly.

And then the raised bed. We usually put this over to salad crops – lettuce, radish, spinach, rocket and a few carrots. But we’ve realised that we get through an awful lot of carrots, so this is pretty much carrot paradise – full of Resistafly F1. Whilst I prefer the old varieties of veg, we do suffer badly here from carrot fly, to the point we’re not growing at ground level and we’re using resistant hybrids. Carrot fly don’t like to fly higher than 60cm (2ft), so a raised bed is ideal for them. the covering is to stop the spugs from dust bathing in the newly sown seed 😀 We have two new smaller raised beds nearer the house that we’ve sown pick and come again salad leaves. They were actually old pallet collars we used to store a top soil/compost mix in last year, and repurposed for growing veg.

Freedom!!

Eric and his ladies

What a winter for the chooks! With the avian flu pandemic they were only allowed out of their covered runs this April, several months literally cooped up. This is how is should be, them running free below the orchard, scratching up over-wintered bugs, fertilising the ground and providing us with fresh eggs, in exchange for food, water and a safe home. The symbiotic relationship is certainly strained when they can’t forage as intended.

Still, they’re free now, and what a sight. In front of the green coop you can see Eric and his harem, the parent flock to the next generation of Marsh Daisy to live here at Merrybower.

Sidney and his ladies

And standing in front of their snazzy new grit feeder is Sidney and his ladies, son and daughters of Eric’s bunch, hatched last year. Sidney is actually off to a new home in Cornwall soon, but one of his brothers will step into his place.