just ain’t so….


 “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so. “ – Mark Twain

I had been waiting for the seed garlic prices to come down. To date I have always bought seed garlic to plant. (Note here – it’s not seed as such; seed garlic refers to the heads of garlic sold for planting, as opposed to used in culinary escapades). Prices of seed garlic haven’t been discounted at all and I can’t justify the cost.

Then I thought…’why haven’t I been planting the cloves from my garlic heads?’

I know why… I thought that maybe I would introduce some form of horticultural problem unless I bought ‘seed garlic’ from a reputable source. But our garlic is reputable and FREE!

We had a very good year selling our garlic to the village shop, but we still have a quantity of decent sized heads which aren’t as large or shapely as those sold. Even better then; planting some of our remainder crop, as well as consuming, must lead to less composting of unused garlic. I will plant the largest cloves from the heads and keep back the smaller ones for cooking.

35+ heads sorted, an area of ground prepared and I’m ready to roll.

Reading this week: Finding the Mother Tree by Suzanne Simard

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the litter of life…

There was a time when I would rake up leaves from the lawn. Thankfully we don’t have any lawns now, and I don’t rake leaves. The closest I come to this spurious activity is sweeping leaves from the paving. I could probably stop doing that as well; the wind would blow the leaves into the base of the hedging.

All around us are deciduous trees shedding their leaves. It takes time for leaf litter to break down BUT what always takes me by surprise is how fast leaves disappear from the surface of the soil. Come summer next year and I’ll be hard pressed to spot one. So a clear win win – I don’t waste my time raking up and the fallen leaves do what they do best – providing a protective layer to the soil and supplying nutrients and habitat to the wildlife.

Which leaves (ha ha) us more time to go visit another arboretum, to admire the autumn colour

and check out more fungi!

Reading this week: The Accidental Detectorist by Nigel Richardson

a sense of decay…

A long, long time ago, when I did study the biological kingdoms, I gained a moderate knowledge of plants, a cursory knowledge of animals and …. well, very sparse on anything else.

Continuing our journey of discovery, a few weeks ago we went off to look for grassland fungi. I had always thought of fungi to be, mainly, associated with woodlands so I was very surprised by the number and diversity of the fungi we saw – including slime molds, which aren’t fungi, but protists.

The site we visited is an upland meadow. It is grazed by sheep but otherwise left alone. Healthy grassland fungi ecologies are found where the site has not been ‘improved’, hence the decline of many species.

Unfortunately on our holding, past years of, albeit organic, pasture enrichment has resulted in a death of obvious fungi fruiting bodies in the grass – we’ve come across the odd puffball. Even so, I am hoping that our wildflower verge may, in time, show evidence of these grassland fungi species.

Nevertheless we have some wood loving species dotted about here…

Fungi break down organic matter, releasing nutrients into the soil which are then available to plants – some of which we eat. Anything we can do to encourage the fungi ecosystem here clearly benefits us.

Reading this week: Map Addict by Mike Parker

Happy Halloween!

There’s a few green tomatoes in the polytunnel; some russet apples to put into store; the lovely OH battling it out with the local squirrel population on the walnuts but yep – that’s essentially it for this year, end of harvest.

So to all – happy Samhain; happy Halloween.

pressing times….

How have I managed not to post about cider pressing? Well I know why; I had a hiatus from the blog back in 2017. That was the year when we first pressed our apples. It takes a while for new trees to produce enough fruit and for the first few years we would strip the branches of any apples to prevent breakages.

However, given that the majority of the apple crop goes into making cider, it is a posting oversight.

In the new orchard, we have a 40/60 split between ‘cider’ apples and eating/culinary apple and to date, we haven’t been particularly sophisticated over which varieties go into the cider. This year the lovely OH wanted to cut down on the volume of juice. We gave away as much of the earlier ripening apple crop as we could.

Our holding isn’t located in ‘traditional’ cider country; we don’t have a plethora of heritage cider apples attributed to our area. In fact, I don’t think we have any. Our orchard varieties hail from counties further south. Notwithstanding, there are a number of small scale cider makers who sell to the public and most appear to use apples from orchards within the county. All good stuff.

As a recap, we have the following cultivars which, traditionally, are categorised as ‘cider apples’

  • Bittersweet: Ellis Bitter; Yarlington Mill; Dabinet; Sweet Pethyre; Herefordshire Red Streak; Camelot; Harry Masters; Tremletts Bitter
  • Bittersharp: Kingston Black (3 trees), Porter’s Perfection
  • Sharp: Brown’s Apple; All Doer; Tom Putt
  • Sweet:  Dunkerton

We borrow the pressing kit from our smallholder association. Having a substantial scratter and press is essential when juicing a large quantity of apples. This year we had help from 4 of our fellow smallholders, even so the OH and I finished off the pressing the next day.

It’s a big job stretching over a number of weeks – from the start of picking, to the washing down and return of the pressing kit, to barrels of juice quietly fermenting in the shippon.

Cider 2022.

Reading this week: Walled Gardens by Jules Hudson

once in a lifetime…

you get the chance to encounter a native animal that you wouldn’t otherwise see.

We went along to another excellent field trip, this time to observe individuals monitoring a dormouse nest box site in training for their dormouse handling licence.

We have planted quite a number of hazels, which we have started to coppice and have the shelter belt of native trees, plus interconnecting mature hedgerows. Even so, I think that it would be a long shot to discover dormice on our holding.

Never say never, hence the lovely OH has a pdf of a dormouse nest box and he plans to knock up a few. I’ll look to planting some native honeysuckle, Lonicera periclymenum, to scramble through the hedges; apparently the bark is much favoured for summer nest building. We have also been collecting up our ‘nibbled nuts’ to check out what has been feasting on the hazels. Dormice hibernate on the ground during winter, often at the base of hedges – all the more reason to keep our holding hedges good and dense.

haerfest…

I love Anglo-Saxon words. In occasional flights of fancy, I imagine myself studying Old English, Old Norse, Medieval Welsh, Medieval Irish etc. and then I remember that I can just about muster school level French.

Haerfest – Autumn – Harvest time. This is my favourite season, without a doubt. The light is so beautiful and the produce is, I think, the most delicious. It’s certainly the most bountiful.

Luckily, we have outlets for the excess, from neighbours; to fellow smallholders; to the village shops; to community ventures; to livestock; to the wildlife and, of course, us. The portion we do sell pays, in part, for next year’s seed order, any bought compost, plants, bulbs and – this year – my Plant a Tree for the Jubilee and a couple of new cider apple bare root. It’s a fair trade.

We have been harvesting apples from the orchard since mid September and this activity will continue until mid October when we will press. Looking back over previous posts, I realise that I haven’t written much about the planting of the orchard, the varieties selected and our cider making.

I must rectify the omission.

P.S. If you are into apples and orchards, Little Toller Books has a Crowdfunder initiative to publish a book all about the rediscovery of Dorset apples. The book is titled ‘The Lost Orchards’.

Reading this week: Taste: My Life Through Food by Stanley Tucci

The Queen’s Green Canopy

I have placed my order for an Ulmus x ‘Wingham’ tree alongside some cider apple bare root.

Rest in Peace Queen Elizabeth II.

chasers; darters; skimmers & hawkers….

No, it’s not an alternative to a Quidditch team. It’s all about dragonflies; damselflies and demoiselles.

The lovely OH and I have been on a voyage of insect discovery, and this week we lighted on the Odonata order. As we have a young pond and spotted a broad bodied chaser earlier in the year, and more recently, damselflies, we booked ourselves onto a session to broaden our knowledge on this group of insects.

Once again, we were led through an excellent presentation and field trip, sponsored by our local landscape environmental projects funding.

They are an extraordinarily beautiful order of insects as well as being top tier insect carnivores. My favourite sighting has to be the banded demoiselles fluttering along the river Severn.

If you want to see them on the wing, now is the time.

Reading this week: History of Britain in Maps

À la recherche du temps perdu…

Here’s a thing … I haven’t read any Proust, and I’m not quite sure I’ll get round to his volumes before I shuffle off this mortal coil, given that I have a lot of books, (as the lovely OH has pointed out).

I cannot believe Proust is the first person to write about the connection between smell/scent and memory. I catch the scent of Cercidiphyllum japonicum, (Katsura), and I’m back alongside my fellow GD/Hort students at Capel, (great times – nonpareils!).

and oh, how I love an Arboretum.

We had a day out and visited Hergest Croft Gardens, where we found a stunning collection of trees and shrubs; National Collections of birches, maples as well as softwoods; rhodos and azaleas alongside a rockery; kitchen garden and herbaceous planting.

Having fallen into conversation with a lovely gardener, he pointed me in the direction of their sapling Cercidiphyllum japonicum seedlings, priced at £4.00.

Of course I brought one home.

Reading this week: Say Goodbye to the Cuckoos by Michael McCarthy