Monday, 13 July 2015

Honeyberries early fruit and something else.

Its been a long time since my last post so apologies to anyone who checks out this page on a regular basis. Actually I have been out of action due to a nasty leg injury which meant that I missed the spring and early summer scythe season which in turn meant that the grass took over and the mulching didn't get done. However plants will flower and fruit no matter what you throw at them and this year has been no exception. I have got back into the swing again (literally) and have started to clear some of the backlog. But now comes the job of picking processing and storing so I have had to be selective as to where and what I clear.

One of the first fruits to ripen were the Honeyberries (Lonicera caerulea), I am growing a variety called Moreno I have 3 plants and this is their 2nd year. I was picking the first fruits in the first week in June and the bushes were picked out 4 weeks later, but most surprising of all was the form that the bushes grew in. I have 3 low growing domes that have shaded out all that might try to grow through them which makes this variety ideal for south facing understory ground cover. The fruit itself is high in nutrition  but beware it does not taste anything like a blueberry which many nurseries claim. My best description is the taste of a slightly underipe plum. Its also a bee plant and its important to cover the plants during fruiting as the birds just love them.

They have only reached a height of 40cm so I'll taking cuttings this autumn and will plant them as ground cover around different fruit trees to see how well they perform in this role.

Till next time.

Monday, 10 November 2014

Autumn Harvest all Wrapped Up

At last the harvest is over, well nearly, there is a tree full of hawthorn fruits awaiting picking but as the freezer's full I'll leave these to the birds. The last annual crop OCA still has to be cropped but this will only happen after the frost has killed off the tasty top growth, Unlike potatoes the whole crop can be eaten and there are no blight problems with this tuba.

So its time for my annual holiday a couple of weeks in the Highlands of bonnie Scotland will do nicely, lets face it the weather this summer has been fantastic so no need to drag myself off to sunnier climbs.

Here are a few pics of the plants and their produce that I have enjoyed this Autumn.

Hawthorn crataegus ellwangeriana produce lovely large haws with an apple flavour.

crab apple Golden Hornet nice for jelly but leave some for the birds

pear Doyenne du Comice like many pears they need to be picked unripe and checked every day, but the trouble is worth while.

Medlar Large Russian another one to ripen indoors although this year I had several ripen on the tree.

crataegus Schraderiana another delicious hawthorn with a sweeter taste and maturing later than Ellwangeriana and more prolific.

the amazing Chokeberry or better described as Aronia stacked with vitamins and minerals, mature plants will happily produce 8/10Kg per bush.

Staphylea Pinnata  better known as the Bladdernut, has a small sweet nut reminiscent of pistachio flavour. It will take some time to mature and provide a worthwhile crop, even then it will be quite tiresome cracking such small nuts, unless I can find an efficient way of cracking them in the meantime.
My Eco Corner

What a strange year we have had, the warmest Jan to October ever recorded, last winter was the wettest on record and in my part of Pembrokeshire no meaningful frosts. It is looking like this winter is heading for another wet one. On top of all this there are sightings of many birds, butterflies and moths that are rarely found here. Last week the first week in November I saw some House Martins still foraging for flies and to my surprise last Sunday I saw a female Black Redstart foraging among the fallen apples. Its all down to, yes Global Warming. Its here and its going to get warmer and wetter so its important that those involved in Agroforestry and in fact in agriculture to  start planting specis that are better suited to the changing conditions.

I have been planning for GW within the structure of the FG and am patiently waiting for trees such as Pecan ,Almond, Castanea Pumilla, apricot and date plum to flower and fruit.

So is there something we can do to mitigate the inevitable progress of GW, well yes there is.
Garden organically, reduce our own use and dependency on oil based products at home and work. Put solar panels and PV panels on our roof space. Buy our electricity from companies like Ecotricity and vote for parties that have clear greening anti warming  policies, lets face it our main political parties have failed completely to lead us through the GW complex with any credit at all so its time for change.
What do you think, I would love to hear your comments, leave them below or via my Facebook page.

Brilliant chestnut crop of over 50Kg from 2x 12 year old trees and the reason I have not been posting many blogs this Autumn as processing this many is a labour of love,important though  as its an important food for me and I now have 12 months supply stored away ready to cook.

Aronia in Autumn to finish the blog.

Sunday, 31 August 2014

Its Berry Time Again

To me its just amazing how perennial plants work with such a small input from us. Each year following planting you get an increase in the crop until the plant reaches its full maturity probably anything up to 10 years for the medium and smaller shrubs. So once planted the only intervention required is a bit of mulching, perhaps a dressing of wood ash and a few pees.

The hardest part of the management process is picking and processing.

There are 2 particular crops that have done well with me, the Chokeberry and the  Salal

Lets start with the Purple Chokeberry or Aronia prunifolia var Hugin

3 years ago I purchased 2 plants from the Agroforestry Research Trust and this is what they look like this summer.

I have yet to pick them but of course they have been tasted not only by me but several of my grandchildren and grown up relatives(all of whom seem to be bookmarking regular visits now that the garden is increasing its harvest) all of us agree that they are tasty, juicy and quite sweet and an improvement on the black chokeberries that I already grow. The seeds are so small that you don't notice them and they make fantastic juice which is especially nice combined with apple juice. my 2 bushes are covered with insect netting which has to be done to stop birds and wasps getting them. I will pick them during September as they improve if left on the plant a little longer.

Now for the Salal or Gaultheria Shallon
I have one plant that is now also 3 years with me, again acquired from ART. It is in semi shade behind a damson tree and has trebled in size in that time suckering freely which is what I wanted it to do. Its productivity has matched its spread giving an abundance of purple blueberry size fruits with a mild sweet taste. Whats more they ripen over time, meaning that there is a picking from June right through to the first frosts. For me this a most underated plant that deserves much more prominence.

So far I have picked just over a Kg with at least as much still on the bush quite amazing for such a small amount of space which wouldn't be as productive with any other plant that I know of. Quite simply the best effective and productive ground cover for shady places.
Eco Corner
How is that compost loo going then!!
Hard to see it now that the coppice willow has done its thing.
July 2013
August 2014

Just one year ago Jamie Miller of built me a superb compost loo from local timbers and using traditional hand tools and methods.
It has it is true to say been well used and I have just reached the big changeover so there in one chamber sits a year of poo which will compost away and be removed next August to spread around the trees and the other anticipating its first offerings and so it will go on.
It also has a pee separator and my first 5 litres of this wonderful fertiliser is already blessing the trees and shrubs.
So its an eco building with an eco lifestyle giving me added nutrients to go with the wood ash and nitrogen fixers that abound in the FG.
How long will it be till composting toilet systems are designed within our houses, after all the waste of water flushing millions of toilets every day just isn't sustainable is it?
Next time the spotlight will be on the nuts I grow here especially the Butternut and Chesnut.

Friday, 4 July 2014

Blazing June brings amazing crops of strawberries

So now I know just how weather can influence crop size as the clement and warm weather that has been with us right through the winter, spring and summer without a break so no gales no frosts and just the right amount of rain. What's more I think that my land is at last showing signs of getting into balance regarding slugs and snails as the amount of damage from these pests is minimal. Adding these circumstances together has made for exceptional crops of strawberries and cherries. Compared with last year the strawberry crop from the same patch was 10 kilo this year I have picked over 25k of delicious I started on the 6th June and am still picking. Last year the cherry crop was poor due to late frosts this year the first tree (Merton Glory) has just been picked out with a total of 8k.

Fantastic fruit
The strawberry bed
Prior to the strawberries coming on line I picked a kilo of berries from the Elaeagnus evergreen windbreak. I processed these through the green life juicer seeds and all and the result was a creamy delicious juice it almost tasted of liquid strawberry and made the tedious task of picking worthwhile.

Hundreds of Elaeagnus fruits which took 4 hours to collect
Protecting cherry trees from birds is quite a problem, you can try plastic snakes or owls or just sit under the tree all day and try not to go to sleep, or grow miniature cherries that are easy to cover.
My method is to use large nets and construct a cage from coppiced poles and bamboo. I have a 4 metre picking ladder which is useful in pulling the net over the cage. The netting I use is a micro mesh which allows good airflow but keeps out other unwanted predators such as wasps. Its 13 metres wide and I was lucky enough to purchase 500metres 2nd hand from a farm in Scotland and I cut it up according to each tree size, made to measure so to speak. Its now 3 years old and there is no sign of any breakdown in the fabrication, long may it last.
Completed frame of cherry Small Black
Net in position
Small black cherries ripening in safety
Eco Corner 
This time its about the humble scythe.
I have been using an Austrian style scythe to manage the grass, nettles,bracken and herbage for over 6 years now and have found it to be without doubt the best piece of kit for keeping order amongst my plants. This year in particular the growth has been amazing and the scythe with me hanging on the end has been in use non stop.
So whats eco about a scythe then?
For the planet
The handle or snath is made usually from Ash which is a renewable resource from coppice.
The blade is relatively small made from steel and can be reused over a lifetime.
The whole kit is light and cheap to ship.
The only fuel is human.
For the land
Animals that may have been chopped to pieces with mechanical devices will have time to escape the swish of the blade.
The trees will not be damaged as they can be with strimmer cable.
Only light foot traffic which will not compress the land.
For us
We get a chance to get closer to our environment observing nature while we work.
Using the scythe is a first class aerobic exercise and will also build muscle, you should see my 6 pack.
Believe me it is an efficient method of working and often wins in races against a strimmer.
Its quiet in operation you can even hold conversations with fellow scythers.
Any drawbacks
Well you will need to acquire some new skills best done by taking lessons from an expert.
The blade is razor sharp so you will need to be aware of this and how to keep safe around yourself and others. All in all its fun to learn and fun to use even if its only for your lawn ( yes you can scythe the lawn and get really good results.)
I would be happy to teach anyone interested I am shortly to announce a 2 day intensive course and allow students to camp in the Forest Garden. I plan to offer this as open source  (no fee) in return for 2 days scything. If anyone is interested just email me

A section of 3 metre wide windrow goes past a purple hazel which is now ready for mulching
And finally here is a pic of those cherries to cheer you on your way, till next time.



Thursday, 22 May 2014

The Winter and Spring Weather has Produced some Surprising Results

Following 3 rather cold and wet winters, this past Winter has and now spring has been extremely mild, in fact we had frost on just 3 days in Winter with the lowest temp just -3 and no frost at all in the spring. In my 12 years of residence here in West Wales this has never happened before and like some of the trees I have quite missed a really good cold spell. What we did get is the wettest winter on record!

What can the trees tell us about this?

I have several Ash trees all of which are only just beginning to leaf out now and one in particular is still dormant this is weird for the 22nd of May. The Oak trees have preceded the Ash by about 4 weeks and as the old rhyme goes Oak before Ash and we will get a splash. Personally I think that the Ash trees really need to be chilled and this is why they are so late. I heard from  reputable source that Ash can remain dormant all year due to this. Beech trees too need to be chilled and will not grow well if subjected to warm winters so this species may well be limited to northern climbs in the future.
Global warming could well be having an effect on our native flora and fauna so we must all do our best to help

In the forest garden some of the plants are also behaving differently no more so than  the Yellow horn
(zanthocerus sorbifolium). This shrub was planted 11 years ago and has flowered occasionally but never more than 12 or so blooms but these have never formed seed capsules. The growth rate has been really slow up to now but this spring the growth of new shoots has doubled its size and it has flowered profusely. Seed capsules have started to form and it looks like several may go on to develop their fruit which is a thin shelled seed or nut.

Yellow horn showing the formation of the seed capsules+
Most years my Eleaeagnus ebbingei windbreak has flowered profusely but rarely given much if any fruit. It is also a magnificent windbreak and has in places risen some 6 meters especially where a tall tree is grown alongside as it tends to grow into and up trees. This winter not only has it flowered but now it has produced and abundant crop of fruit which will soon be ripe and be the first outdoor plant to give me a fruit crop (that's if you don't count rhubarb)

Nearly ripe fruits of this windbreak nitrogen fixing wonder shrub.
I had my first group visit of the year from the  South west Wales Goat Club who despite picking one of the worst wet and windy days still enjoyed their afternoon with me. Luckily by the time it came to the tea and cakes the weather improved and so the repast was taken on the lawn. Because of the time of year the only edibles were freshly cut bamboo shoots and lime leaves.
The biggest talking point was the recently installed compost loo which was much admired (though I'm not sure whether anyone used it!!) For me its an important part of the sustainability of my garden and I use it as often as I can. I was also asked to demonstrate with my scythe and I was able to show just what can be achieved with just one sweep. This did create a lot of interest and maybe just maybe someone there will have a go.
The Club makes many visits to interesting projects around the 3 counties and what's more you don't have to keep goats to join. You can contact them here:
Members of the South West Wales Goat Club on the lawn at least it had stopped raining.
If you want to organise a visit for your group or as an individual please send a request via email to
ECO Corner
Woodburning makes climate change sense and is the most sustainable way to heat your home heat your water and to cook on. Now is the ideal time to investigate the possibilities for your home. I have just completed my first year cooking and heating home and water with wood and can make the following comments.
It saves money especially if you have your own source of wood which can cover some of your requirements. It is very efficient and easy to maintain as a sweep is about all you need and that costs a lot less than a heating engineer to service your boiler. The ash is a wonderful feed for your plants and can save  on plant food and fertiliser. The additional work of lifting and carrying logs in to your house can be seen as a method of keeping fit. I am 70 and have no problem with this function and treat it as exercise. Most of all this is the most sustainable method of heating your home with wood providing of course that you use a local supplier. 
Points to consider.
Conversely it is a lot of work especially as you have to feed your firebox  having to load it every 2 hours or so. There is also the clearing of the ash build up probably every 2/3 days if its being used constantly. Storage is also a big issue and will dictate price as the more outside storage you can provide the cheaper the wood will be.
As the woodburner becomes more popular better methods of delivery and storage will be devised companies will eventually provide storage racks or containers just like oil and gas companies provide tanks.
You can also now buy a complete heating system based on an automatic feed from a hopper directly into a boiler usually located in an out building. Now that's an interesting proposition. You can see a range of wood burning options and the boiler at this superb suppliers website. They are local to West Wales but are probably the most knowledgeable organisation in the UK.
And finally I leave you with a picture of the Quamash or Cassamia . A bulb much used by the Native Americans as a staple food. They evidentially made a fire onto hot stones in a clamp. The fire was allowed to die and the bulbs were put onto the stones and the clamp sealed for at least 48 hours before eating. I don't think I will try that method, but its nice to be growing a plant with that connection and it forms part of the function of a FG to grow food in the soil layer. Besides all that just imagine the sight of thousands of these plants in flower, even my few plants look fantastic

Thursday, 8 May 2014

A Spring Symphony of Birdsong, Flower and Awesome Promise

The Forest Garden is maturing fast after 12 years of establishment and is attracting more wildlife than ever, this includes several new species of birds including Goldcrests,Willow Warblers and Lesser Whitethroat. I have also spotted a male Coockoo Bee, its jet black and quite rare. They are here to enjoy the bounty provided by the ever increasing variety of flowering shrubs and trees and what a show of blossom we are enjoying right now as the pictures below show.
The mild weather over winter and spring has made all the difference and now that the chance of severe frost and hail has passed we can look forward to an abundant harvest. Right now we are picking bamboo shoots and of course rhubarb.
My Eco Corner
Just thought I would make a few Eco comments each post so here's the first.
I am a vegan and have been for 12 years now, before I was a veggie for many years. I converted to a veggie mainly due to the animal welfare issues and I must say the diet agreed with me so I didn't find it difficult to convert.
I converted to being a vegan in 2002 when I leaned about the dangers of dairy foods and eggs from various experts assembled at an Anthony Robbins Life Mastery Course and that all made sense to me to. So my diet became vegan as did my clothes and shoes, it was a real life style change and as before I really enjoyed the changes and challenges and still do.
Finally I was able to complete the puzzle when I realised that if we are to survive on this planet we have to eat less meat and consume less dairy. The space and cost of rearing meat and milk is far higher than equivalent in veg, fruit and nuts. In fact much land is given up just to feed ruminants, farmers keep their cows in so the grass can grow and supplement with unnatural feedstuff usually soy based (90% of the world soy bean crop is fed to animals). I say this is crazy as is the non organic chemicals used to grow the grass and cerials that get fed to cows etc in vast amount's which eventually finds its way into the groundwater and we all end up being exposed to this.
So being a vegan is to truly be part of a sustainable eco system and having just celebrated my 70th birthday and still can swish a scythe with the best of them and manage my 4 acres by hand. I truly believe that a vegan diet is the healthiest option for energy and happiness and  it may lead to a longer life too, now that would be a Brucey Bonus!!! Why not have a think about this and give it a try, you will be amazed at the difference it will make to you.
Back to the plants, here are just a few of the many in flower
 Cornelian Cherry flowering in Feb
 Almond with a special visitor in March
 Nanking Cherry in March
 Juneberry with the first wasp seen in March
 Bladdernut in April
Finally a Morello Cherry in late April
For me its a really bust time as the grass is growing fast and needs constant scytheing the trees and shrubs need mulching there are early cuttings to be done, the polytunnel and greenhouse need attention to check seed sowing progress and plant up the tomatoes and I still have branch snedding to do from this winters coppicing, I only managed this blog because its raining today. So next time I hope to report on the first fruit crops so see you then.

Thursday, 20 March 2014

Global Warming , Agroforestry, some Coppicing and Blossom as well.

Recent floods after prolonged wet weather have been a salutary lesson for a lot of people and in some cases their business. What I have learned from the Forest Garden is this.

A higher density of trees in the landscape controls the flow rate of excess rain water off the land this combined with the rough pasture underneath the trees adds to the ability of the land to absorb much more water than otherwise. I was astounded to find that I could dig  planting holes for my 20 new trees without finding water and was able to actually crumble the soil in my hands.

Take a typical arable farm with massive field size and monoculture cropping the rainwater has nothing to stop it in the winter and as a result there is run off and or flooded fields. Or look at a dairy farm with cows constantly compressing the soil whilst grazing leaving the fields bare and hard for the winter. Where is all that rain going to go certainly not very deep into the soil.

My Forest Garden has taught me a lot over the years but this years lesson is the most important of all thus far. Trees are a vital part of the agricultural landscape and if we are to avert the vagaries of global warming within our farming communities we need to move away from monoculture and include trees as part of the farming design. It is called Agroforestry its been around for thousands of years and it works. For more information about this type of farming please go to

Lady day is nearly upon us and this marks the end of the coppicing season so since the rains stopped I have spent all my time managing the strips of land adjacent to the hedgerows. Several old willows have blown over and been held up by others so some very patient deconstruction has been taking place and of course the work has given me a fresh supply of firewood for 3 years hence.

Here are some seasonal photos taken over the last few days.

This golden willow is  just 12 years old and is already over 10 metres tall
                                                  A woodpile following coppicing

                                 Blossom at last... this is Nanking Cherry (Prunus tomentosa)

                                      Here we have a Japanese plum var methley (P.salicina)

                      This is Almond robijn (P.dulcis) a Dutch variety said to do better in the UK