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An accidental harvest!

IMG_0819With most of our forest garden planted last winter we are at the settling in phase, there is much work with no anticipated outputs for this year.  Except we had a welcome surprise last week!

An Elder (Sambucus nigra) had self seeded itself on the edge of our forest garden and was smothered in flat heads of small creamy-white flowers.  We could not resist such a harvest, so washed out a number of bottles and picked the flower heads to make a batch of elderflower cordial.

This also enabled us to make use of some of the lemons on our lemon tree (not from our temperate forest garden but from our passive solar house where they thrive), and it felt great to include all fruit from within walking distant – result!

Was it nice?  There is nothing better than eating food harvested from your own garden. Looking at the lemons still on our tree, and with a party this weekend, we are going to have a go at producing more cordial at the weekend using the pink flowers on our sambucus nigra “black beauty”.  Has anyone tried this?  Does it turn pink?

Improving our wind break

004Our Forest Garden is, on the whole, well protected from the ferocity of the winds we can get on our farm.  We have a tall hedge to the north that cuts out all the cold northerly winds in winter, and the SW prevailing wind has to get through hedges, trees and a bank before it reaches the Forest Garden.

There is one direction, however, that last winter has shown up to be our weak spot. This is from the south.  Our farm slopes due south and gives us a beautiful vista up through a valley in front of us to distant rolling hills.  This however, also equates to a funnelling of southerly winds right at us.  We had already planted a number of trees to the south – rowan, elder and hazel, but not nearly enough to protect our precious garden from the wind.

IMG_0783Having planted up our forest garden, and seeing everything flourishing, we were very aware there is now a need to plan a suitable wind break to the south…

Seeing as we had the space we decided to tackle the winds from outside the forest garden by moving the ageing boundary fencing and at the same time improve mowing access.  This has given us space to add taller, quicker growing, wind tolerant trees positioned to lift the wind over the forest garden without overshadowing or taking nutrients from our edible trees.

Work started this weekend using our trusty old tractor (the OWL) – it has been an invaluable help lifting posts and grown-in fencing and mowing new paths into the now extended forest garden.

IMG_0786This extra space has really changed the feel of the forest garden and improved our access. Over the next week we’ll aim to get all the new trees in position – fingers crossed the weather remains on our side…

Next week we’ll include images showing the improved windbreak and plans showing the new design.

 

Unusual edible trees for an English garden…

IMG_0761

Apricot tree growing well in our temperate forest garden

Last week was damp and warm which brought about in an explosion of growth in our Forest Garden – including our trees. Our mulching is starting to pay dividends holding back the grass around each tree as grass would reduce tree root development.

This week I’m writing about some of the trees and shrubs in our forest garden that are uncommon in a typical British garden. I’ve included photos of our Szechuan pepper, apricot and Chilean Guava (shown above) as well as a newly imported quince all growing well.

Szechuan Pepper - Zanthoxylum

Szechuan Pepper – Zanthoxylum

The Szechuan pepper (Zanthoxylum simulans) is a large deciduous shrub growing to 4 m tall by 6m wide.  We’re growing it for its fruit that have a lovely scent and can be used as a black pepper substitute.

There are more and more apricots becoming available to grow in the UK. We’ve chosen a sheltered position with full sun to test out Flavourcot – so far it is romping away!

We are also trying a British bred variety of the Chilean Guava.  James Wong’s comment on this lovely evergreen shrub is – ‘They even come with sweetly scented, powder pink lily-of-the-valley type flowers; they’re such a wonderful addition to any garden and one definitely not to be missed!’  Can’t wait to try the lovely berry sized red fruit!

Another tree fruit I’m really looking forward to sampling is the Quince Isfahan.  It has not been long in this country, but I’ve been told it has some of the best fruit to eat straight from the tree.  The tree itself has beautiful large ornamental buds and I look forward to them turning into quinces later in the year.

Spring in the Forest Garden

This winter has been a busy time in our forest garden.  Many new trees have been planted and now all that hard work is starting to show some rewards.

This is a short post showing just a few images of what is happening to some of the plants in our forest garden this May 2014.

photo 2 Our new Service-berries (amalanchier) are already looking stunning in their first season.

We planted a hedge of them just on the edge of our forest garden to create an additional windbreak protection from south westerlies (something we get a lot of).

Their spring foliage has opened this spring in a gorgeous salmon pink at the same time as their pretty white flowers – promising berries this June.  The leaves will turn green as we go into summer and then we look forward to further colour in the autumn.

They are a welcome site everytime I go past them on the track and a real tempter into the forest garden itself.

 

photo 1

These rowans are a further wind barrier (believe me we do have wind here!) and you may notice the tree closest to the camera is bent in a classic wind worn shape whilst the following trees are more upright.  Our home is just to the left of this picture and protects the higher trees, whilst funnelling the wind at the lower ones.

These trees are in their 4th year and are standing up to the wind well.  They also produce a lot of berries that the birds really appreciate.

 

photo 4

This frame is within our forest garden.  the bars have a huggel bed at their feet and a series of fruit trees and fruiting climbers are scrambling up each of the bars with herbs at their feet.

It will take a couple of years to really get established, however it is already showing great promise and will become a lovely sheltered space for visitors to come and enjoy some food during their stay.  We aim to build a clay oven here!  Perhaps pizza with one of our artichokes?

 

photo 3

Mulberry tree in our forest garden

I know a number of people who’ve created a Forest Garden say the first tree on their list was the Mulberry.  Well, there must be something in the type of people who grow Forest Gardens and Mulberry trees; because it has been a tree I’ve wished to grow for years.

mulberryMulberry is a tree with so many great points.   Initially I fell in love with the tree for its lovely, almost loganberry like fruit, its beautiful shape and lovely large leaves.  It is the sort of tree that looks fantastic as a centre piece to a garden – allowed to grow old and gnarled.

But this is just the start of what makes this tree so special.  If you raise chickens this is a great tree to have over shadowing their run.  Not only does its broad shape create good shade, but chickens adore and do well on their fruit and these fruit can drop over a long period.

It is not just the fruit that is popular with animals.  The leaves are also very high in protein (in some varieties more than 20% protein) and ideal to feed to animals.  As we have both rabbits and sheep on the farm, we have plenty of use for a crop like this!

We have chosen a black mulberry for our forest garden for its flavour.  There are also white and red mulberry varieties.  White mulberry trees (Morus Alba) are the host plant for silkworms and King James I had a Mulberry Garden planted at Buckingham Palace to cultivate silk worms.  Unfortunately it is thought that black mulberries were planted and the venture failed.

The white mulberry is also a good buffer tree to plant next to a black walnut.  It tolerates juglone – a growth inhibitor produced by the walnut roots to protect its territory.

Our tree is now planted and we look forward to our first harvest (though it may take a few years).  The picking season is through August and September (or more like the shaking season!)  The best way to gather the fruit is by shaking branches over a sheet spread on the ground and be warned the fruit can stain.

Elaeagnus xebbinggei

You may already be growing this shrub in your garden.  It is useful as a hedging shrub particularly in coastal areas where it can cope with salt-laden air.  Though wind is an issue in our location this is not the key reason for selecting it.

The whole Elaeagnus  family are nitrogen fixers.  This means they have the ability to take nitrogen from the air and change it into a form of nitrogen that plants can use. Nitrogen is a key nutrient and nitrogen fixers can increase the growth of neighbouring plants.

This large evergreen shrub has dark green leaves with lime-green splashed centres.  The small (almost invisible) creamy-white flowers pump out a jasmine like perfume from October till almost January and followed by small orange juicy berries.  Even the small shrubs I’ve just planted have had an amazing scent this winter.

In our forest we have a number of these scattered through the forest for their nitrogen fixing.  The berries are also worth harvesting.   They are reasonable sized with a nice slightly acidic flavour once fully ripened, rich in vitamins A, C and E. The time to look out for these fruits is between April and May.

We’ve planted ours small so that they will establish themselves more quickly – so we’ll need to wait a while before we can harvest any meaningful crop.  This is one shrub that has all the makings of a valuable member of our forest!

 

What will be in our Forest Garden?

If you’ve been following us over the last month you may well be aware we have been raising money through Crowdfunder towards the canopy layer of our forest garden.

I’m glad to say with minutes to go we made it to our total and are now starting to get physical with the forest garden and preparing for the 40 trees that will go into the canopy.

As a taster of things to come I thought over the next few weeks I’d talk about individual trees chosen and why we’ve selected them.

One of the first trees you reach as you enter the forest garden is Amelanchier.

Amelanchier

Amelanchier is a really interesting family of trees and shrubs that work hard in anyone’s garden for sheer ornamentation.  It is smothered in beautiful white flowers in spring followed by thousands of red, purple or blue berries in summer.  The leaves appear in spring in a bronze colour turning green in the summer and then becoming a showy display of orange and red leaves in the autumn.

We have not included it for just for its looks, though it could merit its position just on this and bird interest.  We’ve chosen it for its delicious berries.  This is a native of America and is often referred to by the very dull names of Serviceberry, or Juneberry.  They do come with a warning though – it’s important to pick these fruit, rich in iron and copper,  as soon as you find them, for birds love them too, and the berries don’t linger for more than a couple of weeks in a year.  Think apple and cinnamon.

It is also a star when it comes to ease of growth – it is tolerant of many conditions and some are happy to tolerate wind (great from our perspective).

We’re making the most of this early berry and planting 3 different types in our woodland – can’t wait for our first harvest.

If someone had given it a more imaginative name then I’m sure this would be a better known berry – forming an essential part of our super food diet!! Any suggestions?

Making Crab Apple and Cobnut Stuffing

our hedges are full of Cobnuts at the moment and we’re in competition with the squirrels to make the most of this harvest.

Cobnuts or hazelnuts are delicious when de-shelled and lightly roasted to bring out their sweetness. We’ll often do just that but there is so much more you can do with them, like this delicious Crab apple and cobnut stuffing recipe I made this weekend and batched up to freeze.

The recipe below is sufficient to make 5 family meals worth but you can change the quantities to make enough for an individual meal:

4 onions

20 fresh sage leaves

6 slices of bread (we freeze our crusts for this purpose)

10 crab apples

200g of hazelnuts

salt and pepper

Finely chop the onions and sage and gently fry with a little rapeseed oil until cooked.

Shell the hazelnuts and lightly roast in the oven for 5 minutes then lightly chop

chop up the bread and apples then mix all the ingredients and season to taste.

We love this with roast pork and crackling.  Take some of the fat from the roast about half an hour before the end and roast  the stuffing.

Let us know what you think :o)

 

Hello and welcome!

We’re just going into the autumn.  Our spindle is turning a beautiful shade of red and our hedges are full of cobnuts and raspberries.

We’ve an exciting few months ahead as we plan a new forest garden close to the house and start laying down the

ground work.  We’ll be sharing our progress on our diary of how our food forest develops- if you have any questions do get in touch 🙂

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