Tag Archives: gardening
Yesterday I joined 20 others from Glastonbury and surrounding areas to visit LAND centre Monkton Wyld Court in Dorset. Organised by our Transition Glastonbury Food Group, the visit was funded by the Permaculture Association’s Learning and Network Demonstration Project.
After weeks of organisational faff, emails left, right and centre, it was finally the day of our group visit. And of course, as is expected on Brigit’s Isles, it was raining. We all put the call out for dry weather in Dorset, and luckily we had no more showers.
We arrived and convened in the dining room of this massive former rectory. There were 21 of us – some with acres of land, others with container plants, some permaculture enthusiasts, others bewildered by what the P word meant at all. Laurie, a resident in the community, introduced us to Monkton Wyld Court and gave us a quick rundown of their history and their work in promoting alternative and sustainable ways of living.
As a centre they host events, courses, local community groups, run a steiner kindergarten and provide a space for people to stay from all over the world. They have 11 acres including a massive walled garden where they grow as much of their food as they can, as well as two pollytunnels, a young forest garden, coppiced woodland, reed bed system and managed grassland.
We had a brief look around their walled gardens, which have been used for centuries in large houses and estates as a way of protecting plants from the elements and making the most of the sun by growing fruit up south facing walls. They have an organic growing system and had a massive series of raised beds. The growing guide on the wall showed that they are planting by the moon too.
Surrounding the beds were herbs and flowers, as to help with pest control, yield multiple functions, such as medicinal properties, and simply to look beautiful. My favourite were these gorgeous violas. What was loveliest about this part of the day was when local market gardener, Colum from Torganics at Paddington Farm’s two year old daughter Elsie, was carried in to the garden and then pointed and said ‘Pollytunnel’. Now there is a kid who is going to be brought up knowing how to grow her own!
We then had a talk from resident Simon Fairlie, who is well known for editing The Land Magazine, his role in The Land Is Ours campaigns, and most recently, for his book on meat. I respected Simon for introducing his talk by saying his arguments hadn’t included any ethics, they were simply an analysis of the ecological/resource use arguments. As a vegan for ethical reasons I was intrigued how ethics could be left out of anything, as they are so fundamental to systems like permaculture, but that’s another story, he clearly has a disclaimer prepared by no doubt lots of vegans laying into him!!
Most were really interested in what he was saying, basically how meat eaters in the west would have to reduce their levels of consumption by nearly two thirds to get to any sustainable level, and then only really from animals that are eating waste products. He had some valid criticisms of modern veganism, such as the reliance of imported soya products, but I’m sure meat eaters eat as much processed food! Anyhow, it was a lot of food for thought and certainly got everyone discussing and debating the facts.
We then had a delicious organic lunch and were treated to some yummy fruit lather made by Ingrid from the apples and quinces from Brook End. After lunch, when we finally managed to get everyone to leave the shop we had a more detailed tour of the site. We were shown the court’s woodland and wood store, walked around the fields and had a sneaky peak at some of the low impact dwellings on site. We also had a look at the centres reed bed system, which for me was great having done the CAT course recently and loving all things sewage! The we saw the young foundations of a forest garden, with planted fruit trees and a few understory fruit bushes.
After the tour, one of the new gardeners, Mike, kindly gave us a brief overview of permaculture and a question and answer session. In a place with a fairly transitional community, of people moving in and then moving on a few years later, it was interesting to see how this affects the land itself – which areas get attention, which areas change, which management methods are used. With permaculture design being used for the long term, how this translates in practice was what I took from the visit.
I hope everyone came away inspired. Simon’s talk especially reminded me why retaining horticultural and agricultural knowledge from years past is so important – it is literally being lost and needs to be kept alive! It also made me see the amount of work that will be needed to re-skill ourselves so that we are able to feed ourselves without supermarkets, without chemicals or fossil fuels. It may have been a nice day out, but the importance of permaculture can never be underestimated!
Thanks again to everyone who came to make it a great day, and thanks again to Monkton Wyld Court for hosting us.
Please see here for more photos from the day.
As the cycle of the year turns, I am still recording the changes at Brook End.. here are some photos from Beltane.
See all of them here.
If you are a Glastonbury local reading this site, please take a moment to complete the Transition Glastonbury Food Group Survey. It will help us to know which areas of work we need to be focusing on to develop a resilient local food system.
It may have been a few months ago but as I am trying to document everything I am doing for my diploma, I thought I’d do a little write up of a course I went on in January.
After successfully getting lost in the farmland of South Somerset, I finally managed to find the house with the sign saying ‘Orchard Course’. Organised by the Low Impact Living Initiative, it was a one day course on ‘Maintaining an Orchard’.
The tutor was Kevin Croucher from Thornhayes Nursery in Devon, who has decades of experience in horticulture and knows most things there is to know about orchards, thankfully imparting as much of it as he could on to us in the few hours we had.
He talked through the different rootstocks, and how they govern the vigour of a plant but also emphasised the rootstock is never the sole determining factor and that as much work needs to be done to have a healthy soil and surrounding environment.
We were reminded that fruit trees are a domesticated species and while there are all sorts of heritage and local varieties, apples are actually native to kazakhstan and so do not get too bogged down in which species you choice, as long as it meets your needs and suits the site.
He talked about grafting methods, including bench grafting, which is done in January, and in pollytunnels at his place, and field grafting and budding basically done outside and much easier and simpler to do.
The most interesting part of the course for myself was his emphasis of the centre leader framework. This is where one centre leader is identified and supported through subtle pruning, as to make a structurally strong tree. It allows air and light into the crown of the tree and therefore produces a better crop. All of his trees at his commercial nursery are pruned like this.
This differs from horticultural etiquette of goblet pruning, where branches are encourage to spread into a kind of crown. I couldn’t help but laugh at his impression of a horticultural ‘snob’ daintily snipping off little twigs in an apple tree following the most complicated pattern in gardening schooling. Its simple, to keep one branch (the strongest appearing one) as the leader and any pruning you make, you make them as effective as possible, so that tree only has 3 or 5 wounds to heal in comparison to 20 or so.
A maximum of 25% should be taken off in any one year, and he couldn’t stress this enough, if the tree seems to be in a good state following this method, sometimes the tree doesn’t need pruning at all, a method encouraged by Austrian permaculture designer Sepp Holzer.
We then were introduced to some very sexy horticultural hardware – high quality secateurs, loppers and saws. He recommended Felco for secateurs and loppers, Silky for saws, if you can invest in them and take good care.
We then walked round the surrounding land, of Nick Mann’s home, from Habitat Aid, who kindly hosted us. Kevin pointed out where trees had been neglected (Nick had only just moved in so could aptly deny responsibility!) and showed evidence of goblet pruning where the trees had been weakened. He asked us where we would recommend to prune following his introduction and then we all had a go. I learnt to take my time so that when I had finished sawing I didn’t accidentally nip the bark of the tree.
After a totally delicious lunch, with lots of welcomed vegan extras laid on for me, we went down the road to look at a local orchard. Kevin gave a bit of background to the economic situation of why a lot of orchards have been removed and why so many farmers converted to dairy farming because of subsidies. What was encouraging however was that he seemed to think that the younger generation were now more interested in diversity and many new orchards are being planted by landowners.
We calculated the likely costs of restoring the orchard to a commercial standing, in terms of labour and equipment to prune.. yikes! However the clear benefits of having well-looked after trees, that will last for decades shown through. It certainly is all about perennials!
There was so much more to the day. At the end we had a Q & A session and Kevin kindly answered all of my annoying questions about planting green manures and flowers with trees and all sorts. When I returned home I came and gently tried to restore some of our fruit trees in our orchard and now I will just have to wait and see if they have benefited. Not long now!
This book has recently been published in Positive News, Issue 67, Spring 2011. To subscribe please see here or pick up a copy at your local whole food store, community centre or environmental project.
Book Review: Sepp Holzer’s Permaculture
A Practical Guide for Farms, Orchards & Gardens
Sepp Holzer is an Austrian Farmer who has been pushing boundaries for over 40 years at his 45 hectare farm. Growing thousands of plants at over 1500m above sea level he continually challenges horticultural rules by experimenting and crafting the ecological processes around him, by creating microclimates and situations where plants may be successful.
However the book is not just an overview of Holzer’s own techniques. He also gives practical advice about how to build terraces, ditches, raised beds and water gardens and ponds. There is also a section dedicated to cultivating fruit trees, where Holzer explores why he promotes alternatives to over-pruning and fertilising trees, through mulching, not pruning and planting beneficial plants alongside fruit trees he builds their resilience. Those interested in health would also find this book useful as he explores medicinal plants and how to cultivate mushrooms.
What comes across as you move through the pages of Holzer’s book is his intimacy with nature. His unique relationships with the plants and animals that share his land. He continuously pulls the reader back to question what it is the plants are seeking, what they are needing, what conditions they are desiring in order to thrive. He takes the plant’s eye’s view of the world without compromising on what it his family and himself need to make a living and support themselves.
Holzer emphasises that the principles found in nature that create his productive systems can be applied anywhere. As someone who has just become the steward of a parcel of land, I feel inspired to try to apply some of of Holzer’s techniques and remind by self to consider what the plant communities I cultivate are seeking. I think if in 30 years time young permaculture designers like myself can even attain one tenth of the knowledge that Holzer has accumulated and is now sharing, then we will be on the right track in building a sustainable agriculture that supports all life.