Solargraph

A solargraph is a photograph of the sun as it courses across the firmament. It is usually taken using a pinhole camera with exposure times varying from 1 day to 6 months. This solargraph was taken at Greenholme over the period 25 June to 21 December 2014.

25-06-14 to 21-12-14 six month solargraph

25-06-14 to 21-12-14 six month solargraph

Each trace represents one day, and the highest point in each arc is 12 noon (1pm BST). So the time and duration of sunshine, and conversely of cloud cover, can be estimated for each day. The view is a full 180 degrees from East to West.

The solargraph was taken from the location of our Campbell-Stokes sunshine recorder (the globe visible at the bottom, just to the left of centre) in the weather station. The very sophisticated pinhole camera comprised an (empty!) McEwans Export beer can (disgusting stuff – not my can!) with a 1mm hole punched in the side about 2/3 from the bottom. Ordinary matt B&W 6×4 darkroom photographic paper was slotted inside opposite the pinhole. The can (now a camera) was sealed watertight (using lots of duct tape), taped to a vertical post with the pinhole pointing directly south, and left for a 6-month exposure. Processing simply involved removing the paper in a darkened room, scanning, flipping, and inverting the image (to get the negative), and increasing brightness and contrast. The original is then kept in a dark envelope in a dark drawer as any continued exposure to light will obliterate the image.

You can see the Stevenson screen blocking the early winter sun in the bottom left corner (east) and a small alder tree blocking a smaller area in the bottom right (west). The two beech trees directly south appear not to affect the number of winter hours recorded by very much. The small dark vertical line visible in the bottom brightest traces just to the left of the trees is a telegraph pole.

In a future attempt we will try locating the pinhole probably 3/4 from the bottom to see if we can include the apogee of the midsummer arcs.

In reality, of course, the sun doesn’t ‘course’ at all: the earth rotates and tilts on its axis. Extraordinary to see this effect so succinctly captured – the dynamic of the solar system in one picture. Although, what is reality?…

Weather

Open Day 2014

The 19th July seems like a long time ago now, but we remain humbled that so many made the effort to come despite the rather damp weather. Folk travelled from far and near to visit: one couple walked the half-mile to reach us in the rain; another couple journeyed up from north London for the day! A full spread of ages, from teens to octogenarians, and of people from the fringes of society to the pinnacle of establishment were present. There were many important conversations, and for some, moments of epiphany, where a dawning understanding lights a face and the world has suddenly changed for the better. Rather like The Epiphany.

James Newcome, Bishop of Carlisle, not only gave over his entire day to us, but travelled up from an important House of Lords debate specially to be here, taking an active interest in all the developments of the last year, and making himself available to everyone who wanted to talk. His committment to us, especially as an extra-parochial entity, outside all diocesan structures but still a part of the Church of England, remains both important and encouraging.

Not the least valiant were the Reiver Arts ladies who, in their leaking gazebo, continued to work and demonstrate in appalling conditions, soaked to the skin and kept warm only by cups of hot tea. But everyone who set up stall was affected by the rain.

A fundamental part of our being together is fellowship and hospitality. The provision of free food and drink is therefore a central element of our offering. Thanks to all who contributed to the feast enjoyed by everyone.

Worship is at the heart of our celebration of the gift of life and land. Thankfully there was enough room under canvas and polytunnel to shelter everyone during the open-air service.

Music, too, is an important part of the joy of life. Many who came found themselves playing, or singing, or joining in, or just listening to traditional folk tunes or home-written songs. Probably few expected to be doing so before they arrived.

All of those who were involved in demonstrating, and many who were visiting, have, in some sense, committed themselves to be a part of something that, as yet, remains largely invisible, more an aspiration and a vision. But their very presence gives the vision reality, tangeability. It is a dream for a community where all are welcomed and valued, can participate and learn, can give and encourage, centred around prayer and the land. Many of these people would not describe themselves as Christians, and yet they have found a sense of belonging in this ancient but new outcrop of Church.

Here are some pictures of the day.

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Greenholme - an experiment in permaculture

Apple Pressing Day

Community Apple-Juicing day on Saturday 18th October, Greenholme, 12pm-4pm.

Everyone welcome. Bring your own apples (if you have any) and containers for your juice (plastic milk bottles work well). Windfalls/bruised apples are fine if you want to make cider, good apples are best for drinking juice. If you have a glut of apples and don’t know what to do with them, bring them along – we can use them for the pigs if nothing else! We’ll finish off the day playing music so bring an instrument and a bite to eat.

Activities, Greenholme - an experiment in permaculture

Philip on the Bewcastle Cross

A short video introduction to Bewcastle by Rev Philip Greenhalgh for the BBC in 2009.

Greenholme - an experiment in permaculture

Gentle Grain – 2nd attempt

…who stilleth the raging of the sea and the noise of his waves, and the madness of the people. (Ps 65:7)

If we are to establish resilience in the way we grow food in these northern climes, living lightly, without the use of heavy machinery and fossil fuels, we need to find a way of producing carbohydrates that makes sense of the land and our available energy (which is getting less as we grow older!).

‘Civilised’ societies have used the plough for thousands of years to break the ground, disrupt the growth of the indigenous vegetation, and provide a medium in which new seed can grow.

But, notwithstanding the native American abhorrence of ‘tearing my mother’s breast’, ploughs require enormous amounts of energy to turn the earth. This destroys not only the plants already growing, but also the soil structure, developing ‘plough pans’ that inhibit the redevelopment of soil structure and create barriers to drainage. Furthermore, we don’t have the energy to drive a plough, or the land to sustain a horse or ox to do it for us.

mgeni_lamek

Without livestock African farmers, such as Mgeni Lamek, have to till their fields by hand. A team of oxen can plough an area in one and a half hours that would take eight days to till by hand.

Hand Plow

American ‘farmerettes’ pushing hand-ploughs in 1919. Note the ground is already broken up and they are creating furrows.

So we continue our search for a method of growing carbohydrates on a limited amount of land with a limited amount of energy.

Our first attempt to grow grain gently taught us a few valuable lessons. In 2013, our first year at Greenholme, we decided to put them into practice. Principally we would:

  1. use a grass-proof mulch
  2. provide a water-retentive matrix
  3. ensure no stock could ruin our efforts!

Building on our 2009 attempt we decided to use cardboard as our mulch instead of woodchip. It has the following advantages:

  1. is readily available
  2. light and easy to handle
  3. totally biodegradable within a year
  4. gives good ground coverage
  5. provides good suppression of grass
  6. holds moisture after rain
  7. allows penetration of roots when wet

Among its disadvantages are:

  1. removal required of packing tape and any plastic film
  2. gaps between sheets can allow vegetative growth through from below
  3. needs fixing to ground to prevent blowing away
  4. dries out quickly in wind
  5. looks horrible!

The first of these just has to be dealt with. It takes time and is tedious but is not energy intensive. The second can be minimised by providing a good overlap. The following three can all be overcome using subsequent layers of other materials.

 

April 2013, our top field. The area to the right along the fence was selected for our second grain-growing attempt.

April 2013, our top field. The area to the right along the fence was selected for our second grain-growing attempt.

An area of approximately 20 x 5m was chosen along the western boundary of our top field. The first job was to prepare it for the cardboard-laying by scything the rushes. Next stage was to lay the cardboard. We used our boxes from the house move that we retainted specifically for this purpose. Fixing the cardboard layer was achieved by spreading well-rotted farmyard manure over the whole area.

Cardboard layed out and weighted down with farmyard manure donated by one of our parishioners.

Cardboard layed out and weighted down with farmyard manure donated by one of our parishioners.

Wanting to work with Fukuoka’s methods of seed-sowing, we again attempted to make seed-balls.

Components for making seed-balls: mole-hill soil, riddle, and a bucket of spelt grain

Components for making seed-balls: mole-hill soil, riddle, and a bucket of spelt grain.

Grain mixed with mole-hill soil and a little water to moisten the mixture

Spelt grain mixed with mole-hill soil and a little water to moisten the mixture.

Attempting to sieve the grains into balls in the riddle lead to clumping.

Attempting to sieve the grains into balls in the riddle lead to clumping.

Prolonged sieving lead to larger balls with lots of grains in each clump.

Prolonged sieving lead to larger balls with lots of grains in each clump.

This is not what we were looking for. After several attempts with different levels of moisture we gave up the idea as we didn’t have the time or the energy to create individual balls for each grain! So we broadcast the mixture of soil and grain over the carboard/manure base.

Cardboard and manure base with broadcast grain/soil mix.

Cardboard and manure base with broadcast grain/soil mix.

The next stage was to provide protection for the grain from birds, the wind (and hence reduce evaporation of moisture from the cardboard), while retaining porosity to the rain, and covering the whole to look better. But what to use?

At last we had found a use for our abundant rushes! Scythed and dried, these formed an 8-inch mulch layer over everything.

Cut and dried rushes stacked and waiting to be spread

Cut and dried rushes stacked and waiting to be spread.

Rush mulch spread over half the grain bed. This half contained the spelt grain.

Rush mulch spread over half the grain bed. This half (10 x 5m) contained the spelt grain.

The second half of the grain-bed about to be broadcast with naked oats.

The second half of the grain-bed about to be broadcast with naked oats.

The completed grain-bed 6 weeks after sowing. June 2013

The completed grain-bed 6 weeks after sowing. June 2013.

What happened next?

Well, like all growers, we waited.

We didn’t have to wait long before developements started taking place. In fact, within a few days things had started happening. But not the sort of things for which we were hoping.

We have, in our area, as probably right across the country, high densities of corvids. These birds post look-outs in trees, on telegraph poles, or just circling around to keep an eye on things while the rest of the flock feeds on the ground. Whether they be jackdaws, rooks, or crows, they are intelligent birds that don’t miss a trick.

In fact, as an aside, last year we went through a period where our hens seemed to stop producing eggs in mid-summer. Perplexed, we thought the eggs must be being taken by a rat, but there was no evidence – no broken shells, no rat-droppings. Until one day, when sitting at the desk in the study, which looks out onto the hen house, a hen came out and crowed as hens do after laying an egg. Within a few minutes a large black crow landed on the roof of the hen house. After looking around and checking the territory to make sure there was no danger, it jumped down, hopped into the hen house, and in less than 10 seconds was out again, flying straight off – with an egg in its mouth!

Back to the grain. They had spotted the grain being broadcast, bided their time, and when all was clear, ie early in the morning, came down in numbers and started rummaging through the 8-or-so inches of rush mulch to find the grain below. Then the pigeons realised the corvids had found an abundant food supply and joined in.

There is an old saying when broadcasting grain – 1/3 for the birds, 1/3 to die, and 1/3 to grow. Well as it turned out the birds took a lot more than their third. As the year progressed it became clear that almost nothing was left. The spelt was old seed and had a low germination rate, but the naked oats were fresh. In addition, the summer was hot and dry, which was extremely unusual – our first dry summer since moving into the area in 2008. It is probable that the ‘third to die’ was the rest of the ‘crop’.

I am reminded of a story Bede tells of Cuthbert’s time on Inner Farne:

The barley was brought long past the proper time for planting, when there was no hope of it growing, but it soon sprang up and brought forth a very good crop. When it began to ripen the birds came down and set about devouring it. ‘Why are you eating crops you yourselves did not grow?’ he asked the birds. ‘Perhaps you have greater need of them than I. If God has given you permission, then do as He bade you; if not, be off with you, stop damaging other people’s property.’ They flew off at his first word and did no further damage. (Life of Cuthbert, Ch 19)

We tried this but it didn’t work. Clearly, we are no saints!

Nevertheless, the cardboard mulch worked well against the grass. But not against the creeping buttercup, which just sent out runners towards any crack of light, nor against the rushes, which bulldozed their way through the cardboard.

The grain-bed a year on.

The grain-bed a year on – May 2014.

So, despite successfully implementing the lessons from our first attempt, another grinding failure, but with more lessons learnt. ‘Get Wisdom’, said Solomon. No one said this was going to be easy. Being a blessing to the land, while trying to live from it, is hard work.

Cursed is the ground because of you; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles (and buttercups, docks and rushes) it shall bring forth to you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. (Gen 3:17-18, adapted)

And yet we believe the very ground is redeemed through the Incarnation and Resurrection of Christ. It just needs working out in fear and trembling.

But we still need to find a way to feed ourselves and others, to live. So on to our third attempt to grow grain – in 2014…

Greenholme - an experiment in permaculture

NHM – a great resource

At around 3-4m tall this is a large shrub or small tree. But what is it?

At around 3-4m tall this is a large shrub or small tree. But what is it?

We have a large shrub or small tree in front of the house at Greenholme. We have not been able to identify it since we arrived, and neither has anyone we have asked.

Multiple gnarled stems demonstrate a bushy character

Multiple gnarled stems demonstrate a mature plant with a bushy character

Careful inspection of the bark, leaves and flowers led to the following description:

Around 4m tall, bushy character, multiple twisted and gnarled trunks, not thorny. Leaves not serrated, not lobed, broadly oval with slight point at end, up to 7cm long, slightly yellowy-green, matt and hairy on both sides, and in opposite pairs. Flowers are small, pale yellow, about 1cm in length, two petals, 5 carpels, 1 stamen. They occur in pairs at the end of a flower stalk about 2 cm long, two flower stalks growing from the base of each leaf-pair. The tree is constantly buzzing with bumble and honey bees. Been in flower since mid April.

Leaves opposite, not serrated, matt and hairy

Leaves opposite, not serrated, matt and hairy

A comprehensive search through the Collins Tree Guide revealed nothing that matched.

Fly Honeysuckle_2014 05 08_0008

Inflorescence consists of a pair of small, pale yellow flowers on each stalk, each with two petals, five stamens and one carpel.

An online search through various tree and shrub dichotomous keys resulted in a couple of false positives, the closest of which was a viburnum, but the inflorescence was wrong.

So where to next?

The Natural History Museum (NHM) provides a vast wealth of online research as well as resources to assist in identification of British wildlife, including several keys, which at present cover trees, bumblebees, woodlice, lichens, earthworms and bluebells.

However, when these resources fail, it also operates various forums (fora?) in which one can ask for assistance in identifying anything. We posted the question in the trees forum, including the above photographs, and about 40 minutes later received the following reply from Mike Hardman:

It is fly honeysuckle, Lonicera xylosteum

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lonicera_xylosteum

As you’ll see here, there is debate over whether it is native to Britain or if it was introduced a long time ago and has since become naturalized

http://www.brc.ac.uk/plantatlas/index.php?q=node/1424

So there we have it! And what a wonderful resource the NHM provides.

The UK plant atlas referenced in the response is another excellent resource.

The NHM also provide a useful wallet-guide for the six most common bumblebees – a really handy little card.

Greenholme - an experiment in permaculture

2014 Open Day

Following the popularity of our first Open Day last year, we have decided to offer another opportunity for folk to visit. This year it will be on Saturday, 19th July from 12-5pm. As last year, James Newcome, Bishop of Carlisle, should be with us all afternoon.

The involvement of our local community is an extremely important component of what we are attempting to do. So hopefully there will be lots of craft activities to see and try, including basket-weaving, peg-loom weaving, spinning, blacksmithying, organic cheese, stained-glass crafting, hand-thrown pottery. There will also be music to listen to or play (so bring an instrument along), face-painting, free food and beer, and a short, informal open-air service (weather permitting) for those who wish to participate.

This is an opportunity to explore the site and discuss the exploration and development of permaculture-based practices on our 6-acre smallholding, including experiments in no-dig grain and potato growing, aquaculture, willow forage and biomass, reed beds, forest garden etc. There are also pigs to romp with, chickens to feed, a horse, guinea pigs and a dog! Plus talks on the Met Office weather station and bees a year on.

Entry is free (it is, after all, an open day!) and all are VERY welcome!

‘Zoomable’ map to find us is here.

Greenholme - an experiment in permaculture

Enough

We never seem to hear politicians or mainstream economists challenging the mantra of economic growth, even though it is clear the planet is already suffering its devastating consequences.

In June 2010 the first Steady State Economy conference was hosted at Leeds University. A brief personal summary can be read here.

The organisers of the conference have recently published a book deriving from it titled Enough Is Enough, and this video giving an overview and summarising three aspects: debt, inequality, and unemployment. It is a message we need to hear and act upon.

News for the House of Prayer

Gentle Grain – 1st Attempt

Native Americans had an abhorrence of ‘ploughing’, declaring it to be a barbaric assault on our ‘mother’ who sustains us:

You ask me to plough the ground. Shall I take a knife and tear my mother’s breast? Then when I die she will not take me to her bosom to rest. (Smohalla, Nez Perce Indian, c.1850)

This attitude is reflected in other sayings where the earth is recognised as the life-nurturer:

[The Lakota] loved the earth and all things of the earth, the attachment growing with age. The old people came literally to love the soil and they sat or reclined on the ground with a feeling of being close to a mothering power. It was good for the skin to touch the earth and the old people liked to remove their moccasins and walk with bare feet on the sacred earth. (Chief Luther Standing Bear, Lakota Indian, c.1900)

and

The Great Spirit is our Father, but the Earth is our Mother. She nourishes us; that which we put into the ground she returns to us, and healing plants she gives us likewise. (Big Thunder, Wabanakis Nation, c.1900)

The quotations are taken from Touch The Earth: A Self-Portrait of Indian Existence. It is tempting to think there is a degree of Romanticism in such views, but it is difficult to see how Native Americans would have come under that movement’s influence. It is much more likely they are genuine reflections of this ancient, aboriginal culture.

However, it is not difficult to reconcile these attitudes with the creation stories of Genesis 1 and 2, or Moses having to take off his sandals because he was standing on holy ground in Exodus 3. Nor with the realisation that Christ is the second Adam, the ‘gardener’ discovered by Mary Magdalene in Jesus’ first resurrection appearance in John’s Gospel. In particular, the thorny issue of the meaning of ‘dominion over creation’ in Genesis 2, that has taxed Christians over the centuries, when understood with reference to the nature of ‘lordship’ exercised by Christ, himself, that of sacrifice and service, is startlingly illuminated in them. It seems we have something profound to learn from them.

The idea, therefore, seemed a good one – to grow grain gently, without digging or using machinery to prepare the ground for planting, by suppressing grass growth through mulching. Our approach was an adaptation of a method pioneered and used very successfully by the late Japanese farmer, Masanobu Fukuoka, which he describes in his book One Straw Revolution. It is an inspiring read.

Like the Native Americans, but on the other side of the globe, Fukuoka (who died in 2008) lived by the premise that we can learn all we need to know from carefully listening to creation. If we are attentive, we will see the natural forces of life and some of the myriad interactions that are a living ecosystem. Then, with trepidation, we can begin to join the dance, encouraging this, redirecting that. It took him many years, but he became an inspiration for several generations of people who wanted to relearn how to grow food naturally.

Fukuoka, however, was not starting with a field full of Cumbrian ‘reshes’ and creeping buttercup! His field was already cultivated – he merely changed his method of continuing the cultivation from one year to the next.

In April 2009, in a field loaned to us by a local church-member and farmer, we attempted an experiment, consciously trying to learn from his approach. We laid three strips of woodchip on pasture, each about 6m x 2m x 5cm thick. This was to suppress the grass underneath, without digging it over, provide a water retentive matrix on which to grow, and yet allow the roots of seedlings to reach down to find the soil. Scattered on top of these we spread seed mixed with moistened compost and bonemeal. One strip had wheat, one oats, one barley, with fuego beans mixed in to all three, as nitrogen fixing legumes. Fukuoka developed the seed-ball method to stop birds eating the seeds, since he wasn’t ploughing them in or covering them in any way, and to provide a growing medium for them when they germinated. Our attempt at making them into mud or clay balls didn’t work, and the broadcast turned out fairly lumpy.

Each week we inspected our beds to see if the seeds had germinated. Would the experiment work? Was that blade an oat seedling poking through, or something else?

We discovered three unfortunate facts as the summer progressed:

  1. wind dried out the woodchip matrix relatively quickly, frequently leaving the young plants drought-stricken
  2. the woodchip mulch wasn’t thick enough to suppress the very vigorous grass beneath
  3. the farmer’s in-breaking sheep preferred young grain grass to the surrounding rye grass and sheep’s sorrel

This combination meant we were going to struggle with anything resembling a harvest. In the early stages it looked a complete disaster. Oats, wheat and barley are all forms of grass, so it was impossible for us to tell whether any of our seeds were growing.

The middle strip, containing oats, swamped by emergent grass growing through the mulch.

The middle strip, containing oats, swamped by emergent grass growing through the mulch. The mounds either side are of potatoes planted in gathered mole-hill soil. June 2009

Nevertheless, the plants grew up in among the grass that forged through the mulch and, towards the end of the summer, fruited, at last becoming visible.

Barley in among the grass. A lone fuego bean plant also lifts her head. August 2009.

Barley in among the grass. A lone fuego bean plant also lifts her head. August 2009.

Come harvest, however, there was little to do. We gathered a few oats, no wheat, no barley and no beans. The wheat had not taken, the beans turned black, and the barley vanished. (We were only able to be on site 2 or 3 times a week). Was it the sheep that kept breaking in?

Disappointing as failure is, that was an experiment. We know mulch needs to be serious enough to suppress grass, that woodchip is not an ideal medium for growing seed, drying out too quickly in the wind, and that sheep can be a real pain! It also helps to be close to your land, which we weren’t.

So in 2012, our first year at Greenholme, we had a second go…

Greenholme - an experiment in permaculture

Beef or…Willow? Part 2

A recent episode of the BBC programme ‘Countryfile’ (26 January, 2014) saw our local MP criticising certain intellectuals for wanting to impose their ‘fantasies’ on the uplands in restoring them to natural woodlands, or ‘re-wilding’ as it has become known. His claim was that the hills had been in their present, treeless condition for 3000 years, and sheep farming is the business of the uplands. Unsurprisingly he made a lot of sense to our farmers. The same programme also showed our local Geltsdale RSPB reserve, and the apparently successful results from trying to combine sheep grazing with wildlife habitat restoration.

The argument was primarily about sheep grazing, although most upland farms also run cattle for beef as well. But as far as farming communities are concerned, stock rearing is the only method of land management in this area that yields a living. Without it, people can see no hope for the local community. Indeed, there are very few of the upcoming generation showing any interest in following their parents and taking on the family farm. At stake is a real worry about the future.

The idea that upland farming yields a living, of course, is itself a fantasy, and only tenable so long as the EU continues to pay generous CAP subsidies to our farmers. As soon as they cease, so would any form of ‘traditional’ upland farming in the UK. One wonders what would happen if the UK were to leave the EU.

So we are continuing our exploration of what the land can yield productively, that is not monocultural, that is rich in biodiversity, and that works with the land, rather than against it.

Last year, with the help of an extremely generous discount from Trees Please in Hexham (because they knew we were a church-related project), we planted over 1000 willow and poplar hybrid saplings in a ratio of 3:1. Permaculture principles suggest each element in a design must have more than one function, so the purpose of the planting was fourfold:

  1. Increase biodiversity. Willow hosts the second largest diversity of insects of any native tree in the UK (after oak). This in turn provides a rich and diverse food source, as well as popular shelter, for many different species of passerines. We are using a mixture of willow and poplar to ensure it is not a monoculture.
  2. Provide shelter. Quick growing willow and poplar planted along the southern and western borders of our land will soon provide a wind break from the sometimes strong south-westerlies coming in from the Solway.
  3. Soak up water and out-compete the soft rushes and creeping buttercup. We need a plant that, with the minimum of input from us, will grow well on waterlogged soil, help lower soil water content, and provide an alternative habitat to the juncus effusus that dominates unmanaged grassland.
  4. Biomass. Every 3 to 4 years, through a programme of short-rotation-coppicing (SRC), the willow and poplar will yield a highly productive, valuable, and sustainable, crop of biomass for use in heating.

Planting happened late in the season, and there was a risk that many wouldn’t take.

Planting willow and poplar saplings, May 2013

Planting willow (middle) and poplar (foreground) saplings, May 2013

We experimented with a couple of different mulches: cut and dried rushes; rotted manure; nothing.

Planted saplings with manure mulch, May 2013

Planted saplings with manure mulch, May 2013

Mulch of dried rushes, May 2013

Mulch of dried rushes, May 2013

As it turned out, the worry during the summer was a lack of water! But willow, like Christ, is difficult to put down. It is one of those plants that wants to live, and if it sees a chance of life, it will reach out and grab it. Almost all the willow, and much of the poplar, survived.

The saplings have taken root and are flourishing, June 2013.

The saplings have taken root and are flourishing, June 2013.

The plants that didn’t survive were those trampled by the horse, and even many of them tried to keep going. We carried out no ground preparation before planting, and mulching seems to have had no discernible effect.

End of the first growing season, October 2013.

End of the first growing season, October 2013.

The willow grew by around half its height again during its first season, and required no maintenance from us, other than protection from the horse.

We have now (January 2014) coppiced almost all this first crop to provide setts for a second round of planting, which will double our stock. These are being planted in horseshoe patterns in our top field to create four, smaller, rounded enclosures, possibly for sheltered grazing by a small flock of something, as yet undecided. Solar(!)-powered electric tape fencing is being used to keep the horse from trampling them. The coppiced willows and poplars will now be left for up to three-four years before being coppiced again, this time to provide the biomass harvest.

So willow appears to be a success. It likes the land, out-competes the rushes on their own territory, improves biodiversity, is very low maintenance, requires no ground or soil-preparation or fertiliser, acts as a carbon sink, is easy to multiply, and will yield a valuable harvest. We’ll have to see how many of this year’s setts take, but we’re hopeful most of them will.

Greenholme - an experiment in permaculture