Tag Archives: agroforestry

A dull day in December

I spent all day writing and organising photographs and I’m currently feeling like a lathe operator that’s spent all day producing nothing but a pile of shavings. The only difference is that the lathe operator would be able to use the shavings as pet bedding where I have no use at all for my pile of discarded verbiage.

Some days are like that.

The group, on the other hand, has had a very productive day, starting with feeding the poultry and doing the final climate measurement for the agroforestry scheme. After lunch they made bath bombs, did the paperwork for the Woodland Trust, redecorated the tree and played Indoor Balloon Ball. (Modesty prevents me telling you who won five matches on the trot, though if I tell you that Julia says I’m despicably over-competitive it might give you a clue. I beat her too.)

The downside with this is that I’m old, stiff, arthritic, uncoordinated and immobile, which tends to suggest that the level of competition wasn’t particularly high and that my afternoon isn’t going to make it onto any list of epic sporting contests.

As lunchtime approached the early promise of blue skies became, leaden and by just after lunch I couldn’t get a decent bird photo in the gloom. By 3pm it was raining and by 4pm it was as black as a taxman’s heart.

In other words, today’s photos are not very interesting, which is good in a way as it means they match the text.

 

Trees, trees, trees…

 

Life isn’t all bird feeders. Some of us (as Julia told me meaningfully) have serious work to do. Today, the serious work was measuring the micro-climate in the agroforestry project. I’m not sure how long we’ve been doing it now, but we’re getting to a point where we will have to measure the trees again. That will be easy, as they aren’t much more than sticks at the moment. What we need to do is start taking photographs of ourselves standing next to them, and take the same photo every year.

It’s amazing how trees creep up on you. I grew up opposite a church. The grass by the roadside was a wide, clear verge. For some reason they decided to plant trees there and one day a thicket of weedy saplings appeared with sticks and tree guards. They looked ill and we all wondered why the church was bothering.

Those trees are now gnarled birches with fissured trunks and green algae. They look like they are a remnant of ancient forest, though I’m sure I was in my twenties when they were planted. Before you say anything, no, I am not that old.

One day, these twiggy sticks will be an orchard (admittedly a long, thin orchard), and one day our measurements will be a Woodland Trust research project. It’s amazing what patience can do.

As Warren Buffett is reported to have said: We are sitting in the shade today because someone planted a tree a long time ago. 

 

 

Agroforestry

I’ve been asked for more detail on the agroforestry project we’re running. If you aren’t interested in agroforestry/permaculture the next few minutes could be quite boring. If you are interested, you may find the next few minutes lacking in detail; as with so many things, I have a wide but shallow knowledge of the subject.

If I say it’s also known as alley cropping it may help you envisage what I’m trying to describe. The video here gives a good explanation, though it’s American so the crops differ.

The idea is that although we give up some land to the trees they will have financial benefits when we crop the apples and other less quantifiable benefits, including shelter, micro-climate, biodiversity and  organic matter.

The organic matter will come from the leaves in autumn and the smaller prunings, which will be left to rot.

Biodiversity will result from the trees giving homes to a range of birds and insects. Hopefully this will result in some form of biological pest control, though I’m not sure that it won’t also offer a have to pests. I must look that up.

The final benefits are shelter and better micro-climate. That’s what we are trying to measure. Common sense tells you that the trees will act as wind breaks and that it should be warmer in the alleys (if the wind is coming from the side). As with  a lot of common sense, nobody has any figures to back it up. There are figures on the internet about the wind breaking power of trees, and their capacity to form warm micro-climates but it seems there isn’t much evidence to back it up.

At the moment we measure the wind speed and temperature at various points in the alleys every month. The Woodland Trust has provided the equipment and training for this and we send them the results each time we measure. We also measure the trees once a year, though it’s not very difficult at the moment with them being shorter than I am. The test will come in a year or two when we see if we’ve been able to remember how to use the inclinometers.

This measuring will be done for the next 20 or 25 years (I forget exactly, as I won’t be here by then) and will, we hope, be very useful in calculating the benefits of this sort of planting.

 

It’s that time again…

It’s tree time again, taking the climate readings between the rows of trees in the agroforestry area. We’re still not seeing much difference in wind and temperature between the rows, but as the trees are still rather stick-like this isn’t really a surprise. Hopefully they will start to modify the micro-climate more as they start to leaf up.

There are still over 23 years of the measuring project to go so there is plenty of time for something to develop.

As you can see, the rhubarb (which we grew from seed last year) is looking reasonable, though I don’t think we will be pulling much this year. It is accompanied by a number of random daffodils, and I have to confess I haven’t a clue as to why we have them there or who planted them. I suppose it looks springlike.

Some more on kites (which were known as “paddocks” in bygone days). It’s by John Clare, who was born not too far from where the kites now fly. I took it from the Yorkshire Red Kite site.

“Ah, could I see a spinney nigh,
A paddock riding in the sky,

Above the oaks, in easy sail,
On stilly wings and forked tail.”

John Clare (c1820)

What I now need is a picture of a kite over an oak, now where can I find one…

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A paddock riding in the sky

 

 

 

 

Measuring time in terms of trees

We started the Woodland Trust recording programme today – a programme that is going to see us take monthly readings for the next 25 years. I say “us” but I’m not sure about the chances of me being here in 2040. I’m more likely to be under a tree than measuring one by that time.

Despite this, it’s good to think we’re involved in an activity which may persuade people to start more agroforestry schemes. It may never be a mainstream farming technique but even if only a few people do it as a result of our recording it will make it all worthwhile. How often do you get a chance to alter the world?

We are measuring wind and temperature data in the fields between the rows of apple trees to see how they modify the climate. It’s not as interesting as measuring the height and spread, but you don’t really need to do that every month.

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It does you good to think in terms of trees rather than human lifespan. Most of the world’s problems seem to be caused by people who don’t think very far ahead and if we all started planting trees for our grandchildren the world would be a better place.

I planted two trees in the garden a few years ago. I’m not really sure how many years, probably about fifteen. I honestly didn’t plan it too well. They were too close to each other and too close the the boundary fence. When I planted them they were about six feet tall and were meant to be trained in a ballerina shape. The neighbour who gave them to me hadn’t pruned them for a couple of years but I was confident I could get them back to form.

Lesson One: Overconfidence is not a good thing.

Three or four years later, with some lax pruning they were small trees and were growing into each other. As the birds were getting more cherries than we were (one year we literally harvested FOUR cherries) I decided the cherry tree should go.

Lesson Two: Try to vsiualise things as they will be in years to come.

Finally, with some properly structured pruning, I have a very productive plum tree, which is now the source of a dispute with my neighbours. They don’t like it hanging over their garden and they don’t like the plums dropping off and making a mess. I’d actually left the branches on as I thought they might like a few plums and might think I was tight if I cut the branches back. Seems I was wrong.

Lesson Three: A gift of free plums is not always appreciated.