Field pre sheep robcartoon

I tried to insert a cartoon picture is me … and oops, I don’t know how to make it smaller, so I’ve deleted it. So THAT’S how it’s going to be here: learn as we go along, on the blog and most likely in the forest garden too. Let’s enjoy the journey… Ahh, there it is. The cartoon! And while I’m at it, there’s a picture of my field before the sheep got in: scrub, weeds, wild grass. Not pretty. Nice view though, just north of west. The sea is to the left / south and the bay is just visible above the hedge on the right. The mountain is Slieve League which has one of the highest sea cliffs in Europe at 1972 feet. So we’re on the Wild Atlantic Way, as they’re calling it. The field finishes at the telegraph pole, on high ground, dead centre.

My plan is to grow an edible forest garden in that field in SW Donegal. I want to grow food sustainably, along permaculture lines, so that after a while … several years … it should keep itself going, more or less without me. That’s the plan. As of this moment I have 2/3rds of an acre with a neighbour’s sheep ‘cutting the grass’ for me, manuring as they go and doing a fine job of it. Dimensions are roughly 35 yards wide by about 90/95 yards long. atr I will measure and map thefield and publish my efforts for you to see. Hopefully we can learn together as I will share my successes and failures. 

I was ill during 2013 and had a lot of time to read and watch You tube videos. I got lucky: I watched most of a series of talks by Bill Mollison, one of the founders of ‘permaculture’. He was ably assisted by Geoff Lawton, a terrific teacher (see geofflawton.com). I got to watch about three-quarters of the series, before it was taken down. Still, I learned a lot about permaculture principles and permaculture design.

I went on to buy and read three books on the subject of permaculture gardening, each one better than the next (in order of published date):

  1. ‘One Straw Revolution’ by Masanobu Fukuoka, a small book by a Japanese scientist and small farmer who developed a remarkably simple method of sustainable, productive, efficient agriculture. He doesn’t ask much, just no digging, no fertilizers, no compost, no insecticides, no herbicides, no weeding and no sol compaction. All that and he takes 2 crops a year off his land. Fascinating.
  2. ‘How to make a Forest Garden’ by Patrick Whitefield, a UK teacher and practitioner. This is a clear, well laid out ‘how to’ guide for beginners like me. Patrick is knowledgeable, interesting, and passionate and you can look him up and listen to some of his talks on Youtube.
  3. ‘Creating a Forest Garden — working with nature to grow edible crops’ by Martin Crawford. Martin has written a thorough ‘bible’ for anyone planning a Food Forest in a temperate zone such as Ireland or Britain. He has loads of ‘how to’ text, clear explanations and very detailed descriptions of hundreds of trees, shrubs and perennial plants that are suitable for such a garden in this part of the world. He includes detail about the uses for each plant and its size and preferred conditions.

So I’ve studied and learned a lot and am right at the beginning of the project. I retire, with God’s help, next September (2014) and will then begin to work my garden. There’s rather a lot to do. Some of the ‘first things’ include:

  • Watch and learn: observe the space for a full season if possible. You’re looking for what’s growing already, soil conditions, water supply, flow and drainage, the sun, light and shade, winds and slope, microclimates and frost pockets.
  • Draw a scale map of the site (Base Map) and begin to draw in what you observe and want to keep. Omit those elements you will remove.
  • List your own and your family’s wants and needs from the site (places to sit and enjoy the view, places to play, hide eyesore views, a pond for wildlife, a stone bench, shed, greenhouse and so on).
  • Things that need correction before you start, like rocks to be moved, drains / pond to be dug, hedges trimmed, weeds to be killed off.

I’ve owned my field for years but never got to spend more than a couple of days at a time and just 2 weeks in Summer, when I’m more interested in relaxing than gardening. So I’ve done virtually nothing to it since I bought it, apart from pull up the ragwort and pull down an old stone shed before it fell down. A neighbour puts in a couple of animals now and again, as I’ve said, ‘to cut the grass’ and spread their manure.

Last week I was there for a couple of days and after all my reading, I couldn’t wait to get out into the field. I had a specific job I wanted to do, so I took a long board, a spirit level, a measuring tape and a notebook and pen. Why? to measure how far DOWN from the road the land slopes, because it falls almost directly westward for most of it’s length and then rises again at the end. Well, before I was chased in by a shower of rain, I had measured to the bottom of the slope, a drop of 28 feet in a 144 feet of travel. That’s a 20% (18 degree) slope. Now THAT’s real information. Crawford says that every degree of slope to the south (from horizontal) gives roughly an extra 2 days of growing season, so I’d estimate that my westward slope is worth about half that. That makes 18 days extra growing! Sounds good to me. This will be important if I’m growing fruit, allowing more sun-time for ripening.

My first job in the field will be to gradually bring it under control by cutting the brambles and hedges and picking the larger rocks and stones off the surface. (Yeah, I know: that’s TWO jobs). The hedges are mostly old willow, which will give me a lot of timber for my stove. The leaves, twigs and brambles I will chop up & leave on the surface to rot into the soil. (I’m considering buying a shredder) and while I’m out there doing that, I can carry my note book and do that all important observation. This nicely illustrates one of permaculture’s principles: “every element has several functions and every function is provided by several elements”.

Anyway folks, that’s where I’m coming from. I’ve worked for years as an accountant and teacher (of adults with disabilities,) so I hope to share my gleanings and experiences with a view to helping readers  and visitors to adopt a more sustainable lifestyle and perhaps grow a few trees along the way. Eric Toensmeier, a permaculture practitioner and writer says “my mistakes are copyrighted and my successes are open source”. I like this; it’s generous and common among permaculture folk and it’s the attitude I’d like to bring to this project.

Your comments and suggestions are welcome. I’ll come back from time to time and explain what I’m doing and reading. I’ll set up a few pages with writers you might look up, quotes I like, books & websites I like and, in time, the trees, shrubs and herbaceous material I’ve planted. A food forest could have 200 or more species growing. That’s a lot of plants, so I’ll share as I go. Tell me what you’ld like me to include (in the blog and in the garden of course).

Thanks for reading.

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