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How do you develop a Field into a food Forest when you are continually NOT going there?

First my wife had a fall now a family member is ill, so despite all my hopes for progress over this long May weekend … it hasn’t happened. However, since my last post, I have been up to Donegal and I have taken a load of measurements. I drew the roughest of sketch maps and began slowly to measure and annotate the map. 


I saw a tip in the book by Aranya, referenced in a previous post, whereby I tied knots, every 5 metres, along a long piece of white washing line (string would do). Then a pocket tape was used for the final metre or two. It’s not exact, but I don’t really need exact, do I? It’s brilliant and saves a lot of walking to and fro. A student friend has my unlovely rough work and is attempting the difficult task of transferring it to a CAD drawing. As soon as I have his draft, I’ll scan both and let you see what I’ve done.

You pick out points around the property and triangulate from those points, so that when you have a long distance to measure, you break that into smaller points and measure triangles. If you know the length of the 3 sides, your shape will be perfect as long as you stick to scale. If there are no convenient landmarks to measure from, create your own with a stake here and a pipe there and a rock someplace else. It works really well.

Another apology though, again I went without my camera. Sorry. I WILL get photos and show how I used the line and the tape. Very effective, as long as you’re careful in your counting. You also discover, as I did, that what looks like a rectangular field, is definitely not. so, again, with little real progress to show, I catch you next time.

What to do first? Hard landscaping.

I’ve already said I will begin by cutting down / cutting back the old willow hedge, and so I shall. However one group of things I need to place, in my head, at least, is the structures and similar ‘hard’ landscaping elements. I need / want a shed and space we can use for storage of tools and also as a seating, or workspace, where perhaps, of a summer’s evening, one might watch the sun go down and sip a glass of wine. (Relax: I’m 40 years married next month!) This space might also facilitate the making of a cup of tea and perhaps a loo … “A man has to do etc etc.” Although the permaculture writers do extol the value of human urine as a nitrogen rich fertilizer.

I’m thinking a 20 foot container, or an old caravan. The latter scares me as caravans are mentioned specifically on the county council website as undesirable for more than a brief period. I need a shed and workspace. My wife paints and will need a studio space. I’ll be in the garden and would appreciate somewhere to get out of the sun/rain from time to time. I’m also fond of a cup of tea, when the humour takes me. So I’m looking to have it all and have it now, as the young folk say.

If anyone out there in internet world has any ideas, I’d appreciate some input here. I’ve no skills around welding, or converting a steel container into a suitable space. I’ve done ‘YouTube’ videos on insulating and converting containers into classrooms and the like but that’s all very fine … on YouTube! Very different thing in my field, with my container. Oops. My daughter says you can find everything online: used double glazed doors and windows, drainpipes … ‘whatever’. Maybe it IS possible on a shoestring.

That’s one problem.

Another is there’s a very wet segment in the bottom of my field. I’m wondering if there’s a spring there. I plan to dig a fairly big hole and see if it fills up and develops a flow. Any thoughts on that one? It would be BRILLIANT if there was. Then I could begin to develop a system to harvest some this water flow for the house and eliminate some of my water charges, Any surplus could be diverted into the pond already mentioned. (Permaculture again: one function provided by multiple elements.) We currently have no charges for drinking or toilet water for our homes in Ireland. This however is about to change, later this year, when our ‘beloved’ government is to introduce water charges. So water harvest becomes a deliberate and money-saving requirement.

I have plenty of water harvesting opportunities around the house and garage. Both are higher than the garden, so it should be easy enough to redirect roof water into tanks, through filters, so we can pump it into the house for use in toilets and for showers. Surplus run-off can be directed into pipes under the road and into the garden steam / pond system. A grey water system, perhaps using reed beds is also a possibility.

Another plan is to divert a drain that passes along my boundary with my (higher) neighbour, into my property when it first enters the site below the road. Then I can take it away from the boundary into the property on a meandering path and into a proposed pond. Finally I hope to allow it curve its way down to the existing low point, where it exits my field. it’s what might be called a ‘seasonal stream’, as it tends to become almost totally dry in summer, even in Ireland!

So, plenty of plans and thoughts. But what will I be  ABLE to do? i.e. allowed to do? Aaaaghhhhhh.

There’s a contact form on my last post. feel free to come back to me with your ideas. Thanks.

Catch you later.

 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 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.