Archives for posts with tag: bracken

The pigs have successfully chewed up the square and seem to be a little hungrier. Being greedy myself, I thought we should move the pigs to churn up a bit more ground. So it’s time to move them. Consideration 1: The arc is too heavy to move (our neighbour’s small tractor could hardly move it once it was in the field). Action 1: Move the fence. I worked out the fence could enclose the area between the existing square and the mature trees, which would work nicely.

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Before I moved the fence I hacked a path for it through the bracken with a slasher, which is the best name for a tool I know. I find it has advantages over a strimmer on some tasks. It’s quieter, you can think as you go, you can clear up as you go, and it’s fun, fun, fun. Slash, slash, slash.

Next I had to distract the pigs with food, while I picked up the fence and moved it. This is easy as pigs love food and are easily distracted by it.

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They were quite content for the hour and fifteen that it took me to move the fence. I was quite pleased, though I was one panel short after my pacing measurements didn’t quite work; I had to do a little jiggling to move the ends closer. Now, instead of a square we have a teardrop shape, some of which has been chewed and some of which is dense bracken.

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When we moved here, we had a lovely big lawn interrupted by some shrubs and a long mixed border. We’ve written about our veg. patch and the stages we’ve gone through building it. The biggest concern we’ve had is, how do we grow vegetables if we’ve got only 15cm of turf to work with before hitting stones? Our answer is to build up and do raised beds, no-dig style (the annual vs. perennial vegetable discussion is for another day). With the caveat that this may be TLDR, I’ll go into the over-thinking I went into when considering the raised beds.

We looked at top soil: expensive and not in keeping with building the veg. patch from scratch, which posed a second question: what have we got to work with? Garden compost. Bracken. Seaweed.

We used the existing garden compost from the old compost heap and have grown some fine brassicas in it this year. We’ve built two new compost bins that will start supplying garden compost next year.

I realised that bracken was a possibility when I researched methods of bracken control as part of the field improvements. In doing so, I read a few pamphlets about bracken control:

The third one mentioned potential uses for bracken as a by-product of controlling it or even as a crop in itself. This was a revelation. The first use that jumped out at me was as a compost and mulch. Obvious now and a simple way to get organic matter into our veg patch.

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After starting work on one area where we’re clearing the bracken for an orchard, it became apparent that bracken mulches and composts itself as a survival mechanism. Each year’s fronds die down and are flattened by the next year’s, offering a mulch to further exclude competition and as protection from the worst of the winter weather. As a result, there is a layer of excellent compost in the denser stands if you rake off the last two years’ worth of fronds. This means we have composted bracken and bracken fronds to use as soil improver and mulch respectively.

The photos of the bracken mulch show how much we are piling on in one session. It reduces an awful lot.

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Our bracken management plan has now got two aspects.

  • One is using the bracken from areas that we’ve not go plans for yet (exposed slopes and the like). This harvesting allows frost to get in and boosts the under layer, weakening and containing the bracken. It should hopefully stop the spread in some areas. The bracken’s utility as a crop for the garden means we’d like to keep some of it in less useful areas. The photo shows one area that we harvested.

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  • Removing the bracken from areas we want to use for something else. Here we strim three times a year (spring and summer). The other approach is using the pigs to dig up and destroy the rhizomes. This will severely weaken the bracken, though we may need to strim a bi to finish the job. Pigs aren’t eating the bracken (it’s unpalatable to livestock in the main).

In the second aspect, we have to have a replacement for the bracken, otherwise the soil will erode. So far we’ve planted an orchard with under-planting of raspberries, strawberries and wildflowers. Some grass is regenerating too. When the pigs are finished we’ll use more trees there to hold it together. You can see the current situation in the photo below. The slope was dense bracken like the patch on the right.

P1020857The final component is seaweed. Not long after we moved here, a lady suggested that we should take bags with us to the beach every time we went and then set the children to collecting seaweed for the garden. It’s a great idea and one we’ve done on and off as free hands have allowed. Below is some seaweed mulch.

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March, and our profusion of snowdrops are beginning to fade from luminous white to delicate papery grey. There are still drifts of alpine white among the trees but these are beginning to be overtaken by the pointed acid yellow buds of daffodils preparing to flower. On the grass, in places, there are purple and white crocus forcing their heads above the green blades and, best of all, one or two highlights of buttercup yellow crocuses, including one slap bang in the middle of our winter puddle pond. That particular golden bloom comes from the bulbs we planted this autumn, so is especially gratifying. Most of our spring blooms are inherited and we’ve been marveling at each new discovery, as well as taking the opportunity to move clumps around and add some extras in pots.

In late Autumn, I moved two old Belfast sinks from the back of the house to the front, to benefit from the sunshine. I planted this with perennials and bulbs in shades of blue and green. Pleasingly, all the plants seem to be coping well with the winter and a cheery purple anemone is the first bulb to flower. The luscious green curls of tulip leaves are also growing up through the mulch of gathered seashells used to dress the top of the soil.

Thanks to all this floral abundance, I’ve been able to indulge in cutting blooms for the house, gathering two bunches of daffodils today which are now in jugs in the lounge and the kitchen. The coming spring has also encouraged us to crack on with work in the field – before new growth overtakes us. Our new WWOOFer. Audrey, and Matthew have been busy raking off bracken patches in the field and we’ll plant wildflower seeds in the bare soil to give them a bit of competition. The bracken strafing is a project inspired by the Woodland Trust site visit on Friday. We’re waiting for the full report but it looks like the best option for creating a woodland in the field will be to plant trees in stages, starting with the areas close to the current copse and those that benefitted most from the sheep grazing. In these areas we could plants around 500 trees (willow, alder, hawthorn, scots pine) this year. For the remainder, we need to get hold of livestock to turn the soil and beat down the bracken which looks like being our biggest enemy.

A Bloody Ploughman

A Bloody Ploughman

Most of the weekend has been dry and sunny, so in between painting the shower room we wanted to accomplish some outside jobs. Top of the list was planting the apple trees we received as a housewarming gift. Carefully selected for our climate, and sent to us as bare root stock, we’d had them soaking in a bucket in a sheltered spot until we had chance to plant them but first of all we had to choose the right spot.

The ideal location for an orchard is a south-west facing slope (for the sun) but out of the prevailing wind. As our prevailing wind, like most of the country, is south-westerly we had to slightly reconsider the site – north facing slopes are too shaded, eastern too prone to frost and the many dells and valleys on our land too prone to flooding. We also wanted a spot that was relatively accessible (our one sheltered southerly slope is very steep and would be difficult to harvest on and maintain).

We finally settled on a westerly slope, currently covered in bracken, old hawthorn and gorse branches and brambles next to the garden wall. Although quite steep there were signs of old paths here and the westerly position means the trees should get a reasonable amount of sun but they are also sheltered by another slope from the worst of the wind.

Our final consideration was avoiding the telephone and power lines that cross the field – the site we’ve chosen is close to these but large enough to avoid them.

And here are the five trees planted. The bracken has actually done us a favour, creating a really great, rich hummus to plant the trees in and breaking up some of the stones in the soil. it only took a couple of hours to plant the five trees (even with Kester on Matt’s back).

Apple varieties, from left to right - Bloody Ploughman, Galloway Pippin, Sunset, Tower of Glamis and Katy.

Apple varieties, from left to right – Bloody Ploughman, Galloway Pippin, Sunset, Tower of Glamis and Katy.

When new bracken growth appears in spring we’ll strim it off and keep doing so two or three times in the year. Theoretically this will leave the rhizomes exposed next winter and frost and snow will do the rest of the work for us in killing it off. We’ll edge the paths between the trees with some of the old branches we’ve gleaned as not all will be suitable for burning.

Before the weather forced us indoors yesterday we spent a while in the field – Matt cutting back some of the bracken and brambles and Arthur and I gleaning waste wood for the fires. We amassed a decent pile of kindling and discovered the bracken is fairly easy to rake off. Underneath this year’s dead growth, previous years’ growth has turned itself into a fine compost, so we’re hoping to use that on more veg beds and are toying with the idea of adding the bracken to our new leaf mould container. Mind you, said container is already half full and there’s still a few leaves left on the trees! This week’s impending cold snap should see to that…

Plunton Field 002Here’s a couple of pictures of the field, taken on Sunday when the grandparents visited. Matt, Fiona, Howard, Iris and Arthur went to explore our burn in their wellies. Iris’s verdict was it was thistly. Arthur got too cold (bright sunshine became a sharp shower) and Matt had a wee wade.

The burn (Pulwhirrin Burn) is pretty fast-flowing through the field and is about 4ft wide for the most part, going up to 6ft near the bridge under the road. The water is incredibly clean – in fact it’s classed as drinking water by SEPA. The field is pretty overgrown with lots of bracken (good for chicken bedding when dried, apparently).Plunton Field 001