Archives for posts with tag: field

Our children are growing up at Plunton Mains just as those of our neighbours have left or are leaving home, and so are just in time to be part of continuing folklore. They are already creating their own, grafting it onto what was created before.

After a chat with Janet about interesting walks, I set off with the children to find the Bouncy Tree, a huge old horse chestnut that was a favourite of all the Plunton children. First stop was the causeway over the Pond, an artificial lochan behind our house.

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We disturbed a few ducks, who flew off, though the two swans stayed and didn’t seem to mind us skimming stones. The OS map shows two islands here, which I looked for but couldn’t find. I wondered if perhaps the winter water level is higher and we’ll see islands in the summer; or perhaps the gaps have been filled in recently and the islands don’t exist any more.

The field got a bit wilder after that and we crossed an overgrown stile, went through a marshy coppice, and climbed a slope with a large tree at the top, which I suspected was the Bouncy Tree. We were quite close to home at this point and so were running out of big trees that could be described as bouncy.

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Sure as fate, it was the Bouncy Tree. We’d been warned that the best bouncy branch had been snapped off by a bull, so were happy to find a low-hanging, bouncy branch ready for bouncing. The tree has grown and smaller branches are now bending down under their own weight, ready to be bounced on.

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It is close to our house and looks perfect for climbing into as well. A great walk in the sunshine.

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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We have a new gate in our field. The company that installed it (James Smith Fencing) were so quick and efficient that we didn’t even spot them doing it! We just noticed it in all its gleaming galvanized loveliness while we were in the field on Saturday morning. Iris and Arthur have reported that it is good to climb and feels nice and sturdy. The next job is to rebuild the drystone wall where it was widened for the gate to go in.

The old gate was rusted, had broken hinges and was attached to rotten fence posts. We also wanted to make a wider opening so that it is easier to get trailers and machinery in and out of the field. The medium-term plan is to have pigs in the field to start digging out the bracken. We’ll move the pigs around over time and plant trees as they clear each bit of land. So now we have the gate we need to look into electric fencing, a pig ark and getting some weaners. We will use the old gate as a support for climbing plants at the back of our long border in the garden and the fence posts will probably end up as firewood.

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Now the house is in a slightly more ordered state and spring is creeping around the corner, our thoughts are turning more to the land. Having planted the orchard at the weekend, Matt today registered it with the new National Orchard Inventory and has also been inspired to book a place on a grafting course taking place locally in March. We’re hoping to take cuttings of the established but struggling apple trees in the garden and be shown how to graft them to create new trees to plant.

We’ve also been in touch with The Woodland Trust to get their help to create a woodland in the field. We’ve had a phone conversation and provided them with a site map and an outline of what we hope to achieve. The next step will probably be a site visit to discuss our options. If it goes well we’ll come up with a planting plan and the Trust will provide all the trees, stakes and protectors we need, shouldering 60% of the cost – we just have to plant them.

We finished this flurry of administrative activity by finally registering as WWOOF hosts. This brilliant charity brings together those working land in an organic and sustainable way with those who fancy trying it out or sharing their skills while travelling. The basic premise is that we provide bed and board in exchange for a few hours’ labour a day working alongside us. This will be pretty essential for planting the woodland and there are all sorts of jobs we could do with a helping hand on – fixing some of the stone walls, gleaning and chopping wood, preparing the vegetable patch…

So, we’ve started to see some progress this week. Our lovely plumber came on Monday and Tuesday, partly in preparation for the shower room he’s fitting next month and partly to rid us of the dangerous old lead pipes. He’s also been talking to Dad about the electrical side of the bathroom fitting and they’ve worked some things out. He also pointed out that most of the stuff I’d ordered for the shower room was too big (whoops) but it’s all been sorted out with a phone call and the sink we bought can be used when we fix the main bathroom upstairs. Dad has also finished off the electrics so we now have more plug sockets than you can shake a stick at and he’s disconnected the old heaters. Next step will be getting the stoves put in for heating.

We’ve also started to prepare the ground for our veg patch and this weekend we will see the first livestock on our land. Not ours, I hasten to add, but the lovely Hebridean sheep belonging to Jo and Phil who live down the road in Colt Cottage. Hopefully they’ll help to keep on top of our grass in the field and provide some entertainment for Arthur who will not accept their sheep or not in fact the goats he’s been dreaming of. Jo is planning to move them in in a few days.

I would have illustrated this post with a photo of the giant cauliflower Janet dropped off today but I chopped it up for cauliflower cheese before I had chance. It was yummy!

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