October began as a good Autumn should: Storm Alex swept in, tearing off limbs and leaves, the rains continuing for days after it had moved on. The wild strawberries [Fragaria vesca] in the terrace gravel needed their enthusiasm curbing and could finally be thinned with ease. The effort in the heat and dry of summer had been more a rugby tackle than a ballet.
This month is about preparation for the coming dark, to gather, enfold, retreat; bringing the citrus, orchids and tender geraniums in to the greenhouse as we begin the annual clean and seasonal change over. Preparing and clearing the edges of the beds in the Kitchen Garden for the upcoming disturbance of the paths in the redesign. Collecting seeds on dry days of Nicotianas, Dill, Coriander, Fennel, Ammi major and A. visnaga, Echinacea, Allium tuberosum, larkspur and foxglove.
Bryn came to pick more fruit from the orchard, this year’s crop being so incredibly prolific, to pick the later ripening apple varieties such as Adams Pearmain and Kidd’s Orange Red. He thinks it unlikely we’ll have as much yield next year so more juice was bottled up for the campsite shop, this time an apple and pear mix. He’ll be returning in a few months for the winter pruning session.
The old apple store opposite the orchard is to become a welcome space when we begin garden visits and workshops. Filled with accumulated chicken-keeping equipment, logs and those items that seem to ‘temporarily’ gravitate towards empty spaces, a day was spent hauling and sorting. Although rain soaked, covered in dust and cobwebs we had the satisfaction of beginning a process, where we could see the bones of what will ultimately become a lovely space in which to work.
We spent some time this month revisiting our composting plan and how we might include the wider estate. Our hot composting in the large bays is going well using garden waste, bokashi and compostable scraps from the house, grass cuttings and nettle toppings as accelerators, adding wood chip when Bernard turns the heap every few months. The bay we had worked and ‘shut down’ last summer is ready to use now on the new vegetable bed about to be dug out in the Kitchen Garden. The campsite system has produced some good compost-in-progress too from Nicky Scott’s suggested process, turning all their food scraps and wood chip in a Ridan drum and transferring to a hot box. We now want to try and start a cold composting system based on the cottage-loaf shaped hayricks we saw on our visit to Great Dixter last year.
Michael Wachter from Dixter kindly endured our quizzing over the phone on the finer points of their methods. It’s a three-year cycle, building a stack of garden waste and grass, finishing with meadow cuttings. Kept moist in dry spells and well aerated to maintain enough heat to be active, when it reaches shoulder height it’s left to break down over two years and the next one is begun. We may have to begin on a smaller scale and investigate what we might collect from the rest of the estate. Much of our grasslands are managed by the herbivores whom we would also have to prevent from accessing a hayrick; we know from their curiosity by the hot bays, they can be very messy eaters.
Penny arrived early one morning to check the moth trap she had left out the previous evening as part of the ongoing survey of the garden. We were surprised to see how many were there, and how interesting that they all had the hues of Autumn, faded browns, lichens and greys. Amongst them were the Black Rustic, Red and Yellow Border Sallows and more Figure of Eights than Penny had ever seen together. We wondered if it was to do with their larvae food source being hawthorn and apple, the orchard being only the other side of the wall and that many roses are still flowering.
There were still some cabbage white butterflies making last ditch raids into the brassicas. One of our aims in last October’s blog was to reduce the population; it’s difficult to measure accurately but the butterfly netting seemed much more effective than using Enviromesh as a barrier this year.
The oaks started a tentative shift, the sun making emerging yellow islands among the green look golden. Fairytale mists lay in ethereal wreaths over the grass in the mornings, then Storm Aiden brought buffeting squalls as if pea seeds were being hurled against the greenhouse glass as the month drew to a close. With looming Covid 19 restrictions on the horizon, and the dark creeping ever closer to the end of the working day, time in the garden is medicine and respite.
Moy Fierheller Joint Head Gardener October 2020
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