Putting the AGRO in Agroforestry

Hi All,

Has anyone else noticed that Agro comes first in the word Agroforestry? That is NO coincidence folks! As a very wise sage (one might think equal to heaven…) once said “Before you can have a cookie you have to lift the lid…” much like the delicious reward of that cookie (white chocolate and macadamia you say?!), developing a smallholding food forest comes with a huge degree of Agro before you get the reward of that forest of food. I have been scouring Anthropogen.com to find out as much about agroforestry and edible food forestry as I can. There isn’t a huge amount out there about food forests because to be honest folks…the people doing it are too busy bums up in the air planting, tending and planning to be sharing information with interested bystanders. I have never been one to jump in without a plan and with the dubious honour of being horticulturalists (AND prospective landscape designers…) we have to be seen to know something about what we are doing. In past posts people have commented about how lovely it is here. I think I must have been gilding the lily somewhat and only showing you the pretty bits. We have some solid undergrowth and some massively overgrown plants that are tough, mean and angry about having been neglected for 20 years. Some of the blackberries that we have been dealing with should come with health warnings on them as not only are they thorny and hard to remove, but lugging great swathes of them over to the trailer usually results in at least one of us spending the next few days feeling the love.

Here is a photo of Earl that Steve messed about with on his mobile. I quite like it…Steve says it is “Olden Days Earl”… there were more than one of him!!!

Earl…or who we like to call “Mr Big Head” looking decidedly like a shark…but the best bit you can’t see…he had his arm on the arm rest of the car while I was taking his photo basking in the delicious cool air after a long walk…one HAPPY dog 🙂

“Poke…poke…poke…press…poke…can we PLEASE go for a walk?”…

“I don’t CARE if it is the start of winter…DOGS DIE IN HOT CARS!”…

“Wheres the bus?”…

Today (Monday) we decided to tackle path renovation 101. We had discovered a rock bordered path leading into an enormously overgrown English May bush (Spiraea thunbergia) and as most of this week is supposed to be relatively rain free, we decided to get stuck in and see just where that pathway went. As usual we ended up generating an ENORMOUS amount of debris. Some of the English May bush had thin spindly branches that measured in excess of 5 metres. You can’t help but feel a sense of compassion for something that has had to go to those sorts of lengths to survive and that has had the tenacity to keep going. That feeling lasts all of about 10 minutes until you have to start cutting, hacking, lugging and toting and then the air becomes colourfully redolent and plant love flies out the window. We knew that we were going to meet up with some of our arch nemesis Mr Blackberry…but the blackberries that we had to deal with were mostly dead and spindly. Dead blackberries are more dangerous than their live counterparts because apart from splintering into shards of spiky debris, they hurt more when they stick you. Spindly blackberries are also bollocks. It’s hard to see them…they lay on the ground pretending to be “other things” and you generally miss one or two of them resulting in massive plants in a year or so. We did 2 ½ hours in the garden and created 3 full trailer loads of debris and a small clearing in the undergrowth. Steve sometimes gets discouraged by how much work we have to do just to accomplish a small task. He spent time crown lifting trees so that we could liberate other shrubs underneath so that we could get inside the shrub to the blackberries hiding within. I don’t look at the big picture…I just look at that 1 square metre of “stuff” in front of me and lay waste to it…when I have finished I work on the next 1 square metre and eventually there won’t be any more left. It’s a bit like being a parent. None of us would survive the act of raising children to adulthood if we didn’t first master the art of selective deafness.

We reported a set of stone steps as being dangerous to the West Tamar Council and the very next day this sign appeared! The little hominid in the picture is doing exactly what I did when I stepped on the lowest step…

 Isn’t this an awesome picture? I won’t try to make you guess what it is…it is actually a steel girder that has rusted away and weathered and is part of the original Beaconsfield Mining days back in the 1800’s

I love this photo…it gives me the impression of the age of mechanisation rusting out and ceasing but the trees are still there waiting for all the chaos to die down…

I always check out the blogs of people that like my posts. It’s not megalomania, it’s my natural curious (some would say “nosy”…) nature coming into play. I would like to know what sort of people find Serendipity Farm an interesting and indeed worthwhile place to drop by and take a visit…share a first cup of mental tea/coffee in the morning with me before the sun comes up…I am CONSTANTLY amazed by the people that click “like” on some of my posts. Obviously the picture that randomly pops up for the post is going to attract some readers but reading and liking are 2 completely different things. I think that is what keeps me blogging, knowing that I am making a connection with people out there somewhere in the ether and whether our lives have ANYTHING in common or not, it doesn’t matter. Right there inside someone else’s head I made sense on some level. Now THAT is something special. I click “like” because a post predominately affects me, moves me, sometimes enrages me and often enlightens me…my click is my “bravo!” It takes a lot to make me click and even more to comment. Whenever I get a “like” or a comment it validates this blog and my thoughts about life and the world. It gives me some solace that there are people who think like me out there and that I am not the only one who wants to find ways to make life full of colour and depth. The world is full of uncertainty at the moment. I saw on one of Steve’s apocalyptic documentaries where a scientist said “the natural human tendency when disaster happens is for humans to find each other and group together”… he was talking about alien invasion at the time but I think that whenever times get tough, that’s when we seem to find the best and worst in people. I would hesitate to add that I personally think that without hard times we never really understand how very lucky we are to be living where we are and being who we are. We might all be totally different people but we share a common goal and to all of the people out there who click “like” on my posts, thank you from the bottom of my heart for seeing something in my words that resonates enough for you to tell me that you like them :o)

We had just walked the dogs and noticed this little gem just waiting to be photographed. As you can see this road leads to the tip/waste transfer station…looks like someone didn’t want to pay the $5 to complete the “waste transfer” to me and lends a whole new meaning to “Your bike is rubbish…” 😉

This is the first stage of the dogs getting a walk in the morning…I head to the bedroom to put on my walking shoes…can you see the happiness in their eyes or is that wary disbelief…I have several more stages to go through before I get out the gate…

Its Wednesday already! On Monday we headed out into the garden after walking the dogs to take a look at what stage we are at in our Serendipitous redevelopment. We realised that it won’t take too many days to clear out the undergrowth in the densely covered area of the garden that no-one has set foot in since most probably 2004 when I came to visit my dad after his partner died. I headed down into that area of the garden and remember there being pathways lined with the rock that predominates the entire area let alone Serendipity Farm. It’s a total PAIN to dig this soil but when you are looking for free foundation materials to make raised garden beds…dry stone walls and retaining walls there are no shortages of these weathered rocks and yet again I am reminded that everything has its uses. I remember wandering down into the garden past a large palm and it was already overgrown with buddleia. I just took 20 minutes to get up, take some photos of the morning sunrise, make Steve his first cup of coffee and take it to him and predominately to try to find out what that buddleia actually is that I was talking about. I can’t find it! It would seem that Buddleia davidii is the go when you are after “Buddleia” in an internet search and as persistent and dogged as I can be about internet searches, even I know when to give up and head to the horticultural books! The Buddleia in question is more of a small tree than a shrub and has the most incredible scented flowers that are not like the classic davidii shaped flower at all. They are clusters of flowers on a branch. I will let you know what they are as soon as I can find them…sorry about that little “aside” there, I have a strong need to know things sometimes and that was one of my “need to know” moments ;). Consider it a brief segue back to my story. I wandered around this garden enchanted by how overgrown and wild it was. Since 2004 the garden went wild. I dare say my dad no longer had anyone telling him to get into the garden so he didn’t. My memories are the only thing that tells me that there are pathways, benches, and most importantly “form” out there in that jungle and unlike Steve who often finds himself overwhelmed and bewildered in this area of the garden, I am able to use my memories to guide me to where the good stuff is.

This is one of Effel Doocark’s babies that are now our constant companions whenever we set foot into the garden. We can be completely alone when Steve starts up his chainsaw and within a few moments we are inundated with small chickens and a very determined Effel. They are getting a bit tamer as we are making the effort to pick most of them up. This little girl is quite tame and finds herself being picked up more than the others. Isn’t she cute?

This was big red rooster…now he is Zac Brannigan rooster…if he keeps threatening the female members of the flock he will be chicken lasagne! “We are watching you sunshine!…”

Here is one of my little  Ceratonia siliqua (Carob/St John’s Bread) that I managed to grow from seed. We are going to plant them out on the property and make good use of their leguminous properties as well as their pods. There are many uses for carob and they are a most useful tree to plant if you have room on your property. Now if I can only get my hands on some Moringa oleifera I will be a happy little sustainable camper!

I wonder why whenever you get stuck into clearing out an area of the garden, the resulting “cleared bit” is a whole lot smaller than the generated debris? It’s a bit like the Tardis of Dr Who legend in that it would appear something wasn’t quite right when measuring up the equation. Our lecturer (poor long suffering Nick…) has had to steel himself to understand that my mind is on a need to know basis and whenever you are trying to introduce new and exciting premises…it needs to be shown why it should be putting all of this effort into thinking about said premise in the first place or it simply isn’t going to happen. Nick told me that whenever you alter one side of an equation, you need to adjust the other side accordingly…I saw it mentally as a see-saw effect and luckily I am the sort of person who’s mind is constantly seeking equilibrium and so this made perfect sense to me. Trigonometry…you are now my friend. Not so sure about Calculus though… when viewing the enormous piles of debris generated and the small space cleared my ordered mind found something askew in that equation. I guess I am thinking in two dimensions rather than the 3 dimensions that are actually present and as the third dimensional portion of Serendipity Farm appears to be stuffed to the back gills with overgrown exponentially increasing plant matter, I can let my mind rest somewhat easily. You can only teach an old dog new tricks that make sense to it. If you want to travel outside that box, you are going to have to do some SERIOUS work Nick ;). I have to say one thing here. I doubt that my lecturer reads this blog so I can say it with impunity. Despite having to teach mature aged students who started off being able to share their horticultural knowledge on a 20c piece, he has risen to the occasion remarkably. He is one of those lecturers who are willing to take the journey with you to learn. Whenever we come across a problem with the software that we are using or a conundrum about our course we know that he will be on the case for a solution as soon as we step outside the building. He is a fellow lover of knowledge and information and despite us being very different people, Nick goes the extra mile to actually teach and for that sir…I thank you from the bottom of my heart :o)

This is a lovely small kalmata olive (Olea europea) tree that is one of many situated right on the fenceline at Marion’s Vinyard. There are many other varieties of olive represented in the trees planted along the side of the road and I collected a selection of them so that we can try to grow some here on Serendipity Farm. I am more than aware that olives grown from seed are a very long term proposition and that taking cuttings is a much quicker way to get yourself an olive tree (as well as an exact copy of the olive that you have isolated) but you know what? I like a challenge! I will be taking cuttings next summer from these trees but for now I will plant the seeds and see what happens.

My little money bag of olives. If I can get some of them to grow, this might be a most fortuitous place to be holding them 😉

This is to show you the different types of olives I have. The vinyard owner most kindly has a sign up telling people the types of olives and which trees are representitive of those types alongside the roadside planting so it will be nice and easy for me to identify my cuttings (so long as I remember to label them accordingly…)

On Tuesday we walked the dogs and when we got back we discussed what we were going to do for the day. Steve has wanted to get his weeping maple collection planted out and so we decided to do that. We set about removing as many rocks from the small garden surrounding the bird baths as we could before Steve set about digging some “root growth zones” (a.k.a. “holes…) to plant them into. He swapped between the shovel and a mattock for the task and we removed lots of large rocks from the area. Maples have shallow root systems that like to spread out a lot with lots of feeder roots. This is because they are understory small trees and needed to adapt to their cramped soil conditions. They also don’t like wet feet and need to be planted out in free draining conditions. Our soil isn’t the most ideal soil in the world consisting of a reasonable percentage of silt but thanks to the 20 years of neglect, all of the leaves that “should” have been raked up have fallen and decomposed in the garden and have added some much needed organic matter to this thin denuded soil. The rocks will actually help us with Steve’s maple garden, they will ensure that the soil doesn’t get compacted no matter how many chickens decide to get stuck in and stomp the area into the ground and we used some of the smaller rocks to form a small cairn around each of his precious babies to stop the advancing hoards of chickens from scratching the living daylights out of their newly planted root systems. Being a gardener means having to weigh up the positives and the negatives and trying to get them to work for you…We planted out some really lovely specimens that will become a truly lovely display in spring through to autumn. At the moment they look like a garden of sticks. Their branching is so fine that you can’t even see most of them from the deck but we know that they are there and we also know that they will be delighted to be planted out and ready to take off at the first signs of spring.

Today we decided to head off and do some more blackberry killing in the side garden. We are on a quest to reduce the blackberries on Serendipity Farm to the minimum. We know that the birds are going to constantly bring them here but we will be watching for any signs once we remove the large outbreaks that have been reproducing exponentially for the last 20 years and will nip them in the bud as soon as we see them. The most tiring thing about removing blackberries is trying to ferret them out from the ingenious places that they manage to grow. We killed one today that had actually grown up an irrigation riser and had to be untied from the riser before we could extract it from its hiding place. Blackberries are clever…who needs a rudimentary brain stem when you are able to grow in so many ways. I do appreciate their delicious sweet fruit but I can head out and harvest it in the bushland and waste ground around Sidmouth and Beaconsfield and we don’t need the double edged sword of blackberry vines on Serendipity Farm. Tonight we are going to watch some episodes of the U.K. sitcom “The Good Life” that we managed to get hold of from a boxed set so we get all of the extra and special episodes. I remember watching this when I was very young and loved every single episode. It was like Fawlty Towers…witty, incredibly funny and so far from Steve and I with our humble “farming” endeavours but so close with the honesty that is so very refreshing in U.K. television programs (well…some of them…). That’s what many people simply don’t get…the best humour is tinged with pain. That’s how you appreciate it to the max and revealing something sad in the middle of the humour makes you remember it and feel it more than you normally would. You “engage” with it more… like in the final Black Adder where they all went over the wall to certain death…in the movie 4 weddings and a funeral with the death of one of the main characters… wherever there is pathos and humour there is more of a connection. Tom and Barbara Good are true pioneering spirits for the sustainability Movement and were years before their time. I truly love this show and am going to have a great time watching every single episode. See you all Saturday and have a really fantastic evening…I most surely will :o)

And by the way Kymmy…what was at the end of that path was a WHOLE LOT MORE HARD WORK…sigh…

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