Short Rotation Coppice for Fertility

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We ran two training days this & last week with West Wales Willows. During these workshops we explored building fertility on the land through growing green manure crops & short rotation willow coppice.

The basic idea is to work towards becoming self sufficient in growing the fertility that feeds our soils & thereby our crops & eventually us! We also have some really wet ground that we wanted to make use of.

Currently we rely on a mixture of some green manure crops, plus whatever manures & composts we can bring in from locals farms. There is always a risk not knowing what weeds or possibly even chemicals come into our soils with this imported material.

In the long term we would like to grow all of our own fertility through;

  • Green manure crops such as;
    • Phacelia
    • Mustards
    • Clovers
    • Cereals
    • Vetch etc
  • Short rotation Willow Coppice
    • This will be chipped after harvest & the chips applied to the areas of green manures. They will be building soil carbon & increasing soil biological activity.

We currently grow a range of green manure crops, but given the new land at Furzehill, we now have the ability to open out our rotation & account for growing our own fertility too.

We have planted 400 willow cuttings this week through plastic, biodegradable mats & a small section just mulched with woodchip. West Wales Willow generally use plastic sheeting. This can be removed after the willow is established & recycled. However, it is plastic, it reduces biodiversity around the coppice area & looks ugly whilst its there. So we decided to try half of the planting through biodegradable mulch mat. We’ll see how the willow compare in the coming years.

Managing the willow

  1. We will cut the willow back next year & select a few main stems from each cutting. (Next years cuttings will be planted to double our willow area. We’ll d this every year til we have about an acre).
  2. We will then strip the majority of buds so that its energy goes into producing long poles.
  3. After 3 to 5 years we will cut & chip these long poles. The chip will go onto the green manure crops. We are exploring if this will first be composted or not.
  4. The cycle starts again. This way we cut & chip a different area every 3 to 5 years, returning to our original plot once that has re grown.
  5. After 30 years the willow will be pretty tired, so it may be replaced with new willows or become habitat.

Sowing by The Moon & Planets

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We have planned our seasons sowing using the Thun biodynamic sowing calendar. Many seeds are already in trays in the hot box & the polytunnel. Whilst we aim to sow using the advice of the calendar, if the weather is wrong, or we’ve got too much on then the dates will shift. We have to work within our practical limits!

The biodynamic sowing calendar takes into account a number of aspects of moon & planetary influences on different parts of the developing plant. This originates from a time when our consciousness was less individualistic. A time when we lived much more closely as a part of our natural surroundings & were possibly more aware of our group / tribe needs than our own personal needs.

It is well known that the moon has a big influence upon life forms on earth. This is largely through the water element within us, animals & plants. As the moon travels around the earth it passes through a different constellation every 2, 3 or 4 days. These constellations historically have been recognised as having different characteristics which can be related to fire, earth, air & water. Studies in Germany for over 40 years have looked at how these influences effect plant growth. It is largely accepted within biodynamics that as the moon passes through various constellations it wil have beneficial effects on different parts of plants as follow;

Fire – Fruit

Earth – Root

Air – Flower

Water – Leaf

So we aim to sow for example potatoes, carrots & parsnips on a root day. Or peppers, tomatoes & aubergines on a fruit day.

However, theres alot more to it than that! There are other considerations to take into account;

  • Ascending / descending moon
  • Perigee / apogee moon
  • Planetary oppositions & conjunctions

Personally I find it a really useful tool for planning the seasons growing. I’m more interested in getting a feel of how the moon & planets are moving & keeping this in mind as we go about our daily tasks. I’m not really stuck on getting things done on the ‘perfect day’. Theres already so many different activities to co-ordinate through the early season. I find it a great awareness building exercise thats brings another richness to the work of growing.