Forest garden courses 2019

I have set dates for a couple of Introduction to Forest Gardening courses in the next few months. These are the only courses that I’ll have time to do this year.

Day courses

The one-day course will cover all the basics that you need to start forest gardening, including designing, planting, looking after, harvesting, cooking and eating from your garden. It should be particularly relevant to those growing in an allotment, small garden or community setting. It will cost £50 and will be on the dates below. I can take a maximum of 8 people on each, so please book in advance. You can book by clicking on the booking link below. If you would like to come but really can’t afford the fee, email me.

Saturday 27th July  11:00 – 17:00 – booking link
Tuesday 8th October 11:00 – 17:00 – booking link

Accommodation

If you need to stay over in Aberdeen for any course I can put one person up in my spare room (two if they are willing to share a small bed). First come, first served!

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Claytonias – miner’s lettuce, wood purslanes and spring beauties

The Claytonias are a very useful group in the forest garden, being very palatable species whose natural habitat is woodland.

Claytonia perfoliata, miners’ lettuce, is unusual in the genus in that it is an annual rather than a perennial. It is often grown in greenhouses in Britain as a winter salad, but it is much less commonly found grown outside. It can be difficult to get established as a self-sustaining, self-seeding population, but once you manage it makes an excellent early salad that maintains itself with little fuss. Getting a locally adapted strain might be the key to success: I spent a long time trying it with little luck until I found a population self-seeding itself in the nearby university car park, prospering despite the chemical warfare waged against it by the university’s estates department. Seeds from these plants germinate earlier and grow more vigorously than any that I have ever bought from the seed trade.

Miners’ lettuce is mild-flavoured and succulent so it makes an excellent bulk ingredient for salads. All parts are edible, including the leaves, stems and the unusual-looking large fleshy bract around the flowers. They can also be cooked, for instance in stir fries. In my garden some plants germinate in autumn and are available in small quantities through the winter. Others germinate in early spring and by March I have a good stand of it. It will grow in the open or in partial shade and likes a well-watered soil. It is rich in vitamin C: the name comes from its use against scurvy by gold miners in California’s gold rush. There are two closely related species: C. parviflora and the deep red C. rubra. I can’t find any information on the edibility of these but I’m sure they would be worth investigating: C. rubra in particular would look very striking in a salad.

Claytonia sibirica, pink purslane, is a perennial equivalent of miners’ lettuce. It is widely naturalised in Scotland, to the extent that there are locally named varieties, such as the white-flowered Stewarton flower found in north Ayrshire. It tends to form an extensive carpet in both broadleaf and coniferous woods: this looks spectacular when it flowers. In the forest garden it can be used in the shady areas under crop trees. The flavour is stronger than that of miners’ lettuce – something like raw beetroot.

Other species listed in the literature as having edible leaves include acutifolia, caroliniana, exigua, lanceolata, megarhiza, scammaniana, tuberosa, umbellata and virginica.

Finally, a number of species have edible roots, which go by the name of fairy spuds. Species include acutifolia, caroliniana, lanceolata, megarhiza, tuberosa, umbellata and virginica I haven’t managed to grow or try any of these yet but forager Euell Gibbons described C. virginica roots as tasting like sweet chestnuts when cooked.

Turnip-rooted chervil

I was being a bit of a pig in the allotment recently. Wild boar are one species that definitely didn’t get the memo about no-dig gardening. They have worked out one essential fact about the winter forest: the ground is where all the good stuff is. Their rootling behaviour – essentially ploughing up the ground looking for hidden bounty – looks destructive, and in some ways it is. Where densities are high they can cause an 80-95% reduction in herbaceous cover and the local extinction of some species. In other ways, their activity aids the health of the forest. Like any sensible pig, they prefer to target abundant species where they can be sure that all that work will be rewarded (you try digging up the earth with your nose, after all). As such they preferentially target plants with imperialistic tendencies, such as bracken and willowherb rhizomes or carpeting bulbs such as bluebells. This knocks back these aggressive spreaders, making space for a greater variety of species, and a number of studies have shown that over the long term species diversity is higher in areas with wild boar than in those without.

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Similarly, in the forest garden, there are some crops where a good rootle is the only way to harvest them at some times of year, and the resulting soil disturbance helps to make room for a range of self-seeding species that tend to get crowded out in entirely undisturbed, perennial communities.

One of these is turnip-rooted chervil, or plain root chervil (Chaerophyllum bulbosum), a biennial root vegetable in the carrot family. If you’ve never heard of it, that’s probably because it has a few oddities in its life cycle which mean that it has never been cultivated widely. The first of these is that the seed needs stratification (winter cold) in order to germinate, and loses its viability very quickly in dry conditions (like seed packets). This means that fresh seed needs to be collected every year and sown very soon after, in the autumn. This makes growing it in rows in a crop rotation quite awkward. One option is to simply allow it to self-seed around the garden, which it does very readily and which eliminates all the worries about sowing and stratifying.

The second problem is that it sprouts early and dies back early, generally at the first hint of dryness. When it dies back it does so without leaving a trace of where it is. This isn’t a problem in labelled rows, but definitely is when the roots have planted themselves randomly around the place. It isn’t helped by the fact that many people reckon the the flavour of new roots is poor compared to ones that have sat in the ground for a few months in cold conditions.

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All this leads to two main strategies for growing root chervil. The first is to sow it in annual beds in autumn, well marked and labelled. It starts to germinate here in early March, well before most crops. It then dies down by June, giving room for another crop, perhaps something like oriental greens which benefit from a late sowing so as not to run straight to seed. Finally it can be harvested over the winter. Some gardeners report problems with rodents getting at the stored roots, in which case a month in the fridge is also enough to improve the flavour. I find that chervil roots have a starchy, chestnut-like flavour that I enjoy a lot.

The other option is to let the plants take care of the sowing themselves, but this means that you are likely to have very little idea of where exactly they are by the time you want them. Until, that is, the roots have to give themselves away in order to grow for the new season. This is when you can harvest a great delicacy. A quick rootle will give you a pile of roots with young growth attached. There is no need to separate these as both parts are edible, just wash them well. By this time the flavour of the root has changed completely. The starch has been broken down into sugars, mobilised for growth, and the taste is now somewhat carroty and very sweet. It is impossible to get them out without a degree of soil disturbance, but, as the wild boar demonstrate, that is not entirely a bad thing in the forest garden.

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Whenever you dig them up, it is worth keeping the best roots to transplant to another bed for seed production. The roots show a lot of variability, in size, length and form. The default seems to be a round shape, presumably explaining the ‘turnip-rooted’ part of the name, but a proportion have an elongated, carrot-like shape which seems to be associated with higher yields. Given that you are likely to have to maintain your own seed line if you want to grow this vegetable at all, you might as well take the opportunity to improve the stock and adapt it to your own conditions as you go.

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Sprouting roots with the best separated out for replanting

I am always astonished at what a vigorous shoot comes out of a little chervil root. From a root usually no more than a few centimetres long they throw up seed stems over three metres tall. These can be very dense and with little leaf, so most of the nutrients required must be coming out from the root. This matches with the starchy flavour and a dry weight that is about 40% of it’s fresh weight. Chervil roots are clearly very dense nutrient stores. As such they could be seen as contributing to nutrient storage in the system as a whole. I am never too worried about surplus chervil roots that pop up and run to seed in unexpected areas of the garden: they are easily pulled out and put on the compost heap and don’t seem to bother the plants around them excessively as they are running on stores.

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Root chervil seed heads against a bright Aberdeen sky

There is more on TRC at:

https://www.cultivariable.com/instructions/root-crops/how-to-grow-root-chervil/
https://hort.purdue.edu/newcrop/proceedings1990/V1-422.html

 

Late autumn harvests 2018

The leaves are all off the trees now and autumn is shading gently but firmly into winter, but there is still plenty happening in the forest garden. Low light and wet plants make photography difficult, but a friend with a better camera and better skills than me recently took some shots, which prompted me to write a round-up post.

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Photos by Julian Maunder

It’s counter-intuitive if you are used to an annual garden, but autumn is a major sowing and germination time in both nature and the forest garden. Many seeds require stratification, or a period of cold, to germinate, and the easiest way to achieve this is to sow in autumn and let nature take its course. Other plants are self-sowing and coming up in autumn, taking a punt on managing to survive the winter and seed early. A mild autumn can be a really productive period with such plants: I’ve particularly enjoyed having copious supplies of rocket this November. I wonder if, after many generations of self-sowing, rocket is becoming hardier in my garden? Last winter – by no means a mild one – was the first time a plant survived the whole winter through and managed to seed in the spring. It is the offspring of this plant that are growing so vigorously in the cool weather now.
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I was also very pleased to see miner’s lettuce (Claytonia perfoliata) self-seeding freely. It has been a bit frustrating watching this species thrive in unexpected places like the nearby university car park while taking a long time to really get established in my allotment. It is a really nice, mild salad crop, so I’m sure the wait will be worth it.

Miner's lettuce

I particularly like getting biennial carrot family members established as self-seeding populations in the garden These are often quite difficult to grow each year from seed, having often short-lived seed with demanding stratification requirements and vulnerability to various diseases that are ingrained in our long-established allotment site. Saving seed, or allowing plants to self seed, is the only way to really guarantee fresh, viable seed. Parsnips, coriander, fennel, celery, angelica, alexanders and turnip-rooted chervil all self-seed this way. Of these, autumn is a particularly productive time for the celery and alexanders. I’m also getting there with Hamburg parsley, a variety of parsley that produces an edible root.

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Seeds of alexanders (Smyrnium olusatrum) can be put in a pepper grinder and used as a spice

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Angelica (Angelica archangelica) showing a wonderful deep red at the base

Another pair of related plants providing both food and colour at this time of year are the pot marigolds (Calendula officinalis) and chop suey greens or shungiku (Chrysanthemum coronarium). Both are producing cheerful yellow and orange flowers against the gloom, and the flower shoots of both can be used in stir fries. With the marigolds I use them flower bud and all, but the bud of the shungiku is very bitter so I remove it.

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Chrysanthemum coronarium

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Calendula officinalis

The wood mallow is also still going strong, providing edible leaves and flowers, and the little seed-heads known as ‘cheeses’. When you add in the kale, the leeks and the veritable treasury of root crops still to be dug up, winter may be coming but that is no cause for the forest gardener to worry.
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Forest garden seeds 2018

It’s that time of year again, when every time I go down to the garden I come back with a pocket full of seeds. I’m going to take a slightly different approach this year to what I usually do. I normally wait until I have got all the year’s seeds in, then make up my trade list. The trouble with this is that by the time the last seeds are ready, the earliest ones have been in store for over six months and in some cases have already missed their ideal sowing time, so this year I am simply going to list seeds as I pick them.

One of my motivations for seed saving is that I find a lot of species, especially those in the carrot family, difficult to grow from bought seed. This applies not only to forest garden exotics but to well established crops like parsnips. I know I’m not the only one and I’m convinced that this is the reason why some crops like turnip-rooted chervil and Hamburg parsley aren’t more popular, despite how delicious they are. I’m hoping that this approach will help other people around that barrier.

My seeds are listed on the Forest Garden Seeds page.

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Parsnip flowers

Update on forest gardening courses 2018

I’m happy to say that the the first forest gardening course went very well, apart from me almost losing my voice from talking so much! The two participants who made themselves my guinea pigs were great company, and the weather was so good that we didn’t leave the garden once in the whole six hours (thanks to the Kelly kettle).

I’ve now added one more day course and settled on dates and a format for the evening course. This should be all the courses I do this year now (but if a date is booked out or you can’t make any of the dates, email me). A quirk of the booking site that I used meant that booking for the August and September courses closed after the July one, so if you tried to book and were told that there were no tickets, try again!

The full course details now go like this:

Day courses

The one-day course will cover all the basics that you need to start forest gardening. It will cost £50 and will be on the dates below. I can take a maximum of 8 people on each, so please book in advance. You can book by clicking on the booking links below. Please note that for the August and September courses the booking site will tell you that there are no tickets for sale until you choose a date.

Sunday 12 August  11:00 – 17:00 – booking link
Sunday 9 September  11:00 – 17:00 – booking link
Sunday 14 October 11:00 – 17:00 – booking link

Evening classes

The evening classes will be more informal, and will be about having a look at whatever crops and tasks are happening in the garden on that date. Over the course of a year, participants should get a full picture of the workings of a forest garden. The cost per evening will be £5. If you are interested in the evening classes please email me at dalancarter@yahoo.co.uk. The dates and times are below – note that the times change because it gets dark earlier each time!

Thursday 16 August 19:00 – 20:00
Thursday 13 September 18:00 – 19:00
Thursday 11 October 16:30 – 17:30

Accommodation

If you need to stay over in Aberdeen for any course I can put one person up in my spare room (two if they are willing to share a small bed). First come, first served!

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Forest gardening courses 2018

After many requests, I have finally organised some official forest gardening courses, based in the garden itself. There are two kinds: a one-day introductory course and a monthly evening course.

Day courses

The one-day course will cover all the basics that you need to start forest gardening. It will cost £50 and will be on the dates below. I can take a maximum of 8 people on each, so please book in advance. You can book by clicking on the booking link below. Please note that for the August and September courses the booking site will tell you that there are no tickets for sale until you choose a date.

Sunday 15 July  11:00 – 17:00
Sunday 12 August  11:00 – 17:00 – booking link
Sunday 9 September  11:00 – 17:00 – booking link
Sunday 14 October 11:00 – 17:00 – booking link

Evening classes

The evening classes will be more informal, and will be about having a look at whatever crops and tasks are happening in the garden on that date. Over the course of a year, participants should get a full picture of the workings of a forest garden. The cost per evening will be £5. If you are interested in the evening classes please email me at dalancarter@yahoo.co.uk. The dates and times are below – note that the times change because it gets dark earlier each time!

Thursday 16 August 19:00 – 20:00
Thursday 13 September 18:00 – 19:00
Thursday 11 October 16:30 – 17:30

Accommodation

If you need to stay over in Aberdeen for any course I can put one person up in my spare room (two if they are willing to share a small bed). First come, first served!

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