are you local?

give me one kiss in apple-blossom
give me one wish, and Id be wassailing
in the orchard, my english rose
kate bush, oh! england, my lionheart
we generally destructive humans arent bad at creating the odd place here and there that rivals even our 'natural' delights for wildlife interest and visual pleasure

orchards....two thirds lost since the war, mostly to arable monocultures, horses and housing, orchards are a perfect intersection of the cultural and ecological - often rich in wildlife, they indicate fashions in fruit variety, eating habits and community customs such as wassailing (of which more in weeks to come)

partly due to the difficulty in categorising them (are they copse, woodland, pasture, meadow, all of these and more?), orchards have been largely unprotected, and offer just about the best example what is happening to our food supply as a whole....with so many devon varieties of apple, plum and other fruit, how can we muster only half a dozen in our local shops, with most of these from abroad?

'that without function is up the junction' - probably the first law of the countryside (well, in my book anyway), and with the supermarkets dictating an ever decreasing market for local types of apple, with their many shapes and colours, orchards simply werent economically viable in many cases.....and so they vanish

in our last place we planted a devon quarrenden, an old variety largely ungrown these days, along with some newer disease-resistant, vigorous apples and plums, and it grew like none of the others....how odd to be amazed when it all makes complete sense....grow a tree in the soil that suits it, in the climate that suits it, in the ecosystem that suits it, and it flourishes, simple

so the first orchard we're planting is a devon orchard, with apple, plum, sorb and other fruit trees from the area....cider - fair maid of devon among them, eaters including devonshire quarrenden, cookers like landkey yellow plum, with more to come....

landkey mazzards for one - a strange cherry particular to the west country - introduced by the huguenots 200 odd years ago, they were virtually wiped out until recent years when orchards live, and organisation based in north devon, helped revive interest in them

in time this small piece of condensed culinary county will be a larder for the house, a source of fruitwood for grafting and somewhere to hammock my bony backside in years to come

stopping to chat

stopping to chat, boots on, crossing the tributary.....i freeze, talking stops, two feet away an otter.....it looks, does the head-swaying of looking and smelling combined.....we could pick it up its so close and calm







just like a buzzin fly

i come into your life

now i float away

like honey in the sun

tim buckley, buzzin fly



something of a big plan

our climate is changing, the way we eat is changing, and what we grow and how we grow it cannot stay as it has been....small chemical-free, carbon-positive farms are crucial to our food future and to the wealth of our countryside



so one eye on the past and one looking forward, this smallholding will bring together the traditional and the modern....old methods alongside experimentation, intuition, guesswork....aspects of biodynamics, forest gardening, agroforestry, companion planting, who knows what



planting traditional local varieties in orchards and beds alongside types of fruit, veg and nut new to this country....all with the goal of making this a viable, productive, sustainable holding - neither rural museum or modern machine - run with a business AND an ecological mind....creating incredible food AND a beautiful countryside



if i can ever find the time....

spicy pigs

nobody told me that saddlebacks smell of curry



hedges

from the dew-soaked hedge creeps a crawly caterpillar, when the dawn begins to crack
the kinks, autumn almanac

the hedges here are in a rotten state….scrappy, gappy, full of dead elm, tired, no vigour….sheep in a three-legged race would amble through….the ditches, sunk at the feet of the bank on which the hedge sits high, are blocked and shallow, blunt where they should be sharp

here in devon, many hedges like these have their origins a thousand and more years ago, when fields were cut in piecemeal bites from the wooded landscape, remnants left as boundaries to these irregular parcels...irregularity means age and low intensity use of the countryside - need another field, nip another piece out...field size and shape reflects this creeping expansion, irregularity results...boundaries wind, fields bolted on, difficulties of geology and relief curved around….over time these lines thickened and set, delineating ownership, conferring status, and providing the template for many of our parish, district and county boundaries

hedges quickly became more than just the protective shell, we began planting into them, managing them, investing in them for the future...a source of shelter, firewood, timber, and wildfoods, protected under medieval law – hedgebote – the commoners right to use hedgerows for fuel and to feed stock in winter….nothing was wasted

hedges remained largely unchanged in management and composition until the planned enclosure of many areas through the eighteenth to nineteenth centuries brought straight lines of hedging and a swathe of regularity to much of lowland England...200 000 miles of hawthorn hedge were planted, suppliers sprunging up and prospering on its back

functioning hedges indicate stock animals, and their form and style reflect regional and local animal varieties, and even climatic conditions...in powys hedges are characteristically rounded, trimmed to let snow to slip off...hedges are specific to place, part of local identity, historic artifacts as clear as any chalk horse

In making and mending, as needeth thy ditch,
get set to quicke set it, learne cunningly which:
In hedging (where clay is) get stake as ye know,
of popler and willow, for fuel to grow.
thomas tusser - 500 pointes of good husbandrie - 1573

here, in east devon, the characteristic hedge sits on a high bank, ditch at its foot...the network irregular, standard trees punctuating the line, but even with 33 000 miles of hedges remaining, lack of management is common...arablisation, cheap post and wire fencing, and the mechanisation of hedgerow management have reduced the function and biodiversity of many hedges, eu grants keeping traditional management alive only here and there

yet hedges are a major element of lowland scenery, giving perspective and punctuation to the view...wildlife corridors between larger areas of habitat, and wealthy ecosystems in themselves, and part of our genetic reservoir…..hoopers hypothesis, a thumb- rather than a slide- rule, states that every woody species found in a thirty yard stretch reflects the age of the hedge in centuries, their location and form reflecting generations of human decision making…..if they were made of stone and in our cities their protection would be absolute, their cultural and ecological value the subject of guided tours

but as with everything in the countryside, remove the function of hedges or shortcut their management and only the artificial support of subsidy can maintain them...unless we choose to support producers who maintain their function and management, and in so doing buy into a more vibrant, culturally rich countryside, encouraging biodiversity and supporting the local economy and traditional skills…..the necessity of eating provides us all with the power to influence

here, we have cleared the ditches, reinstating their drainage function – and improved the capabilities of the land as a result...the hedges will soon begin a programme of laying and interplanting, reinstating them as living stockproof ecosystems...we will try nordens advice of the early seventeenth century, mixing oak, ash and thorn seeds together, winding them into a rough straw rope to be buried along the top of the bank to germinate and regenerate...in other areas we will follow the medieval tradition of planting what was known as ‘smallholders hedges’ - planting locally available species chosen with a variety of purposes in mind...as well as providing a stockproof barrier, holly was often planted as an emergency winter fodder, crab apples, damsons and hazel as a food source and cash crop, privet for decoration...in these areas, new fencing provides not only the necessity of immediate stockproofing, but the framework for these new hedgerows, largely following older, disused divisions, creating our own mark in the landscape

Go to Otter Farm | by Mark D