Mindfulness on the plot

At its heart, forest gardening is about creating an edible productive ecosystem which encourages wildlife*. This principle requires a change of mindset from traditional gardening. As Anni Kelsey puts it in The Garden of Equal Delights, a forest garden is a different type of garden, and it requires a different type of gardener. She describes how it requires patient watching and waiting to learn about the garden as an ecosystem, to see who and what arrives there, and to notice what parts each plant or creature are playing.  I am learning to pay attention, developing a mindful awareness of the space and a willingness to learn from it rather than quickly moving to control it.

Grass and chickweed with kale seedlings
Grass and chickweed with kale seedlings

This week I’ve been sitting beside the boxes, patiently weeding out grass. As Jake says on his forest gardening course, grass will take over everything if you let it. The soil that we filled the boxes with clearly had a lot of grass seed in it. While the plot is in its infancy, I need to intervene and remove the grass to protect the edible plants while they get established. Once they are big enough, I can protect bare soil with mulch. But for now, I’m sitting there pulling out tiny grass seedlings. It is a pleasant task, with the robin twittering at me.  A fellow plot holder passed by and said that it looked like I was practising mindfulness. And indeed he had a point. It is a quiet, absorbing, mindful activity which is strangely soothing.

Weeded
Weeded

The badgers are still visiting regularly, evidenced by the digging that is visible on the paths. I’ve been thinking of these creatures, wondering if they will dig in the raised beds, apprehensive of how destructive they might be. Mindfulness, as I understand it, is about paying attention, noticing things without judging them, and learning to accept things just as they are for now.  Noticing my thoughts, I realise I’m fighting the badgers.  Yet I want to welcome and accept them, just as they are.

In the rainy days that have followed my bout of weeding, my thoughts have been morphing.  My plans have been changing.  I have come to a decision, which is simply not to grow things that badgers like to eat.  Since I made that decision, I’ve realised that it frees me up to grow more of the things that we like to eat, the leafy greens that I never seem to have enough of.  It might be boring to grow spinach and its perennial substitutes, but we eat a lot of it.  And, as far as I know, badgers don’t go wild for spinach.  They probably won’t raid the boxes simply for worms – unless they are very hungry.  The boxes will take energy to climb or jump.  This would be worth their while if they can smell sweet roots, but not if it’s just more boring old leaves. 

By growing leafy vegetables at the plot, I can free up space in my home garden to grow some roots.  This would increase diversity in my garden.  The plans have now fallen nicely into place, and I am no longer badgered by doubts.

* For more information, see Forest Garden Wales

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Protecting the plot – or not

As you’ll know if you’ve been reading this blog, I’ve been following Forest Garden Wales’ course on designing a backyard forest garden. The latest section that I’ve been working through looks at protection – for example, from wind, cold, and predators. Jake, who takes an ecosystems view, points out that this includes protecting the wildlife that are interdependent with the garden. A simple log pile and a bee house are now on my wish list.

Our plot is already well sheltered from wind by natural hedgerows and trees. During a recent cold snap, I protected the beds using the simple expedient of draping horticultural fleece loosely over the top. I’m delighted that underneath this blanket, seedlings have germinated and are now standing proudly in their rows.

Seedlings (various mustard and cress)

Thinking about protection from predators, I had already spotted a squirrel digging in someone else’s raised beds, and I took the precaution of protecting the young pignut plant with a couple of pieces of firm mesh (not netting, as wildlife get tangled up in it).

Pignut protected by wire mesh

Then last week, when we went to visit the plot, we saw this:

Somebody has been digging

Pretty substantial digging.

Detail of holes made by something digging

What immediately sprang to mind was

Badgers warning sign

If it is indeed badgers who did the digging, do they like root crops? Of course they do, says Google. I did a bit more research, and read about chain link fences sunk several feet into the ground, before I remembered that there is no point getting into a fight. I love wildlife, and if we have badgers, then that is a privilege and the plot needs to be designed with them in mind. As Anni Kelsey says in her beautiful book The Garden of Equal Delights, it is time that we learned to welcome the wild into our gardens. If we give up persecuting, fighting and controlling them, they become welcome participants in our forest garden system, playing useful roles that we might not immediately recognise. So instead of fighting them, I’m going to learn as much as I can about them.

An immediate piece of useful advice came from an allotment forum, where one grower suggested planting onions with root crops to mask the smell. So a very simple change that I can make to my plans is to grow the onion crops around the edges, and put the roots in the centre. I’ll give this a go, and if we end up with badgers rootling through our boxes, then I’ll just grow greens on the plot and roots in the garden. Either way, the badgers are welcome. They are doing a pretty good job of digging up the bindweed and couch grass roots for a start. This may help me to establish more diverse vegetation in my meadow-paths. So, on the whole, I’m rooting for them.