Trees. They’re slow agriculture.
This time last year we planted 500 or so native fruit, nut and timber trees throughout the farm, mostly in a silvopasture system. This basically means we put the different tree species in a pattern that is beneficial to grass growth (by providing wind protection and increasing diversity), whilst simultaneously allowing us to grow productive tree species. The long-term goal of the plantings is to be able to rotate our cows and poultry within the tree plantings, although this will have to wait till the trees are quite a bit bigger.
So, this winter marks the trees’ first birthday! They have survived one and a half Scillonian winters, and after being battered by salty winds (and beaten up by stray cows in need of a scratching post!), we have been giving them some annual TLC.
This is labour intensive, and makes for frozen fingers at the end of the day, but it will pay off in the long run with healthy, productive apples, pears, almonds and walnuts.
We’re working our way through each field, weeding around the bases of the little trees, removing the tree guards and fixing up any of the weed mat that is lifting up or torn. We found that the plastic tree guards were creating a greenhouse effect around the stems of the whips, and growing mould and damp, which is why we’ve taken them off. We’re then mulching each tree heavily with seaweed from Porth Hellick. Seaweed is an incredible local source of fertility, and people on the Islands’ have been using it to grow food for a very long time. Autumn and winter storms with fierce on-shore gales bring dead weed up to the shoreline at Porth hellick in huge amounts. We only collect weed at this time of year, and only on days when there is an abundance of it on the beach.
Seaweed contains an incredible amount of micro nutrients and trace elements, which is why it is a great soil improver and plant food. These nutrients and trace elements are best utilised by plants and soil microbes very soon after harvesting the weed i.e. the fresher, the better. We let the seaweed sit in our tractor trailer for a couple of days, or ideally 2 rain events, to allow some of the salt water to be washed off before using it. Seaweed breaks down incredibly quickly, and loses a lot of volume, so when we have mulched the trees it looks a bit excessive. However, in a week or two this will have rotted down to less than half its original size.
Aside from giving the trees a nutrient boost, the weed will also act as a weed suppressant going in to spring, making sure that no grasses come up around the base of the trees to compete with water and nutrients.
When they’re done, they look like they’re surrounded by a donut of seaweed!