An update on the Three Farthings fields.
Much activity during autumn and winter 2022/2023 has almost finished. This followed several distinct stages.
1) After a late autumn hay-cut by a neighbouring farmer, we started planting tree seeds for oak, ash, hawthorn, walnut, sycamore, field maple, and whatever other tree seeds were available. Using a ‘chop and drop’ technique, seeds are planted individually. With ideal conditions, seeds were quick to germinate, but it will take at least a year for them to become evident. This is our preferred technique for well-rooted native trees. We planted over 8000 seed pockets in total.
2) Three types of tree will grow from cuttings. Willow, sallow and poplar have been used extensively to give a rapid and visible start to the new forest. Notable is the technique for ‘big boutures’ where 3m branches are pushed into prepared holes, which are then back-filled with liquid mud to provide an instant tree. Rooting success here is still to be evaluated though we note that the deer are enthusiastic about it. We planted about 600 cuttings.
3) Many trees germinate elsewhere throughout our existing forest and these provide a regular supply of transplants. About 300 oaks, maples, hawthorns, and blackthorns have been transplanted.
4) Forest needs understory plants as well as trees and we have introduced a wide range of local shrubs and flowers, with a concentration on deep-rooted plants such as comfrey to increase soil health and mineral availability. To suppress grass around the trees, and to aid water retention we have extensively mulched (paillage) around newly planted trees. Research continues in the form of beans planted around trees to fix nitrogen and thus boost tree growth. We are also investigating the possibility of myco-rhizal techniques.
5) Since our aim is biodiversity, we welcome the deer which come at night, but to limit tree loss, we have installed blackthorn branch protections around vulnerable trees and these seem to be effective, if time-consuming.
6) On the Upper Farthing we have (hand) dug two ponds, which are rapidly developing an interesting range of activity. These ponds will act as centres for diversification, and we have installed micro-habitats, such as woodpiles and brushwood around them, as cover for mice and other small animals.
7) As part of a general idea of diversification, we have started to differentiate between various parts of the Farthings. What was ‘green desert’ is rapidly becoming a wide range of rich habitats. Valentin is making sculptures from various found items.