New year, new plants
January is an excellent time for planting trees — ideally on your holding, but why not also consider guerrilla forests, asks Tim Tyne?
Bare rooted fruit trees can be planted in January, so if you are planning to extend your orchard, now is the time to do it. However, you will need to delay planting if the ground is frozen or particularly wet. Provided that you leave the packaging around the roots of your new tress and store them in a cool, dry, frost-free place, they will be OK for a week or two, by which time hopefully the ground conditions will have improved. A couple of hours before planting, stand the roots in a bucket of water to soak.
However, it is not just fruit trees that we should be planting. Other species, whether for fuel, timber, wildlife habitat, shelter, or simply to screen the unsightly view of a nearby housing development, all have their place on the smallholding and new plantings should be encouraged. Odd corners of fields can be fenced off to make small woodlands, and boundaries can be double fenced to allow the planting of hedgerow species. If the various areas are connected, then so much the better, as this TIP Newly-planted trees might need to be individually protected using plastic guards, or alternatively the whole area may be temporarily fenced to keep browsers out until the woodland is established. To keep deer out of your new plantation, fencing will need to be between 1-2m high, depending on the species present in the area ( see table, page
47), and a fairly fine mesh will be required to exclude smaller animals, such as rabbits. Similarly, individual tree guards will need to be of a height proportional to the size of the animals that you are protecting against.
When plastic tree guards have served their purpose they should be carefully collected up and stored for future use, or passed on to someone else to make use of, not left littering the countryside.
provides wildlife corridors. Also, if you are planting up a small plot in the corner of a field that is adjacent to someone else’s land, how about asking them if they would consider doing the same on their side of the fence? This way, neither of you lose much productive ground, but the size of the new woodland is doubled. TIP When planting new trees on a smallholding, consider using species that lend themselves to coppicing. These are primarily fast- growing trees that will regrow with a multitude of new stems when sawn off fairly close to the ground. Suitable species would include hazel, chestnut, willow and sycamore. Coppicing on a five-year rotation (ie, cutting down a fifth of the trees each year) should ensure a good supply of straight poles, firewood and pea sticks.
This has absolutely nothing to do with Diane Fossey. I was thinking of something along similar lines to guerrilla gardening, which was very much in vogue a few years ago. Guerrilla gardening involved individuals, families or groups of people creating illegal gardens in otherwise underutilised areas of both public space and private land, such as the centres of roundabouts and wide roadside verges, derelict building sites and abandoned plots. A blind eye was often turned by the authorities as it helped to tidy up and rejuvenate run down areas, and the overall effect was positive.
So, how about applying a similar principle to tree planting? Some species, such as willow, hawthorn and holly, can be propagated very successfully from hardwood cuttings. Basically, you poke a twig in the ground the right way up and it grows. It would be a simple enough matter, when out for a walk, to take a small bundle of suitable sticks and push them in the ground in appropriate places — alongside footpaths or in odd corners here and there. If you did this on a regular basis it would amount to quite a few new trees, although, of course, only a proportion of them would survive.
TIP When carrying out hedgerow maintenance, it is always tempting to leave the occasional promising looking sapling to develop into a mature tree within the line of the hedge. However, do be aware that eventually the resulting tree will shade out the section of hedge directly beneath the spread of its branches, causing it to become weak, gappy and not so stock-proof. TIP Never underestimate the amount of work involved in running even a modest sized smallholding. It is often the case that people take up smallholding a little late in life, after following a different career path, and, buoyed up with the excitement of change and a new life in the open air, they find themselves rejuvenated by reserves of energy they never knew they had. Be warned, however, that the energy will run out and you will be left with a lot of unfinished work on your hands and a crippling daily routine. Pace yourself from the outset and don’t bite off more than you can comfortably chew.
Whenever there is a major new road being built, it seems to be part of the design brief that it should be lined on both sides with a wide band of newly-planted woodland, presumably to mitigate the massive amount of habitat damage caused by the construction process.
But, beyond the ‘feel good’ factor it undoubtedly gives to planners and politicians, is it really a sensible use of public money? I don’t think so. By creating attractive wildlife corridors immediately adjacent to our own highways, birds and animals are drawn into close contact with fast moving vehicles, the consequences of which are invariably fatal. In the case of collisions with larger animals, such as deer, there are a significant number of human casualties too.
Although I accept that new habitat must be created to replace what is lost, it would be better to site areas of tree planting at some distance from busy roads in order to draw wildlife away from the danger zone.
New Year’s resolution
I would like all smallholders to resolve to produce more food from their land in future. While small-scale food production won’t solve all of the world’s problems, it might help to alleviate a few of them. And besides, most UK smallholdings aren’t nearly so productive as they could be, which I think is a wasted resource.
Woodland areas enhance the biodiversity and amenity value of Tim’s smallholding, in addition to providing him with fuel
The first harvest from Tim’s willow plantation
A willow coppice a few years after cutting