Wild Flower Experiment #1 – Killing the Grass

Wild Flower Experiment

Getting rid of the rye grass and clover

Welcome to our wild flower experiment, a trial looking to introduce wild flowers to the orchard. There are several reasons for this – one is to encourage pollinators to the orchard, and another is to cut down on the amount of grass cutting needed.

When we sowed grass, before the orchard was started, we thought we might graze it with sheep or geese. Local advice was to use a permanent rye grass lay, essentially a mix of rye grass, timothy grass and white clover. As many know, and we have come to learn, rye grass grows quickly. Really quickly. Which is great if you have animals that like eating a lot of it. As we primarily run chickens under the orchard trees, for their ability to eat a lot of ground-living grubs and bugs and their manure, grass is a secondary food for them. The geese are much better at it, but they’re next to useless as bug control. The result is that we end up mowing grass, which is a waste of resources and time.

It’s been an idea for a while to add more flowers to the acre, and after much deliberation we’ve decided to run a small wild flower experiment, adding a 3m wide ribbon of wild flowers that the orchard trees will sit inside. The immediate base of each trunk will be kept clear naturally by the chickens, it seems to be a favourite hangout for them which they then scratch around in. The first stage is to test the theory on just one row of trees in the half standard quarter acre orchard (or, as we call it, the ‘big’ orchard, because the trees are larger than those in the bush quarter acre orchard (the ‘little’ orchard).

We’ve bought wild flower mixes before from Charles Flower, of Charles Flower Wildflowers. He very kindly has given us some advice after chatting through our plan, and advised us that rye grass is awfully hard to get rid of once you have it. The initial idea was to rotovate to a shallow depth continually over the growing season, but with the space to rotovate, we’ve decided to lay weed suppressant fabric where we will eventually sow the wild flower seed. We’ve used two layers of 100gsm fabric, to hopefully cut the majority of light out. I know one layer will do it as we used it last year over the space of two months to gain more room to grow vegetables. Hopefully three months of two layers will do much the same, only better, and still leave us August in which to rotovate and hopefully nobble as much new seedlings as possible before sowing in September. So far we only have enough fabric to the cover the area you see here, but more is ordered, actually enough to cover two tree rows, but I’ll have to see if we can resist the temptation to do that before knowing if it works.

Hopefully the end result will be more nectar for the insects needing it, and a more interesting habitat for the chickens. As far as wildlife is concerned, it could be a haven for the voles we have here (and therefore the various owls), and the longer vegetation will hopefully keep the soil moist for longer, encouraging insects that the resident hedgehogs will also happily feast upon.

Dandelion Wine – Step 3

2016 dandelion wine 5Right-oh – we’re three (well four, but it should be three) days after adding the sugar, yeast and yeast nutrient to the dandelion wine liquid, having first strained it. It’s bubbling along nicely, and so today’s task is to rack it into one gallon demijohns for the final fermentation stage. It was easy enough, I bought one of those auto-siphon things, which was a lot easier than puckering and sucking on the end of a hose, waiting for a mouthful of sugar and yeast concoction! A few minutes later and we have five full demijohns sat in the garage alongside the 2016 dandelion wine 4last slow ferment cider. Just a couple of years before we taste the results!

Dandelion Wine – Step 2

Dandelion Wine – Step 2

Well, the ten days are up and it’s time to filter the dandelion wine mixture into a new clean fermention bucket. This was a simple affair, except I managed to misplace our filter cloth, so we had to resort to using the kitchen seive.

Any fears of there not being enough liquid once the dandelion, orange and lemon mass was removed, were unfounded. The 7kg of granulated sugar added bulk enough to lift the level back up.

2016 dandelion wine 3It was a simple process – pour the liquid into a new sterilised bucket, through a seive (the smell is gorgeous – delicate and flowery, with the citrus tang in the background). I had to remove several little spots of floating mould with a spoon, then once all was in the new bucket, we added the granulated sugar. Again, as we were making five gallons rather than the one gallon the recipe assumed, we multiplied the 3lbs (1.4kg) of sugar by five, so 7kg of sugar! To this mixture we dropped a sachet of GP wine yeast and the relevant amount of yeast nutrient – it will say how much per gallon on the tub you bought.

Give it a really good mix, until the sugar has dissolved, and fit the lid again. Not having done this before, I fitted an airlock to our bucket, in case it starts to ferment wildy before the three days is up!

2016 Patch Plan

As mentioned, there have been a few changes this year – most noticeably the shrinking of the vegetable patch, which now has multiple 10ft x 10ft beds. In truth, some of the produce we grew in the 10’x30′ beds was too much – most noticeably the onions. We never get through them! Some we do use – the squash patch in particular. So with more beds, we can give some totally over to one type of plant. I still haven’t thought it entirely through, but I imagine it will be something like this:

Plot A – Potatoes

Plot B – Aliums (shallots, white onions, red onions, leeks, garlic)

Plot C – Root veg (parsnips, beetroot, swede, kohl rabi, turnip etc) and corgettes – carrots will go on clean ground as they always suffer from carrot fly on this patch.

Plot D – Summer (butternut) and winter squash

Plot E – Pumpkins & Sweetcorn

Plot F – Brassica (brussel sprouts, summer cauliflower, winter/spring cauliflowers, spring cabbage, winter (savoy) cabbage, summer/autumn round cabbage, red cabbage, broccolli)

Plot G – Legumes (peas and beans)

Carrots will go in the raised bed again, they do well raised that 2′ off the ground to deter the carrot fly, and also in the old fruit cage, next to the currant bushes as that soil is new to carrots. I may even add extra garlic in there to help deter new flies discovering our carroty goodness!

We’ll also plant the sunflowers in that area, we need sunflowers as they’re so gorgeous and the birds love them!

You may also notice that the wild flower border we had last year, running south of the Old Oak, is no longer there. In reality, it is, but our de-teaseling last year *seems* to have done the trick as I can’t see any young teasels starting off – but we’re doing nothing with it yet until I’m sure it doesn’t need rotovating again to kill any new growth off, so some wild flowers will push through and, as long as they’re not a teasel, they’re more than welcome!

We’ve also added three new trees to the orchard – a replant of a Beeley Pippin after the last one didn’t take well, It’s in the north-east corner of the little  orchard and, judging by the buttercups there, I think it may be that the ground is slightly wetter than the rest of the orchard. Other trees don’t seem to mind it, so it may be the Beeley Pippin is a bit reluctant as a variety. We’ve also added a Vilberie – an old Normandy cider tree – to the little orchard, and the same variety on larger rootstock to the big orchard. I’m quite excited about these, and they’re one variety that has gone in after much thought.


Acre Field 2016 01

And You Think Coffee is Expensive!

Determined to put the time spent picking dandelions to good use, I vowed I would carry out the task of converting the dandelions to something useful – namely the coffee I mentioned way back.

Trying to speed the process up, I dropped the dandelions into a reasonably clean barrow (yes – the new posh black one – we’re officially a three-barrow household now!) and hosed the majority of the dirt from them before allowing myself into the house. I then topped and tailed them all, keeping some of the leaves for salads, the rest going into the brown bin as I’m lost for ideas that will make use of it.

Once topped and tailed, they’re scrubbed thoroughly with a nail brush to remove the majority of the brown skin – I’m really not sure if it’s necessary to be that thorough, but figure we do it with carrots and potatoes, perhaps it’s a good idea to do it with something else pulled from the ground.

Then they’re diced really small, slow roasted in the oven for about an hour at 75 Celsius, often turning them. Then they’re crushed. At the end of the day, after maybe two hour’s work, I ended up with half a small jar of coffee grinds for Espresso experience, great quality tho.
Something tells me there must be an easier way!

June Update


What can I say?! The weather has been absolutely fantastic! Mostly sun, the odd shower here and there, then back to sun. Everything is growing as it should be – no late frost to nobble the early starters, no waterlogging, no drought. To be honest, it’s getting a bit scary.

So, to firmly plant the goodness that has been the last month, here’s a quick update on just how well everything’s growing.


Early Potatoes, Chillies & Headland Flowers

Another good day in the patch. We all trooped down, the sun decided to make an appearance, and for a short while you could almost convince yourself that winter was over. The first and second early potatoes (Epicure and Kestrel) were dropped into their waiting 6″ deep holes – spaced 12″ apart in rows 18″ from each other. As they start to show in a few weeks we’ll mound the earth over the tips to protect them from any frosts we might get.

An awful lot of hoeing was also done – after last year suffering some consequence of perhaps not enough, I’m determined to keep on top of the weeds at this time of year. So the potato patch was hoed thoroughly before planting the seed potatoes, the legume patch got a good seeing to as well, as did the brassica patch.

The Jerusalem Artichokes are already popping their heads above the parapet, but whilst they’re still quite short, we sowed some lettuce between the rows – Balmoral (a type of iceberg variety) and a Salad Lettuce, pick as it grows type.  The radish in the parsnip row are already growing, and the snap peas, peas and broad beans are starting to show.

Whilst Jay was planting the potatoes that have been on her windowsill for the last 6 weeks, Suz and Smiler dug the remaining parsnips up from last year’s crop. They managed to fill a barrow full with about 15 parsnisps – they are giants! We had 2 between four of us for our evening meal in a parsnip soup, which also used our own leeks, onions and garlic, and cheese and yoghurt added. It tasted fantastic, really welcome after working outside all day.

Some twitch was also dug out from around two of the orchard trees. They look like isolated events, but the fact that twitch was present means it was in the field before we sowed the grass, so a beady eye is needed.

The last thing to do was to sow into large 6″ pots the chilli seeds. We’ve used the remainder of last year’s packets – Peperone Dolce di Bergamo and Pimientos de Padron. Again, these are in the mini greenhouse for now but will be moved to the main greenhouse soon. The sweetcorn that was in the mini greenhouse have been moved to Jay and Smiler’s windowsills now that their potatoes have gone into the ground.

Jay also grabbed her wild flower books to try and find out what sort of flowers were showing themselves in the headland where we’d sown the wildflower mix. It turns out that the flowers present are nothing to do with the mix, but were already in the soil. We have:

Shepherd’s Purse (Capsella bursa-pastoris) – is not native to the UK, but comes from Eastern Europe and Asia Minor. In Shanghai it is commonly used as food, where they stir-fry it with rice cakes and other ingredients, or as part of the filling in wontons. Herbally, it is primarily used to stop vaginal bleeding, an action which may be attributable to the common parasitic fungus found with it.

Red Deadnettle (Lamium purpureum) –  a prominent source of pollen for bees in March/April when bees need the pollen as protein to build up their nest. Young plants have edible tops and leaves, good in salads or in stirfry as a spring vegetable.

Germander Speedwell (Veronica chamaedrys) – a good source of nectar for solitary bees, it is a common flower in woodland, hedgerows and gardens and in the past was used in herbal medicine to treat coughs and catarrh, and as blood tonic.

Common Chickweed (Stellaria media) – is edible and nutritious, and is used as a leaf vegetable, often raw in salads. It is an annual plant, native to Europe, and often eaten by chickens (hence the name). It is also called chickenwort, craches, maruns and winterweed.

Wild Pansy (Viola tricolor) – also known as Heartsease, is common to Europe, and grows as an annual or short-lived perrenial. In the past it has been recommended as a treatment for epilepsy, asthma and eczema, and has also been used in the treatment of chest complaints such as bronchitis and whooping cough. It is also a diuretic, leading to its use in treating rheumatism and cystitis.

Heartsease was a staple in medieval gardens, and was once believed to be a potent love charm. Its flowers are an old remedy for heart disease, and an infusion of the herb was reputedly the cure for a broken heart. Heartsease contains salicylates and rutin, both of which are anti-inflammatories, and may explain the herb’s ability to calm skin inflammation.