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Saturday, 7 January 2012

Woodland garden plans and carbon off-setting

We're back from the mountains and have survived the festive season in one piece.  We are now at the beginning of a new year and a new growing season, wondering where the path to self sufficiency is going to take us next.  I have already mentioned that we are toying with the idea of joining or setting up an eco-community.  This is still very much on our minds and I'll write a bit more about it next time around.

In the meantime though it's time to plan what we are going to do with our land for this year.  I'm all for living in the now and not abandoning half projects, just because of some future plan which may or may not come to fruition.  I have now decided to turn our 18 crumbling terraces into a permaculture woodland garden, planting at least 30 more trees and shrubs.  The roots should therefore help keep the hill from sliding down, minimising erosion and self-fertilise the soil.  Everything I am planning to grow will have some edible use to it.  I doodled around a bit making a little collage of plants I'd like to plant:

As those of you who follow my blog regularly may know, we already have quite a few permanent features on our land, some 100 trees and shrubs.  Apart from the usual suspects of olive, apple, pear, peach, cherry, plum trees etc, I'd like to grow a few exotics.  I've done a bit of research, many of the following will be difficult to find in Italy, as Italians don't go much for the unusual.  So if anyone out there can help me obtain cuttings, seeds or knows where I could get hold of plants, please let me know.

Here's a list of what I'm looking for:

For the canopy level:
  • A mulberry tree.  Never seen one here, but should be able to find one.
  • Japanese Dogwood.  Don't know this tree, but it is said to grow to 10m and produce some nice fruit.
  • Hawthorn:  Leaves and berries are edible (see my haw ketchup and haw jelly) as well as hugely medicinal as a heart tonic.
  • Elder: for the flowers and berries
  • A lime tree:  Apparently the young leaves are really tasty in salads.
For the shrub layer:

  • Black and redcurrants
  • Flowering Maple (abutilon vitifolium): This small tree flowers abundantly and the flowers are edible with a pleasant mild flavour used in salads.
  • Juneberry (amelanchier): a 2-3 m shrub bearing small currant like fruit in mid-summer
  • Strawberry tree
  • Autumn Olive trees:  I saved some seeds from the last wild harvest
  • Myrtle: With the previous two the fruit of this makes my delicious Christmas jam!
  • Salt bush: The leaves and young shoots of this plant make a tasty spinach substitute or can be added to salads.
  • Tree collards and daubenton: These are two varieties of perennial brassica, the latter from the kale family.  I understand they quite tricky to find, so if anyone has any seeds of these...?
  • Dwarf quince: Not a true quince, but the flavour of the fruit of this small tree is very similar to quince
  • Cornelian cherry: A 5m shrub flowering bright yellow in winter and producing some cherry-like fruit in summer
  • Blue Sausage Tree:  Now this has got to be my favourite!  I've never seen this, but this 4m tall shrub bears blue sausage shaped fruits, which looks disgusting but tastes good.  Anyone know where I can find one of those?
  • Eleagnus: A genus of evergreen or deciduous shrubs producing delicious fruit with edible seeds
  • Fuchsia: Not sure how well this would do with us, but the flowers are actually edible.
  • Wolfberry or gojiberry:  I've heard a lot about the nutritious values of this little berry.  I'd love to get hold of a few shrubs
  • Oregon grape: Medium -sized shrub with blue edible berries
  • Chilean guava: Not a true guava producing small deliciously aromatic fruit in flavour somewhere between a wild strawberry and a guava

On top of that of course a herbaceous layer as well as some climbers such as some additional kiwis, some ground nut (edible roots) and
Schisandra rubiflora (tall fruit bearing climber).

Apart from the fact that many of the above plants will not be easily obtainable in Italy we have one other problem, our perennial shortage of money to buy these plants.  A recent blog post from Jeremy on Make Wealth History gave me an idea though.  He blogs about many issues surrounding the threat of global warming and tries to offer solutions to the problem we face on earth.  He himself strives to keep his own carbon footprint low and has recently been wondering how to off-set his rest carbon emission.

So if anyone out there would like to make a positive impact to counter-balance their direct or indirect emissions, you could donate to the 'Pathtoselfsufficiency Tree Planting Fund'.  Ok I'm not certified and I can't tell you exactly how much you reduce your carbon by, but I promise I will give you a full report on exactly the trees your money has helped to plant. I will even individually name the tree, as some concerned friends of mine have already found out when I showed them around introducing them to trees by name (Stan the plum, Ollie the olive tree, Simon the cherry tree, Bela you can call him Edgar the olive tree, Walter the walnut tree, Al and Capone the almond trees, Ronny the rennet apple tree etc...).  Any donations would be very welcome.  :)  Tree planting will start in early spring.


Angela said...

Most of your unusual trees are also unknown to me, but we have a gooseberry stem, and I might find a hawthorn or elder offsping. I wonder about the shipping though, won`t they dry out? Good luck anyway, with all your plans, Heiko. You are really an industrious and inventive guy!

Mr. H. said...

Well that is quite an interesting selection of unusual edible plants and once established they should thrive in your climate. I should be able to send you the Oregon grape, Juneberry, and elderberry seeds this next fall if you remind me and have not found another source.

Tanya @ Lovely Greens said...

Some of those trees are completely new to me and I'm amazed at the potential harvests you could have off of them. You'll know from living in Ireland that there's a load of Hawthorn and Elder in my region but we also have tons and tons of fuchsia. Honey bees love it but I'd never considered eating the flowers before. You learn something new every day :)

Heiko said...

Angela, hawthorn, elder and gooseberry I should be able to get easily here too. In fact there's a large elder shrub in the woodlands just below our lands of which I can take cuttings.

Mr. H. Oregon grape and juneberry might be more interesting. I'll let you know if I haven't been able to source any until then.

Tanya, I had never considered fuchsia either. I also just found out that you can eat campanula bell flowers. Really rather tasty too and they grow everywhere. I picked one off our land this week in flower. It's been a really strange mild winter here, it feels already like spring!

Mark said...

Do you worry that you might be creating too much shade. I have never come across a strawberry tree before!

Heiko said...

Hi Mark, I think it's all a matter of planning. Our land is in the unusual position of having at least as much vertical as horizontal space. Some terraces are as high as 7 feet, so a lowish tree on the lower terrace isn't going to interfere with anything on the higher terrace. Also with our dry climate, shading is probably a good thing for many palnts and prevents the soil from drying too much too quickly. The strawberry tree is also known as Kilarney strawberry as they do thrive in southern Ireland. An evergreen fruiting in late autumn. Of course the fruit only vaguely looks like strawberry and doesn't taste anything like it.

selfsufficient11 said...

beautiful post.i really liked this post.

orangeblossomfarm said...

Hi, I am glad I found your blog. We have a farm in Greece and pretty much try to do the same thing as you are. We try to be self sufficient, have already hundreds of established trees and I very much would like to introduce some permaculture practices into our land. To start with I wanted to plant nitrogen fixing shrubs and trees and then probably try underplanting of fruit trees with various herbs that would deter pest and attract benifical insect (we do have a lot of problems with the mediterranean fruit fly and there is next to nothing that can be done, so I want to try to bring back a natural balance, maybe it will help).
I ordered a variety of seeds, mainly nitrogen fixers from the UK. I will try to grow them from seed on the final spot, so they will develope a strong tap root and reach deep down into the soil where they can find more water during the dry summer month.
Keep up the good work

Nicole said...

I am so excited to have found your blog! I am an American and I write a blog on my thoughts and adventures here in La Spezia (culturalcomments.blogspot.com). I LOVE going into nature to forage for food and my dream is to do what you are doing. We don't have a piece of land yet, but my husband and I have big plans :) He has a construction company called Eco Costruzioni that aims to encourage eco sustainability. If you are still wanting to make this Eco community, we would be happy to join! I look forward to your future posts and would love to visit your orto sometime!

Heiko said...

Nicole, glad you found me too. We are very definitely still wanting to set up a community. If we can do it here it would be a bonus. We are a little concerned that we can't afford extra land around here, which is why we are looking further afield, but we are still keeping an open mind especially since my wife is very reluctant to move away from the area.