A beautiful Miscanthus Sinensis we planted earlier this year.
When considering the textural fabric of a garden space, I find that nothing matches the lush aesthetics of a tall grass. Most of us don't give grass a lot of thought, only familiar with the kept greens of lawns and playing fields. The abundant typology of the plant is often ignored or never encountered. As such, many of the large ornamental species carry an element of imagined wilderness, calling to mind romantic windswept moors and ranging steppe.
The flat mountain is busy with old logging paths and dirt roads, some looping and leading to nowhere, some heading to houses concealed by the tree's. These are corridors of open ground characterised by a mix of loose soil and fine gritty stone. There's always an incredible diversity of grasses and wild flowers along these paths.
If you live in a more urbanised environment, the closest comparisons for these wild bio-diversity sites can be found alongside railways — where seeds are carried along the tracks by the wind-like movement of carriages — or in undeveloped brownfield sites. Often you'll find an equally rich ecology growing on motorway verges or other liminal embankments connecting edgeland to edgeland. If you want to find a vibrant ecosystem in a city, look for the marginalised and untended spaces where grasses, shrubs and wild-flowers can be seeded from far-and-wide without much in the way of municipal tending or civic oversight.
Frequently, the most vital parts of an ecosystem are these types of spaces. For many of us, they lie forgotten and under-appreciated, buried beneath our aesthetic cultural norms which value formal over-determined horticultural gardens and dead manicured lawns.
~ The 'road' leading to our house
Our first growing space is complete! We've been working at a relatively slow pace, which hasn't been a problem because of the cold weather we've had up until recently. Things are only just starting to come to life, and we have more beds on the way, so we're in good shape for the season ahead.
When we arrived this area was a dense grove of plum saplings, grown up among an impenetrable web of greenery. I don't have photo “before” we started clearing it because the thick wall of greens and browns wasn't anything noteworthy, and we hadn't yet planned to make a growing space there.
We made these beds with a one-dig method. Roughly laying out the size and shape and digging within those borders to remove any troublesome rocks — this land is characterised by its heavy geological deposits dragged in from ice-age glaciers, which historically has made it very difficult to tend and farm — and to pull up the thick plum tree roots tangling through the earth.
Once all the unwanted matter was removed, we filled the beds with organic material — mostly leaves and Bokashi compost — and covered the top back over with soil. And that's it. If you keep your beds healthy you shouldn't ever have to dig again, there's just.. no reason to disturb the topsoil and the intricate biome any further.
Aggressive soil disruption is a major problem when it comes to modern agricultural techniques. It's a process of rapidly diminishing returns that requires you to feed nutrients back into the land to replace what you've destroyed. If you're growing on a small scale your systems should largely be closed-loops which avoid this process entirely, and you shouldn't ever need to till or plow or turn over the land. Unfortunately it's these activities performed on a mass industrial scale — combined with monocrop/monocultures and over-grazing — that are causing soil erosion and land degradation globally.
There are of course a thousand other criticisms to level at the currently prevailing forms of mass agriculture: Foreign land grabs displacing local populations, which in turn increases pressure on neighbouring — and often already less secure — food systems. The loss of arable land post-agriculture forcing food scarcity refugee migration. The ongoing erasure of indigenous peoples and cultures. The global loss of biodiversity and species as a result of the wider ecological collapse caused by soil deserts and deforestation. The list is practically endless and touches on a dizzying array of socio-economic crises.
But now we're entering critical territory where my immediate actions find little purchase. So I'll focus on my growing beds for now.. I can always write a more detailed addendum later if I feel like exasperating myself.
Still working my way through the felled Birch that the previous owner left behind. Add this to the stores in the barn and woodshed that we didn't get to this Winter and we're easily approaching a two-year stockpile. Which is exactly where we want to be.
It's good to allow wood to season for at least two years before burning it, which ensures the moisture held in the core evaporates. Unseasoned wood makes for inefficient and dirty fuel. It's harder to ignite, generates less heat and produces a lot of smoke and tar. The latter will fuck up your flue if you don't get it regularly cleaned, and the former is.. well ya know. On the topic of smoke, improperly seasoned wood is also a major cause of black carbon emissions. Other common contributors are bad kindling (fire starting) techniques and overall bad management of fire conditions (air flow, fire size, burning temperature etc) which leads to messy and incomplete combustion. It's important to remember that all of this can be reduced with a little knowledge and preparation.
There's a lot to keep in mind when burning wood, because it's absolutely not a carbon-neutral fuel, despite what the greenwashed industry rhetoric of bio-fuel suppliers and wood-stove manufacturers would have you believe. I suspect misinformation about this will continue to spread in our restless age of information, so enamoured as it is with inadequate profit-motivated gestures toward sustainability.