Savouring the blue skies and relative warmth of the last week, we have been busy reshaping our land and planning for the years to come. One corner of our property has become overgrown with brambles and elder, and I have been removing them to make way for a beehive. The elder shoots can be woven like a basket between stumps to make a good wattle fence.
We have been scooping the top layer of earth from inside our chicken run, carting it to our garden beds to top up the soil. Chicken manure is one of the best fertilisers you can get, and these days garden stores sell it in abundance. That’s fine if you have no other choice, but I find it ironic that we throw away millions of tonnes of kitchen waste per year – contributing a great deal to climate change -- then buy dried chicken manure from stores in plastic tubs. More of us, instead, could simply keep chickens, feed them the waste, and benefit from the manure.
The bees are slowly emerging in time to start work on the sally tufts, and swallows are investigating our shed to see if their old nest remains intact. It does, but I’m debating whether to allow them to nest there this year; it’s said to bring good luck, but not on the days I try to enter my shed and get smacked by a swallow going the other way.
The best part of spring, for me, is looking at the new buds. The red tips of the linden tree will soon erupt into fresh green leaves that are brilliant for salad, and for a few weeks now I have been using the hawthorn shoots as an herb. The cowslips are pushing out of the new grass, ready to be gathered for wine, and flowers are spreading across the floor of our forest, catching the window of sunlight before the trees overhead spread their canopy again.
I’m looking over the tattered hedgerows we inherited and resolving to repair them this year. They fray because they comprise a few different species of tree and bush, which grow and die at different rates, meaning the hedgerow is becoming a clump of trees. To make it a proper hedgerow wall again will require a few years, but all the more reason to start now.
First, I’ll be taking the fastest-growing members of that community – the willows – and sawing partway through their trunk at the base. Then I’ll be pulling them down until they are horizontal, but making sure that some of the inner bark that remains intact, connecting the tree to the roots. I’ll do this for each of the saplings along the row like dominoes, and they will still live and flourish on the ground.
Then, next year they will put up new shoots upward, and I will cut part-way through them, pull them down and do the whole thing again. Soon, we’ll have something more like a proper willow-wall, a living wattle fence that can offer privacy and food for us and a home for wildlife, for years to come.