Work On The Sidford Food Forest Is Progressing At A Steady Rate, But Has Been Hampered By A Lack Of Water, Hot Weather And Now Rain! But We Never Expected Rapid Progress, A Project Such As This Needs To Be Measured & Paced Alongside Nature.

Since our first post in when we took over the land in early spring the site has seen steady progress. Botanical surveys have taken place at various stages. But of course plants grow and flower over the year and our first survey didn’t see many of the plants that grew later. This might seem a detail but it is important to know what is growing on a site before undertaking too much work or we could destroy plants we would like to keep.

Since April we’ve held various volunteer sessions and not only cleared some rubbish but also moved lorry loads of woodchip which have been used to cover areas where we want to grow food plants. In places we used a thick layer of cardboard topped with woodchip to tame the “weeds”. And when we ran out of cardboard we used woodchip on its own. I had some reservations about this as I suspected that some of the couch grass, docks and other weeds would fight through the woodchip. In fact many people said the idea was madness and we would live to regret it.

But surprisingly very few weed came through. We had used a good six inch layer of weed chip and it has suppressed all but a very few pieces of couch. And removing those pieces is very easy, as now they are growing in loose woodchip they easily pull out by hand. This was a positive learning experience.

Mint in the Sidford Food Forest

The reality is that we don’t have a lot of experience of growing a food forest from scratch. Not many people do. My own experience as a market gardener didn’t prepare me for a food forest project. But likewise those that said woodchip alone wouldn’t work also lacked experience of this type of growing.

The only “weeds” we are now seeing are occasional trees seedlings that are taking advantage of this woodland floor type environment. And they are equally easily removed with a volunteer asking for them to plant elsewhere in the valley. Woodchip certainly can be used to overcome a lot of grass weeds.

Thanks to Russell and his colleagues at EDDC for supplying the woodchip. It’s appreciated and I doubt we could manage the project without it.

Planting Success & Failure

As the new beds were established we started to plant a few new plants. A row of blackcurrant cuttings went in and were soon pulled out by adventurous children! But, let’s remember this is a forest garden for everyone and they probably didn’t realise that a stick pushed in the woodchip was a potential fruiting plant of the future. The mistake here was that we didn’t tell enough people that we were growing “sticks”! It’s another lesson in community growing.

We also planted a few freshly rooted perennial kale. Some thrived and some hated the dry weather and have shrivelled up. But without a source of water on site to allow us to water the plants in as we plant them this was never going to be 100% successful. The fact any kale have survived is a positive and the fact they have evaded the scourge of the cabbage white is nothing short of a miracle. Our kale are still small plants but should grow throughout the winter and once wet established should last 7-8 years with regular winter harvests.

We also planted a few cardoon, Cynara cardunculus, seedlings in late May and left them to fend for themselves throughout the hot month that followed. They aren’t looking great but som have survived and the rain in the last few days might well save them. Cardoon are a Mediterranean plant that is often cultivated for its ribby leaf stems. It copes with drier conditions and is a hardy perennial veg once established. Cardoons are related to globe artichoke and are very attractive to bees and other pollinators which is another reason for growing it.

One of the first plants in the ground were raspberries. Again the summer has not been kind to them but most have survived and I expect them to spread over the next few years and be cropping well in a year or two.

Cardoon in the Sidford food forest

A plant that may surprise some people as a plant for the food forest are tomatoes. In late may I put in 3-4 plants, gave them a dribble of water each from a small bottle and walked away. Six weeks later two of the plants are stunted but alive, flowering and bearing aa few fruit. Not bad considering the hot June and the fact we didn’t water them at all. They now have a chance after the rain of the last few days to make some growth and produce more fruit this year.

Mint is another plant that copes with adverse conditions. A couple of pieces were planted a few moths ago and are thriving. I’m looking forward to some when I dig potatoes at home. The advantage of growing moist in woodchip is that it isn’t invasive. If the plant looks to be getting too big it is ok easy to pull it out of the ground and keep it under control.

It might sound as if we are being a bit lackadaisical over growing our plants but the reality is that a food forest isn’t a conventional garden. It is very low maintenance and needs too be built with due care and consideration and we must not forget that plants need to be tough and able to fend for themselves. There is no space here for weak weedy plants that need mollycoddling. This summer has been a learning experience for all of us. And from small beginnings we hope to build a mighty food forest.

This is a garden that could last generations. That being so we shouldn’t rush into it. We need to experiment and focus on what is already there and what works on this specific site.

Water for the Food Forest

If only we could have water a few plants just a little we would have far more than we do. But the only water on site is a pond that rapidly dried out in early spring.

Fortunately the Sidford Social Hall came to our rescue and have supplied a water butt. More importantly they have a huge roof that filled the water butt very quickly. Though the butt is relatively small it will make a difference if we can at least water plants in as we put them in the ground in future.

From Little Apples …

Falstaff Dessert Apple at Sidford food forest

Right next to the food forest are 25 newly planted apple trees. Planting was organised by Sidmouth Arboretum and the bare root plants went in last winter when moisture was plentiful. A mix of crab apples and dessert apples they are doing really well. The crab apples flowered very well and are now carrying loads of apples. The dessert apples also flowered well but carry far fewer fruit. That is to be expected in the first year or two but it augurs well for the future and we can expect to see plenty of fruit for decades to come.

Future Work In the Food Forest

Crab apples at Sidford Food forest

There was a lot more woodchip to be carted around the site and spread. And more beds to be planted overwinter with gooseberries and other plants. A hedgerow mix is being delivered late run the year and will be used to create a second layer of plants along the northern boundary. This will create more wildlife habitat and encourage more wildlife.

But hedges need cutting and so it is with the hedge on the southern boundary. It is currently thick with haws and should encourage plenty od winter berry eating birds. We are hoping for several thrush species. However the hedge is getting big and unruly and will become even more productive if cut back once the birds have had time to take the haws. We plan on laying part off it this winter and the remainder the following year. That will encourage denser growth but also let the light in to the rest of the site. Even food forests need light for the plants to grow.

Volunteers and Plants Needed

Without our band of volunteers this project would fail, so a big thank you to everyone that has taken part and helped in so many ways. And if you want to get involved please contact us via the comments section below or our Facebook group.

haws in Sidford food forest hedge

We recently had a visit from the 1st Sidmouth Scout Group. They got stuck into to raking grass and tidying up the site. It’s good to see young people interested in food forests and biodiversity.

If you have any surplus plants suitable for a food forest please let us know.

SVBG is a not for profit organisation dependant on volunteers, grants and donations.  Without funding we cannot operate and many of our biodiversity projects will cease.

Even the smallest donation can make a difference to wildlife such as the kingfisher on our logo.  

The easiest way to donate a small sum is to click here to Donate

lf you want to give a larger donation, or for a specific project please get in touch via our Contacts page

One thought on “Food Forest Progress- July 2023

  1. Elaine Trinick says:

    Hi could you tell me what will happen to the food once it has come to fruition and picking time please?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *