You helped us raise the money…what happens next?
Some of you might be aware that back in November 2019 we launched a Crowdfunder campaign. We were rather pleased with the title ‘Sheffield Hedge Fund’ and it prompted quite a few smiles when people realised what type of hedge we were really interested in.
We were thrilled to be able to have so many fantastic donors help us reach our target in December, which included a donation from the funding body, Power to Change where they would match the funding we received from our other donors. The money enables us to purchase plants, planting equipment, the necessary protection needed to help the hedge establish and be maintained throughout its life. Some of you might know about the Woodland Trust’s grants to help organisations plant even more hedgerows and trees. Whilst we weren’t in time for the round of grant applications to enable spring 2020 plantings we will be working them in the future on even more exciting tree planting schemes at Regather Farm.
For the time being we were very happy to work with the highly recommended Buckingham Nurseries, who have been really helpful in providing us with an excellent stock of hedgerow plants. These have been ordered and will be delivered in the next couple of weeks. The hedge will be entirely native British hedgerow plants, mainly hazel but with lots of dogwood, hawthorn, many climbing roses, field maple and a few larger trees: wild cherry, birch, rowan and crab apple.
Before planting we will need to wait until the ground has dried out considerably so we don’t damage the precious soil on the field. Working the soil when it’s really wet can cause compaction. On a heavy clay soil like ours this is highly likely and highly damaging. Compaction really affects the soils ability to function so we need to be really careful. As the field is currently waterlogged, along with damage to the soil, any planting into such wet ground will mean the hedge plants likely won’t survive either as the roots need to be able to breathe. Healthy soil has a lot of air pockets in it which allows oxygen to get to the roots. In waterlogged soil the water fills the air gaps and the roots can’t breathe. With only 6-7 weeks left for planting there’s a lot to be cautious about!
In terms of our planting plan what this means, for us and any keen volunteers, is that we’ll be doing an awful lot of planting in a short space of time. Ideally we’d have a good few months to get this done but with the weather as it has been until now this hasn’t been an option. If you’d like to be part of our hedge planting team, and we’ll need all the help we can get – then please get in touch and check the Regather facebook page or what’s on page for planting day info. (With your help we can definitely do this!).
In the meantime the hedge plants will be ‘heeled in’ a process where plants are laid in a trench with their roots lightly, but completely covered in soil to stop them drying out. Then when the weather improves and the ground dries out we’ve got the plants to hand and are ready to plant.
I’ve been pondering this hedge planting job a lot over these last few, very wet months. On one hand the wet weather has made a big task that much more challenging. We need to get as many plants in before the plants ‘break bud’ in the spring. And whilst this is a challenge the hedge plan also provides hope and reassurance for the future. One of the main benefits the hedge will bring to the field is better water management on our land. As mentioned the heavy and persistent rain of autumn 2019 and now into 2020 has meant the field has been pretty waterlogged throughout. So that alongside the delay in hedge planting we haven’t got on with doing as much important farm establishment works either. As we can’t change the weather, we must remember to be patient and try to get our timings right. But how can hedgerows help?
Repeated, heavy rain on any exposed soil adds to compaction at the surface and a compacted soil suffers many problems. The leaves and branches of the hedge will reduce this rain drop impact on the surrounding soil, catching droplets before they hit the ground helping to reduce compaction. This isn’t over a large area but it will help areas downhill of each line of hedge.
In terms of standing water on the field as the hedge plants grow and mature their roots will penetrate deep into the subsoil, enabling better percolation of rainwater through the top soil and down into the subsoil. The hedge plants themselves can grow to be small trees and will draw up moisture as they grow, further helping the soil to remain drier in times of heavy rainfall.
Having a healthy soil around the hedges will also mean the land can retain moisture better in hot dry summers. I’m encouraged by thinking about the current driest parts of the field. These are in the orchard and at the edges of the field where the big oak trees are growing.
In terms of erosion, the roots of the hedge will help keep valuable soil in place in winter by reducing water runoff and during summers when any exposed topsoil can be blown away by dry winds.
As the hedges mature biodiversity should increase. The hedge will provide a fantastic habitat for insects, birds and mammals; as a place to move through, take shelter in, avoid predators, nest, breed and hibernate. Being organic growers this ecological functionality should mean that the predatory insects and birds which take up residence in the hedge will hopefully feast on all the potential ‘pests’ which have decided to try and devour our lovely vegetable crops
With our site being bordered by woodland on two sides and with a very mature ancient hedge on the other two sides, hedgerows spanning the field will also act as fantastic wildlife corridors for animals to move about in the landscape. Providing ways to link habitats can connect up potentially isolated populations of animals. This is really important when thinking about the genetic health of wild animal populations and more widely the bigger picture of a healthy ecology of the whole of the Moss Valley.
Last year we grew vegetables on a half acre test plot. This was largely successful, but one crop I was really looking forward to that never really happened was that of the winter squashes. There were a few factors as to why this didn’t happen, including a cold wet June which hampered the plants establishing. Another factor was their constant buffetting by strong, cool winds that we had at several different times throughout the summer (in between the heatwaves…) Again once the hedges get established they will provide a fantastic windbreak to the vegetable growing areas.
Finally and perhaps most interestingly for me is the long term plan to create our own on farm fertility. This means we can nourish the soil without the need for ‘ghost acres’ of bought in compost or manure. The way to achieve this is by creating our own woodchip compost. In the short term I’m hoping to engage local tree surgeons to see if they can drop off their unwanted chipped wood. After the hedge really reaches maturity though we should be able to coppice sections of it to create our own woodchip. This can then be left on large windrows and left to break down into a fantastic compost full of carbon and funghi, ready to feed soil biology and create fantastic healthy soil.
A big project, with many challenges, but many, many benefits. Get in touch to find out how to get involved in the planting plan.