Category Archives: Fodder and Forage

Edible Perennial Plants

Perennials in the vege garden are nothing new, in fact many old gardens would have had easy care perennials and self sowers as the basis of their food supply. It is only the more modern times where we have stepped away from these foods and embraced the hybrid vege, the seeds of which no longer produce true to type. But there has been a shift back to the heritage crops, a renaissance of seed savers and the rise in popularity of food forests which has seen the perennial veges regain their place in gardens.

Cutting celery in the front, asparagus fronds and then fennel flowering in the rear, Perennial veges in the garden.

I thought when I began compiling this list for my ‘Survival Garden’ that I knew most of what was available in New Zealand. However, a read through Kahikatea Farm’s unusual vegetable pages soon showed me that there was much more. Jo from Kahikatea Farm has kindly given me permission to include her resources here. So, we have compiled a list of perennials, and some Biennials, many which can hold a permanent place in your garden. This means they also create a haven for the soil life, a place where no tilling takes place, like an anchor point in a quiet bay. Where the fungi can spread their fragile and beautiful mycelium. Where the underground critters can find a thriving colony of life and food.

Mycelium in the garden mulch.

The greater the balance of life you have in your soil the healthier and more nutritious your plants will be and the less work you need to do to have a ready supply of food. Perennials give you the opportunity to create ecosystems within your garden. They can provide shelter, support and mulch for your annuals or less hardy plants. Their established root systems pull the nutrients from deeper in the soil and the processes of growth and decay feed those nutrients back through the system in a bio available way, cycling the nutrients throughout the surrounding garden. Utilising chop and drop mulching for the more wayward growth keeps the surrounding soil covered further supporting the life beneath.

Above the soil the permanence of many of these plants provides a year-round habitat for many insects and wildlife. (Though in this regard I am still tossing up whether the Californian Quails are friend or foe in our garden. Hopefully they are helping control the slugs, but the flip side is they love to scratch in the mulch around the young plants.) But diversity should be encouraged and that includes insects and birds, all are part of a thriving ecosystem, it’s about achieving the right balance.

Bumble Bees on a Globe Artichoke flower

In our larger systems there are our livestock animals, they too benefit from our perennial plantings for fodder and forage. Many of these plants are suitable for feeding a range of creatures including ourselves. Some we grow as feed purely for the livestock, especially the pigs, the Jerusalem artichoke for example. It is a great summer shelter plant, bee plant and leaf fodder, then as it dies down the tubers become pig fodder and the stems are chopped and added to our autumn composts as carbon. The multi-use of so many of these plants is another reason to utilise them in your growing space. By utilising plants that are multipurpose we can add elements to our vege garden which go beyond just food and make maximum use of what space we have. The most common uses are food, fodder, bee plant, compost and mulch. But there are also those which are mineral accumulators, mining nutrients from deep in the soil, nitrogen fixers and some are medicinal. Many of our herbs can be included here too, rosemary, lavender, thyme, chives, oregano, French tarragon, marjoram, mint, lemon balm and so many more. There are some herbs included in the list below as they can be used more as veges rather than seasonings.

Jerusalem Artichokes flowering

These days most of these perennial edibles are unknown, apart from asparagus and rhubarb many will not be found at the green grocers or supermarket. It may take some adjustments for us to get used to cooking and eating many of them. Perhaps more of a move back to eating seasonally.  We love it when spring brings us the first shoots of asparagus and the fat tender globe artichokes covered in melting garlic butter. The fresh green tips of the NZ spinach are harvested as other veges are just popping their heads up. Summer is a chaotic mass of food, annual, perennial and self-sown proliferation. Then autumn brings an abundance of chokos for us and the pigs, plus yams and earth gems freshly bandicooted from their beds. But some, like the cutting celery pop up through the garden all year round. Add to these the ‘wild’ self-seeding greens and there will always be food in our garden no matter the season.

The Choko vine grows back each year.

The world of perennial veges opens a whole new lot of possibilities for your garden. I have tried to find as many New Zealand available perennial veges as I can. But if you know of some which I have missed please let me know so they can be included here.

The plants below highlighted in green link through to Kahikatea Farm’s information.

AlehoofGlechoma hederacea
AlexandersSmyrnium olusatrum

An ancient herb also known as Wild Celery, Black Lovage and Horse Parsley (horses love it). The entire plant can be eaten including the leaves, flowers, stems and roots with a taste somewhere between celery and parsley, though the older leaves and stems can be bitter and some people blanch (via deep mulching) to reduce this. Use the leaves and stems like you would celery and the seeds can apparently be used as a pepper substitute. The roots can be boiled and used in soups or grated in coleslaw or tossed in salads, roasted like parsnips or deep fried. All parts are also used to make syrups, wine and beer.

It is actually a biennial, producing leaves in the first year and then flowers and seed in the second, but is great at self-seeding throughout the garden so we will include it with the perennials. Alexanders can grow to 1.5 meters tall and are a lovely addition to your garden or food forest.

AlfalfaMedicago sativa
AquilegiaAquilegia vulgaris
ArugulaDiplotaxis tenuifolia
AsparagusAsparagus officinalis

Asparagus is a popular spring vegetable which produces thick green or purple spears (depending on variety) with sweet and succulent tips.  Asparagus prefers deep well drained soil with added sand or fine stones under crowns with annual side dressing of rich deep mulch. If starting from seed allow the first year “ferns” to grow on as these feed and help develop the roots, don’t cut them until they die back naturally in autumn. The crowns should stand a moderate cut the second year, but it is often best to leave harvesting to year 3. A well cared for asparagus bed can last for 15 or more years.

Bamboo – MosoPhyllostachys edulis

There are over 100 different edible bamboos from which the tender young shoots are harvested for eating. The Moso shoots are harvested in the spring when they are about 8cm above the ground, cutting them about 5cm below the soil level with a sharp spade. The dormant young shoots are also eaten and are harvested in the winter before they emerge above the ground. The hard outer skin is peeled to expose the core which must be cooked before eating. Often this is done by boiling, rinsing and boiling again till tender.

The Moso bamboo reaches an impressive 15m in height and up to 20cm diameter. It is also used as building material but has a spreading habit so needs to be well managed.

Bean Scarlet RunnerPhaseolus coccineus

This attractive scarlet flowering bean produces many large flat pods before it dies back in autumn. The root system will resprout again in spring putting on rapid growth in fertile soils. A sturdy climbing structure is needed to support the runner beans growth. They tend to slow production as they age so plants may need to be replaced every few years. While hardier than most beans the runner bean is frost tender and will rot in cold, wet soils.

Bean Asian Winged/Asparagus Pea Psophocarpus tetragonolobus/ Tetragonolobus purpureus
Bellflower – Campanula sp

Bellflower – CreepingCampanula rapunculoides

Bellflower – DalmationCampanula portenschlagiana

Bellflower – GreaterCampanula latifolia

Bellflower – KoreanCampanula takesimana

Bellflower – MilkyCampanula lactiflora

Bellflower – Nettle-leavedCampanula trachelium

Bellflower – Peach Leaved WhiteCampanula persicifolia

Burnet Saxifrage Pimpinella saxifrage
CardoonCynara cardunculus
Clover Frosty Feathers (White)Trifolium rubens ‘Frosty Feathers’
Clover Red FeathersTrifolium rubens ‘Red Feathers’
Cutting Celery / ParcelApium graveolens
Cutting Celery Red StemApium graveolens
ChicoryCichorium intybus

Upright perennial which grows year-round with broad leaves and bright blue edible flowers. The young leaves are used in salads, stir fries, fritters, pesto etc, they are bitter which is great for digestive health and full of vitamins. The root can be boiled or roasted like parsnips and is often roasted as a coffee substitute. The roots are also used in beer brewing as they are rich in the starch inulin which can easily be converted to alcohol. It is traditionally used medicinally in the treatment of jaundice, liver enlargement, gout and rheumatism, as well as to eliminate worms. Chicory is great fodder/forage for cows, deer, sheep, pigs, chooks and rabbits which find it highly palatable and nutritious.   It is a mineral accumulator which can be added to compost heaps to aide bacterial activity or used as chop and drop mulch.

Chinese ArtichokeStachy affinis
Chinese ToonToona sinensis (syn. Cedrella sinensis)
ChokoSechium edule

A rampant climber which produces avocado shaped fruit in autumn, which are a bit like a hard cucumber with no seeds. The vine is frost tender and will die down over winter only to come back with a vengeance the following year. Trimming is often needed to keep the vine in check as it can easily cover sheds and smother nearby plants. While better suited to warm climates, high night-time temperatures (20 to 30°c) will delay fruiting. The juicy growing vines are great fodder for pigs and chooks, I haven’t tried them for our other livestock yet.

Chokos can be peeled and chopped to use in stews, soup or as a stir fry vegetable. They can also be boiled, stuffed, mashed or pickled, with a very mild flavour it is best used with other flavourful foods or with a cheese sauce.  While you often see mature fruit available many prefer to eat the younger fruit at about 6 to 8 cm for best taste and texture.

CollardsBrassica oleracea
DandelionTaraxacum officinale

A very hardy perennial herb which is naturalised throughout NZ. The leaves and the tap root are harvested for eating and medicinal purposes. The young Dandelion leaves can be added to salads, green smoothies or as cooked greens, bitter flavour stimulates digestion, and they are a good source of minerals. The root is used for supporting liver function and stimulating digestive secretions, which helps with indigestion, poor appetite, constipation etc.

DahliaDahlia pinnata

Plant tubers of the Dahlia pinnata were eaten by the Aztecs and are still widely consumed in Mexico. Two other varieties are commonly classed as edible D. coccinea and D. varibilis, with a 1914 cultivar ‘Yellow Gem’ classed as a ‘choice’ edible. The plant is frost tender, but in most areas the tubers can remain in the ground over winter, resprouting in the spring. If you have hard frosts, you may want to lift the tubers and store until the frosts have passed. Tubers for eating are lifted in the autumn after the plant has died back.

The tubers can roasted, boiled or eaten raw, though it may be preferable to peel them first. A sweet syrup can be made from the tubers which is made into a beverage or used as a flavouring. Flower petals can be used in salads and the leaves are also said to be edible, but it is hard to find information on that.

DayliliesHemerocallis fulva

A hardy perennial, tolerant of most conditions, it is most often valued for its beautiful flowers which usually open only for one day. But in eastern countries the daylily is more often utilised for food and medicine. All parts of the plant can be eaten, the young leaves, flower buds, flowers and the rhizomes. The flowers are said to be high in protein and Vitamin A. Hemerocallis fulva is the common variety and preferable if you wish to consume it as with some of the cultivar’s edibility is uncertain. Do not confuse it with other species of lilies as many of those are toxic.

Eryngium Sea Holly Eryngium planum
Evening PrimroseOenothera lamarckiana

This biennial herb readily self-seeds which is great as all parts are edible. In the first season the young roots can be eaten raw or cooked like potatoes. The leaves can be used in salads or as cooked greens, while the young flowering stems are peeled and eaten raw, cooked or pickled.  The flowers are also edible and are often used in salads or desserts, while the seeds are a rich source of gamma-linolenic acid (GLA).

False Valerian ‘Pretty Betsy’ – Centranthus ruber var coccineus ‘Pretty Betsy’
Fennel/ Bronze Fennel/ Florence FennelFoeniculum vulgare /Foeniculum vulgare ‘Purpureum’

A very hardy, tall perennial herb with yellow flowers and feathery leaves.  A highly aromatic and flavourful herb with an anise flavour used in cooking. Florence fennel is a variety with a swollen, bulb-like stem base that is used as a vegetable. Fennel is a useful companion plant for attracting bees, hoverflies and ladybirds. The Fennel plant accumulates sulphur and potassium, it is great for a woody mulch or cut up and added to composts.  It is suited to most soil types and very drought tolerant. Fennel also has medicinal qualities, especially as a digestive aide and as part of a medicinal herbal ley for stock.

French Sorrel Silver LeafRumex scutatus ssp glaucus ‘Silver Leaf’
Globe ArtichokeCynara scolymus

The Globe Artichoke is a stunning perennial suitable for both the edible and ornamental garden. It’s large grey-green leaves add an architectural element to the garden and the large globe shaped buds open into attractive purple blooms, which are loved by the bees. Vigorous, prolific, and hardy, this perennial is also edible and medicinal. The globes are harvested at about fist size and before they open, but the stems and fleshy leaf parts can also be eaten. Medicinally the artichoke is thought to have the one of the highest antioxidant levels of all vegetables.

Artichokes are best grown in full sun in reasonably fertile and well-drained soil. They may flower in their first year but fully mature in their second year with the plants lasting 3 – 4 years before needing replacing. However, they can continue from side shoots and dividing every 2 –3 years will keep them producing. Cut back the stems in autumn and use in the compost or as mulch around the plants returning the nutrients to the plants. In cold areas mulching the plants well in late autumn can help protect plants from the cold winter weather. Globe artichokes can reach 1.8 m and have a spread of about 1 m so give them room to grow, planting about 60 cm+ apart in a group creates a stunning mass planting.  

Good King HenryChenopodium bonus-henricus
Greater BurnetSanguisorba officinalis
Horokaka / IceplantDisphyma australe
HorseradishArmoracia rusticana

A tall (1.5m) perennial root vegetable from the brassica family. Horseradish has long been cultivated for its spicy pungent root which is grated and mixed with vinegar to create a sauce. A reasonably hardy plant though like most brassicas it is prone to white cabbage butterfly attack. The roots are dug arfter the first frost knocks back the leaves. The main root is used to make horseradish sauce and the side shoots can be replanted for next years crop. If unharvested horseradish can spread by underground shoots and become invasive.

Hosta/Plantain lilyHosta sp.

These shade loving herbaceous perennials are usually grown for their attractive foliage, however the leaves, stems and flowers are edible as well. Most commonly the spring shoots are harvested before the leaves unfurl, these can be eaten raw, stir-fried or boiled. The opened leaves can also be eaten stir-fried or like you would spinach. As the leaves age they develop a more bitter taste. Flowers and stems are said to be rather bland but are still edible.

Italian BuglossAnchusa azurea
Kale ThousandheadBrassica oleracea var napus
Lady’s MantleAlchemilla mollis
Lemon SorrelRumex acetosa

LovageLevisticum officinale

Lovage is herbaceous perennial, dying back in winter then reappearing in spring. It prefers rich moist soil in either sun or part shade. The whole plant is edible with the celery-flavoured leaves used cooked in soups, sauces, stews, and casseroles. The fresh leaves go well chopped into salads, meat and fish dishes. In the garden it is considered to be a good companion plant to root crops like potatoes and swedes. Lovage was also a popular medicinal herb recognised for its use in stimulating for the digestive organs and as an inner cleanser for the body.

Malabar SpinachBasella alba and Basella alba ‘Rubra’
Mitsuba Japanese ParsleyCryptotaenia japonica
Perennial NettleUrtica dioica
NZ SpinachTetragonia expansa  –  Kōkihi

New Zealand Spinach is a reasonably hardy native trailing plant that covers the ground with long stems of soft fleshy foliage with a crystalline appearance. It is drought tolerant though the leaves can become bitter, and so is best to maintain soil moisture for succulent leaves and stem tips. Hard frosts will knock it back, but it will withstand light frosts. NZ spinach responds well to picking, if you pinch out the top 10 to 15 cm of a stem it will branch, and the plant will produce more leaves. Leaves contain oxalates and so should preferably be cooked or not eaten raw in large quantities though the tips are nice in salads. Steam, boil or stir fry the leaves, or add them to soups and stews.

Nine Star Perennial BroccoliBrassica oleracea
Oyster LeafMertensia maritima ssp. asiatica
Plantain Broad leaf and Purple BroadleafPlantago major and Plantago major ‘Rubrifolia’
Purslane -Pink/Siberian – Claytonia sibirica

A perennial relation of miner’s lettuce, with a similar self-seeding ground cover habit. It’s pretty pink flowers and succulent leaves are edible and it is said to have a slight beetroot flavour. Often used in salads or it can be lightly cooked, added to stirfrys etc. while it is usually evergreen the leaves may be small during the coldest part of winter.

ScorzoneraScorzonera hispanica

A herbaceous, perennial plant often grown as an annual for its edible roots. These long black, edible roots have good nutritional value and a mild but slightly sweet flavour. The roots contain inulin which can cause flatulence in some people. The washed, unpeeled roots are cooked by boiling for 5-10 minutes, then the black skin (which is not edible) is easily peeled off. The boiled roots are often served with a sauce or eaten with other veges like peas and carrots etc. The leaves, unopened flower buds and flower petals are often eaten in salads and the young flower stems are cooked like asparagus.

Sea KaleCrambe maritima

Sea kale is a mound forming and spreading perennial also known as sea-colewort and scurvy grass (The plant was pickled and eaten to prevent scurvy on long sea voyages)

The shoots, roots, leaves and flowers are all edible. The shoots are eaten much like asparagus though blanching/mounding is recommended to keep them tender, the younger leaves are used like spinach or kale.

A reasonably easy-care plant which does like a slightly alkaline soil and regular top ups of compost or mulch and well-rotted manure. While it is a salt tolerant coastal plant it also grows well away from the coast.

Sheep’s SorrelRumex acetosella
Solomons SealPolygonatum biflorum

A spreading woodland plant which grows from rhizomes Solomon’s seal has sweet young shoots in spring which can be cooked like asparagus. The rhizome is also said to be edible but needs to be boiled three times or sun-baked. The berries are unfortunately considered toxic, so caution is needed if including this plant in your edible garden.

SpoonwortCochlearia officinalis
Sweet CicelyMyrrhis odorata

A tall herbaceous perennial plant growing to about 2 m in height. The fern like feathery leaves smell strongly of aniseed when crushed. Its leaves are sometimes used as a herb or salad green, either raw or cooked, with a rather strong anise like taste. The roots can be eaten raw, boiled or roasted and the seeds also are edible. It has a traditional use as a medicinal herb.

RhubarbRheum rhabarbarum, Rheum x hybridum

This easy-care plant is grown for its red stems which are commonly used in desserts. Rhubarb likes moist, fertile free draining soil in full sun. It is a mineral accumulator, pulling up nutrient from deep in the soil. However, the leaves are toxic so save those for your compost or chop and drop mulch. Harvest the stems by gently pulling low on the stem and twisting away from the base.

Russian StonecropSedum kamtschaticum
Texsel Greens / Garlic Kale / Ethiopian CabbageBrassica carinata
Tutae Koau/Native CeleryApium prostratum
Walking Stick KaleBrassica oleracea var acephala
Water Celery ‘Flamingo’Oenanthe javanica
Water Spinach Bamboo LeafIpomoea aquatica
Violets – SweetViola odorata

Both the flowers and the leaves of the sweet violet are edible and are a beautiful addition to salads. But the fragrant violet flowers also can be candied or used to make tea, syrups, vinegars, jellies or in baking. The flowers have a sweet perfumy taste while the leaves are slightly tart. A clumping perennial the violet grows best in partly shaded areas and spreads readily making a lovely fragrant ground cover. The flowers appear in spring, though in warmer areas they will flower all winter.

Violet – LabradorViola riviniana Purpurea Group
Violet – AustralianViola hederacea
YomogiArtemsia princeps

Tubers and Root crops

Earth Chestnut Bunium bulbocastanum

Also known as Pignut, this is a hardy, easy-to-grow perennial vegetable in the carrot family, with pretty leaves and white flowers. Once cultivated widely in Eastern Europe but now not widely known, all parts are edible – the seeds can be used like cumin, the leaves can be used as a parsley substitute, and the clusters of tubers can be eaten raw or cooked and taste like chestnuts. Full sun or part shade in most soil types but prefers free draining with some humus. Height to 60cm when in flower, otherwise just an extremely low ground cover.

Earth GemUllucus tuberosus

A trailing ground vine from South America, which produces small roundish yellow and pink tubers. The tuber is the primary edible part, but the leaf is also used and is similar to spinach. They are known to contain high levels of protein, calcium, and carotene. Because of its high-water content, Earth Gems or Ulluco is not suitable for frying or baking, but it can be cooked in many other ways like the potato.

Jerusalem ArtichokeHelianthus tuberosus – SunChoke

An erect, rhizomatous herbaceous perennial herb, which grows up to about 3 m high. Mainly grown for its edible tuber for both people and livestock, the Jerusalem Artichoke is a high yielder with each tuber capable of producing 75 – 200 tubers a year in good soil. It also produces stalks and leaves which are highly palatable to livestock and should be fed or foraged prior to the small sunflower like flowers developing as the stems become woody. These stalks are often used as compost carbon, but the plant can deplete soils, so it is best grown with mineral accumulators or fed yearly. The stalks and leaves can be harvested for fodder throughout the growing season, but this drastically lowers the production of tubers. While the plants are hardy in most environments, they are considered frost tender, though the tubers will survive and grow back. Jerusalem Artichokes have also been used as a pioneer species on damaged ground.

SkirretSisum sisarum
YaconSmallanthus sonchifolius

Yacons produce the edible tubers and smaller reddish rhizomes, it’s the rhizomes which you need to grow the plant or a whole ‘crown’ which is the rhizomes attached to the plant base. As Yacon are frost tender wait till all frost have passed before planting or plant in a frost-free area. Otherwise, they are a very easy-care plant, reasonably well drained soil and plenty of compost and mulch should ensure a good crop. But give them a bit of room as they can get to 2m tall, 1 metre spacings are often recommended. Harvest by digging up the whole plant after frosts and when the plant dies down for maximum sweetness. You can set aside the rhizomes or crowns, which can be kept in a paper bag in a dark place or potted up in the greenhouse ready for replanting once the frosts have finished, though in warmer areas you can replant and cover mulch the crown over winter.

The edible tubers should be brushed off without damaging the skin, and air dried, before laying them in a cardboard box with newspaper between the layers and over the top. Store in a cool dark place for about 3 months, they can go wrinkly but are still edible.

Yacon can be roasted or boiled, used in stews and casseroles or in salads, juiced or used in smoothies. It has been said to treat it like a juicy, crunchy potato or a mild apple. The leaves are also apparently edible used like spinach or to wrap food and as a tea. Yacon is considered to be good stock fodder, both the leaves and the tubers, and the plant is thought to encourage healthy bacteria both in the soil and in the human gut.

Yams or OcaOxalis tuberosa

Yams are technically a perennial but due to their being frost tender are usually grown as annuals. But once you plant yams, being a member of the oxalis family, they will just keep coming back. Any small yams left in the ground will resprout as the soil warms again in spring. For this reason, yams are best planted in an area where you are happy for them to stay. This also makes them a reasonably easy care vege if they are in free draining soil.

The sweet colourful tubers are harvested in late autumn/winter usually after the tops die down and are delicious roasted in butter, but can also be boiled, steamed, stir fried etc

Yellow AsphodelAsphodeline lutea

Alliums

Elephant GarlicAllium ampeloprasum vara ampeloprasum
Egyptian walking onionAllium proliferum

These onions produce little bulblets at the top of the flower stem which can be planted to provide the following years onions. They got the name ‘walking onion’ from the fact that if left the stem will collapse and the bulblets will root into the ground. This gives the appearance that the onions are ‘walking’ around the garden. In well drained, rich soil in full sun these onions produce and multiply very well hence the name proliferum. The onions can be harvested in late summer, and they will store well if kept in a cool dry place.

Garlic chivesAllium tuberosum
Multiplying Spring Onions/ChivesAllium schoenoprasum

This easy-care perennial from the onion family is more commonly known as chives but can however be treated as a multiplying spring onion. The whole plant including the flowers are edible, just harvest as you need it. Chives will produce most of the year but will die down over winter and return in spring. They are great self seeders but can also be propagated by division. Their mild onion flavour makes them a great addition to many dishes including salads.

Multiplying ShallotsAllium cepa

Shallots are a cool-season perennial but are usually grown as annuals over in summer. They multiply by dividing and forming several bulbs around the original bulb. If the ground is fed regularly and kept moist over spring and summer, they should provide a good crop. Harvest late summer and dry before storing in a cool dry place. Keep some bulbs for replanting in spring or if the ground allows leave some to naturalise in a permanent bed.

Multiplying LeeksAllium ameloprasum

‘Small leeks which will grow as thick as your thumb. They multiply into clumps which can be harvested for use and/or divided up and replanted. Plants die down in mid-summer and then pop back up in autumn with more stems. Plant in full sun and feed regularly with compost.’

Welsh Bunching OnionsAllium fistulosum

‘A perennial onion comprising a clump of small bulbs, each bearing long tubular leaves.  Plants grow approximately 75cm tall and onions are 1.5-2cm in diameter with a mild sweet taste.  Use like spring onions but harvest the leaves only to start with. Once your clump has formed up you can harvest from the base (bulb). Essential in Chinese and Japanese cooking, easy to grow and great for small gardens or pots.  Allow to flower in spring and then begin harvesting again. The flowers are attractive to bees. Good companion for apple trees – said to reduce the incidence of black spot (scab).’

Perennial Bunching Onion RedAllium fistulosum

‘A perennial red skinned onion comprising a clump of small bulbs, each bearing long tubular leaves.  Plants grow approximately 75cm tall and onions are 1.5-2cm in diameter with a mild sweet taste.  Use like spring onions but harvest leaves only to start with. Once your clump has formed up you can harvest from the base (bulb). Essential in Chinese and Japanese cooking, easy to grow and great for small gardens or pots. Allow to flower in spring and then begin harvesting again. The flowers are attractive to bees. Good companion for apple trees – said to reduce the incidence of black spot (scab).’

Yacon Syrup

A while ago we were given a little 250ml jar of yacon syrup. The price on the lid was $19.50, but as its best before date was passed we were given it for free with our bulk food shopping. It was thick and gooey, with a strong molassery taste. I wasn’t that impressed but tried it in a few recipes.

Later on we were given a yacon plant, which sat in its pot for a year waiting to be planted. Finally last spring we had a place for to go in the ground. It grew to about 1.5 metres tall, with lovely big leaves and little yellow flowers. Generally you harvest them after the first frost, but as our frosts this year ( have only had a couple so far) have been pretty mild ours is still growing and flowering in June. But a friend down the road has some and hers have died down, so we were given a bucketful to try. I’m not really a fan of them fresh, though the crispy juicy texture is quite nice. But we like to experiment and even though we eat low carb a little bit of sweetness is nice occasionally. Even better is knowing how to make your own homegrown (or neighbour grown) and home made natural sweeteners.

Making Yacon Syrup.

We washed the yacon tubers, peeled them and cut them into long pieces which would fit into the hand mincer.

The tubers are very crisp and juicy so mincing was an easy task, but you could use a food processor instead.

Mincing the yacon

Once minced the pulp was tipped into a colander lined with cheese cloth, over a pot. We allowed the juice to drain, then gathered up the cloth and squeezed the pulp to get all the juice out, twisting the cloth into a tight ball.

The juice was brought to the boil and then simmered on the woodstove for most of the day. Any scum that formed on the surface was removed.

Once it had reduced to a fragrant syrup we removed it from the heat and poured the syrup through a fine sieve into a sterilised hot glass jar.

There was a small amount of ‘debris’ left in the sieve, if you were doing a larger amount this could probably be saved for baking etc.

The finished syrup

From 2.66kg of fresh yacon, we ended up with 208g of syrup. I did notice some condensation it the jar as it cooled, so we probably should have reduced the syrup a bit more, which would have resulted in a lower yield. However we will store it in the fridge so the moisture content should not be an issue.

We were impressed with the flavour, kind of like a mild golden syrup. certainly not as thick and molassery as the commercial jar we were given, which is another reason why we think it may not have been reduced enough. But our syrup was much nicer tasting than the commercial product, we are not sure whether that was due to it being fresher, runnier or just because homemade often tastes better!

Would we make it again? Definitely. The process was easy and once its on the stove its just, check it occasionally, skim it if needed and wait for it to thicken.

Growing Yacon.

Yacons produce the edible tubers and smaller reddish rhizomes, its the rhizomes which you need to grow the plant or a whole ‘crown’ which is the rhizomes attached to the plant base. As Yacon are frost tender wait till all frost have passed before planting or plant in a frost free area. Otherwise they are a very easy care plant, reasonably well drained soil and plenty of compost and mulch should ensure a good crop. But give them a bit of room as they can get to 2m tall, 1 metre spacings are often recommended. Harvest by digging up the whole plant after frosts and when the plant dies down for maximum sweetness. You can set aside the rhizomes or crowns, which can be kept in a paper bag in a dark place or potted up in the greenhouse ready for replanting once the frost have finished, though in warmer areas you can replant and cover mulch the crown over winter.

Yacon crown

The edible tubers should be brushed off without damaging the skin, and air dried, before laying them in a cardboard box with newspaper between the layers and over the top. Store in a cool dark place for about 3 months, they can go wrinkly but are still edible.

Yacon can be roasted or boiled, used in stews and casseroles or in salads, juiced or used in smoothies. It has been said to treat it like a juicy, crunchy potato or a mild apple. The leaves are also apparently edible used like spinach or to wrap food and also as a tea. Yacon is considered to be good stock fodder, both the leaves and the tubers, and the plant is thought to encourage healthy bacteria both in the soil and in the human gut.

An interesting plant with many uses and easy to grow, this year I think we will devote a whole garden bed to it!

Harvested yacon tubers.

Coppiced Woodlands

Managed coppice woodlands were once the source of a vast number of materials needed for everyday life. The wood produced from them was used for tools, kitchenware, furniture, fencing, building, charcoal and fuelwood. They were an integral part of rural life right up until the second world war. After this the woodland harvesting became more industrial with the need to rebuild so many damaged cities. Monoculture plantings of coniferous trees became common place and the old woodlots were either left to wild or were over taken by these single species forests.  

But in the past 30 years or so there has been a resurgence in restoring these ancient woodlands and a renewed interest in woodland crafts, green woodworking (using fresh cut wood) and roundwood building. This has spread to other countries with many people embracing the concept of perpetual and sustainable timber woodlots. By coppicing or pollarding specific trees at staggered times, materials are gathered for many uses while the tree itself remains living and the soil and ecosystem only temporarily disrupted.

The planting of a woodlot is best done in winter with bare rooted trees, these trees are often more affordable and it allows for root development before dry weather sets in. Spacings should be approximately two metres square and can be done in rows or random placement, nitrogen fixers should be planted in the midst of this spacing to give maximum benefit. Some protection may be necessary from rabbit damage and mulch will help give the trees a head start against the grass and weeds. 

Coppicing is the cutting of broadleaf woodland trees to low stumps, during their dormancy in winter. The cuts should be on angle to allow for water run off and preferably south facing. In spring the stump re-sprouts and these shoots are allowed to grow on till they reach the desired size. This can range from one year to twenty plus years, depending on the tree species and timber requirements. The tree is then cut back to a stump during the winter and the process starts again. Interestingly the regrowth times are usually considerably shorter here in New Zealand than in the UK, how this may affect the strength of the timber I do not know. Regrowth times for the trees below are for UK.

1. Tree prior to coppicing 2. Cut to stump 3. Rapid re-growth 4. Re-growth is grown on to appropriate size/age for intended use, ranging from 1 to 20+ years.

Pollarding is a higher cut, often around head height, this can be useful if there are browsing animals within the woodland, keeping the fresh growth out of reach. This process is best with deciduous trees, which are cut at low sap in the winter. This unfortunately means most of our native trees are not able to be successfully coppiced, Mahoe, Cabbage trees, Hoheria and possibly Pohutukawa being among the few that will.  

1. Tree prior to Pollarding 2. Limbs are cut just above the ‘collar’ or curved area where the branch connects to the tree. 3. Rapid re-growth is grown on till it reaches desired use size, then process is repeated.

Trees that reshoot after coppicing or other crown ‘damaging’ events like fire or wind have Epicormic buds. These buds lie are dormant under the bark, suppressed by the hormones of the actives shoots above. When damage occurs to those higher shoots or the light levels to the epicormic buds is increased, by removal of nearby plants, they can be activated into growing. While these shoots occur in many deciduous trees and shrubs they are not usually found in conifers and many other evergreens. 

Maintaining the health of your woodlot. 

By their very nature deciduous trees create a fertile self-perpetuating system. Their deep root systems draw up nutrients from the soil and sub soil, these nutrients are then returned to the ground by leaf and branch litter return. This process can be enhanced by including nitrogen fixing and mineral accumulating trees and shrubs in your woodlot. By utilising species such as the fast-growing tree lucerne (tagasaste – Chamaecytisus palmensis), as nurse species for your slower growing trees you are not only feeding them, but are providing protection and weed suppression, plus stock fodder, bee food and firewood while you wait for the other trees to establish. Once you begin the coppicing and pollarding of your trees the return of ‘slash’ as ramial mulch feeds back into the system to support the new growth. A herb layer can also be used to provide ground cover and nutrient cycling, suitable plants are comfrey, clovers, lotus, plantains etc 

Hazel grove, uncoppiced but with potential for regeneration.

Coppicing is the cutting of broadleaf woodland trees to low stumps, during their dormancy in winter. In spring the stump resprouts and these shoots are allowed to grow on till they reach the desired size. This can range from one year to twenty plus years, depending on the tree species and timber requirements. (Interestingly the regrowth times are usually considerably shorter here in New Zealand than in the UK, how this may affect the strength of the timber I do not know. Regrowth times for the trees below are for UK) The tree is then cut back to a stump during the winter and the process starts again. Pollarding is a higher cut, often around head height, this can be useful if there are browsing animals within the woodland, keeping the fresh growth out of reach. This process is best with deciduous trees, which are cut at low sap in the winter. This unfortunately means most of our native trees are not able to be successfully coppiced, Mahoe, Cabbage trees and possibly Pohutukawa being among the few that will. 

Planting a woodlot is best done in winter with bare rooted trees, spacings should be approximately two to three metres and can be done in rows or random placement, some protection may be necessary from rabbit damage etc.  Many of the trees listed below are easily propagated by seed, cuttings or poles. It may take a little longer to establish, but it means a woodlot can be created at a very low cost.

Alder, Black or Common – Alnus glutinosa 

Alnus glutinosa is a fast-growing deciduous tree reaching approx. 25 m high by 10 m wide.  Able to fix nitrogen and preferring wet sites it is a very useful tree where ground moisture is high e.g. Ponds, swales and boggy areas. It is able to spread easily through waterways and should probably not be planted along streams or where native riparian are planted due to its potential to become a pest species in such areas.  
The black Alder produces both male and female catkins on the same tree which are pollinated by the wind. Its seed is a good winter food source for birds and the leaves can be used for stock fodder/forage.  

Traditionally Black Alder has been used for clog soles, woodturning, carving, broom heads, furniture and underwater foundations, it can also be used a fuel wood. The wood is not very strong but has the ability to dry very fast, it is however durable underwater. The tree coppices well and will produce many straight poles in a damp or marshy woodland environment. It is useful for erosion control and for water purifying in swampy ground. 

Alder, Black or Common – Alnus glutinosa 

Ash – Fraxinus excelsior 

This large deciduous tree grows to approx. 30m, the trees bear both male and female flowers but often not in the same year, these flowers are wind pollenated. The seeds known as ‘Ash Keys’ are best sown while still green to achieve faster germination. The Ash is able to grow on many types of soil but is best in limestone where it will seed freely. While recent times have seen Ash suffer with Ash Dieback it was once a highly important resource for smallholders and farmers due to its resilience and rapid growth. Though considered non-durable the timber has the qualities of high flexibility, shock resistance, and resistance to splitting. This makes ash wood an excellent timber for making bows and tool handles. The trees are often coppiced on a longer cycle of 10 to 21 years and therefore are often grown in a mixed woodlot. Ash is also popular used green for chairmaking. 

Beech, English – Fagus sylvatica 

Though this large tree, approx. 30m, is deciduous it will in fact hold its browned leaves until spring when the fresh growth appears. While this particular tree has green leaves, changing to yellow then brown through Autumn, there is a natural mutation the Copper Beech (Fagus sylvatica Purpurea) which has purple new growth which gradually turns deep green and then copper in Autumn. The male and female flowers appear in spring and are wind pollenated. In autumn the hairy Beech husks drop, each husk has two seeds known as beech nuts, these are apparently edible and were often used as pig fodder. The leaves are also edible when young (for humans) and can be used as fodder/forage for stock. The beech grows best in well drained limestone soils. It is not usually coppiced in a woodlot situation due to its slow growth, but is pollarded instead to prevent browsing animals killing off the trees. However, it can be cut back quite hard and used as a hedging plant. Used in green-wood craft for furniture, tool handles, and kitchen utensils like spoons, spatula and bowls, beech is also excellent firewood. 

Birch – Silver Birch – Betula pendula  

A fast growing, deciduous tree reaching approx 30 m, it is very noticeable for its white papery bark. The Silver birch has both male and female catkins on the same tree and can seed throughout an area very easily. It is considered a colonizer, growing on poor soils, but its leaf litter can improve the soil over time allowing other species to grow.  While it can be coppiced while young, older trees tend not to grow back. These are often replaced by seedling trees. An interesting feature of the Birch is its fungal relationship with the Birch Bolete an edible mushroom which grows under the Birches in Autumn. While the wood is not durable, it does have many uses, such as small furniture, cooking utensils, spoons and toys. The bark however is considered to be very durable and is used for canoes, pots, baskets, shoes and roof tiles. It is also an excellent fire starter. The sap is another product, harvested in early spring to make wine and Birch syrup.  it is worth noting that some people do experience hay fever/allergy symptoms from the pollen of Silver Birch. 

The beautiful bark of a felled Silver Birch

Black Locust – Robinia pseudoacacia 

This hardy deciduous tree is very fast growing and reaches approx. 25m in height and is commonly used as windbreak or shelterbelts, though it does not tolerant severe winds well.  It is able to grow in most soils, though prefers well drained situations and can handle drought. Black Locust is also tolerant of low fertility soils which means it can be used as a pioneer species. Its nitrogen fixing and mineral accumulating can support the growth of other plants, plus its light canopy allows sunlight to penetrate. In some areas it is considered a weed species due to its fast growth and ability to spread via seed and sometimes suckering. If used in a woodlot or food forest situation it needs to be managed regularly. 

Its timber is considered highly durable, fence posts of Black locust are said to last 100 years in the ground. It is used as greenwood for furniture, tool handles, building and pasture posts. The tree is able to be coppiced and pollarded, but there can be some variation in growth form. For this reason, selecting seed from straight trees is more likely to give you suitable timber for building or posts. Root cuttings of 5cm length and about thumb thickness can apparently be propagated or stakes/poles can be planted direct into the ground. 

There is conflicting information of the fodder value of this tree, some sources claim the whole plant is toxic. While others compare its nutritional value to Alfafa and apparently Black locust is used as a fodder crop in many countries. It is well recognised for its benefit as bee food with Robinia honey common in USA and Europe. The white racemes of flowers in summer are said to be edible, as are the seeds once cooked. It is also considered to have medicinal qualities. 

Worth growing for its fence post potential alone, as we try to move away from using treated wood on the property. The discrepancies on its fodder value can be negated by simply planting the Black locusts away from grazed areas. Most stock will not browse on toxic plants unless there is a shortage of other feed, with low level toxicity some browsing may occur in a medicinal manner. We believe that the animals have an instinctive knowledge of what they can consume and to what level, however, as said above this can be over ridden if feed is short. 

Hazel – Corylus avellana 

Though more of a deciduous shrub than a tree, the Hazel is one of the most useful woodlot plants. Fast growing and multi stemmed it can still reach 12 m or more in height if left to grow. But Hazels are often coppiced and the many straight stems produced have many uses. Both the pendulous male catkins and small female flowers are born on the same tree and are wind pollenated. In nut production a different cultivar of pollinator Hazel is often necessary to achieve high pollination rates. These early spring flowers can provide early feed for bees. While mostly known for its nuts, the Hazel leaves are also a highly palatable forage for livestock. Widely used as a hedgerow plant many English villages would often have an area of Hazel coppice, which was traditionally cut on a seven-year cycle. Hazel is the traditional material of hurdle making (woven fence panels) due to its ability, when twisted, to form a strong ‘rope’ of separated fibres. This means the wood can be twisted back upon its self to form the woven panels of the hurdle. Other uses include thatching spars, walking sticks, garden stakes, garden climbing frames, baskets, traps, crates and many other useful everyday items. 

Sweet Chestnut – Castanea sativa 

An attractive deciduous tree reaching approx. 30 metres in height. Preferring slightly acidic free draining soils and dislikes waterlogged, alkaline soils and exposed sites. Both male and female flowers appear in summer on the same stalk, these are wind and insect pollenated. The edible nuts develop in a prickly case that splits open in autumn when they are ripe. The nuts and leaves etc. can be used as stock fodder and all parts of the tree, except the actual nut, are said to have anthelmintic (anti worming) properties.  

Sweet Chestnut is a durable wood which coppices very well and can be coppiced at various ages for different purposes. At 5 years timber is used for walking sticks, yurt poles, garden stakes, woven panels, balustrades and rustic furniture.  At 7-12 years, rustic furniture, laths, pales, garden arches, gate hurdles, trellis panels and trug handles. 20 years, rustic furniture, laths, pales, charcoal, firewood, barrels, fencing posts. 30 + years, roundwood timber framing, post-and-rail fencing, fencing posts, decking, cladding, arbours, gates, shingles, window frames, charcoal and firewood. 

Willow, Osier or Basket Willow – Salix viminalis 

A deciduous, fast growing multi-stemmed shrub up to approx. 6 metres tall with straight thin branches used for basketry. The Basket willow is best grown in wet non-acid soils and propagation is easy from stem cuttings, this is preferable to seed as it can cross pollenate with other willows. Coppicing is done yearly to provide the long straight flexible rods needed for basketry. It is also used to create living screens and sculptures in gardens by inserting rods into the ground and weaving them into required shapes. Other uses are fodder/forage for livestock, water purification and it has the ability to absorb heavy metals, often planted to ‘clean up’ contaminated waste ground. Other willow species can also be used but Salix viminalis and Salix purpurea (purple stems) are most commonly used for basketry. 

There are other trees which can be included in your woodland, the ones above are chosen here for their ease of coppicing/growing and specific uses, including food or forage uses.  

Wild Cherry – Prunus avium, Elm – Ulmus procera, Linden – Tilia cordata, Oak – Quercus species, Maple – Acer species, Gum – Eucalyptus species, Poplar – Populus species.

The Brandenburg Coppice at Lincoln College New Zealand was planted in about 1985 as a study on coppicing woodlots and suitable tree species for New Zealand. It is a very informative read for anyone with an interest in establishing a coppice woodlot.

Further reading:

https://fodderfarm.co.nz/2021/04/07/the-sustainable-firewood-woodlot/

The Sustainable Firewood Woodlot.

As the nights begin to cool many people start to focus on firewood, but for those of us living off the land and reliant on our wood burners this year’s wood should be in the shed and ready to burn. Leaving it till the cold sets in could leave us with smoky fires which struggle to warm the house or a hefty heating bill. Better still we aim to have at least two years’ worth of wood cut, with at least one years’ worth dry stored. The just in case factor. 

What trees are good firewood trees? 

Honestly, whatever you already have growing… 

The existing trees on your property are your first resource. I’m not saying go and cut them down, there are other, better, ways to get firewood. Look at pruning them, lifting branches, thinning if planted to close. If they are able to be coppiced learn how to do that and you will have renewable, sustainable firewood* But learn what your trees are and how best to manage them. Buying a property with trees is an amazing resource and removing trees should only be done if they are a risk or negatively impacting their surrounding environment. 

We believe that if you are going to plant trees, they should have many uses, multipurpose. The main uses would be edible crop producers, fodder and forage for livestock, timber or woodcraft sources.  

Fruit and nut trees can cover all three of these uses and are great firewood. Planting a large orchard and nut grove or including them in hedgerows, will eventually yield a decent supply of wood just from the pruning’s. 

Coppicing trees such as Alders, Birches, Hazels, Sweet Chestnuts, Poplars etc.* these provide a, usually, fast-growing renewable and sustainable resource for timber, nuts and fruits in some cases and livestock food as well as firewood.  

Fodder trees are well worth looking into if you have livestock, they are a great resource in times of drought but also provide diversity and added nutrition for your animals. If planted in areas where they are protected but next to or in paddocks, they can also provide shelter and shade. Two factors which are unfortunately often not provided for on many farms. An excellent small tree for fodder is Tree Lucerne (tagasaste) it is a high protein feed, drought hardy, fast growing and good firewood. Many of the fodder trees also fit in the fruit and nut category and can be coppiced. Mulberry is another high protein feed and if you can beat the birds has very tasty berries. It is also apparently, one of the top heat producing woods. 

Many people think gums when asked for firewood trees and they have their uses, but are not really for us. Having experienced the effects of root rot on a massive gum from our neighbours property, which took out our fence line but thankfully fell away from the house. They are also heavy feeders, sucking nutrient out of the surrounding soil, which can be mitigated by planting a nitrogen fixer/mineral accumulator such as Acacia. They are fast growers, but if not dealt with at a decent size they can get oversized and felling becomes an issue. As they age, they can also start dropping limbs which is a hazard for you and your livestock. We have a large gum at the end of our paddock which is now in this scary stage, with many broken limbs on the ground beneath it. If you are keen to grow the larger trees Acacia would be family to look at, they support the soil around them via their nitrogen fixer/mineral accumulator properties, are fast growing and make great firewood which is hot burning and easy to split. We especially like the Black wattle and Tasmanian Blackwood. But there are also Oaks, deciduous Beech and Maples, which can also be coppiced and are good firewood 

Finally, we will look at native trees, Manuka and Kanuka are great fast growing pioneer trees, they can be used with other small trees like Tree lucerne (not native), Mahoe, Kowhai and Pittosporums, to fill in the gaps while larger slower growing trees like NZ Beech and Mahoe are establishing, then felled for firewood etc. when no longer needed. Personally, we would not grow the slower natives for firewood, as it does not really fit into the sustainable woodland concept as they are generally not able to be coppiced. Only small number of native trees can be coppiced Mahoe, Pittosporums and Pohutukawa are among them. 

Wood stacked outside to season.

Harvesting and Drying your Firewood. 

‘Cut at low sap’ is some traditional advice, this would mean cutting your firewood in winter to early spring depending on the tree, while they are dormant. There are several reasons for this: 1. Traditional woodlots were also often Coppice Woodlands*. The trees were coppiced in winter for various timber uses and regrowth from the stumps occurred in spring.  

2. Tree sap ‘runs’ when they are actively growing, however there are differing views on how that effects the moisture content of the tree. One view is that apparently over summer they can contain up to 50% or half their weight in water. While they are dormant the sap supposedly flows to the roots, lowering the moisture content of the tree. The opposing view put out by forestry industry is that there is no real difference in seasonal moisture content and that trees in fact hold a relatively constant moisture content all year round. It is believed that cutting down a tree in sap run can actually speed up seasoning/drying time, due to the tree effectively ‘bleeding out’. 

3. Deciduous trees lose their leaves over low sap/dormancy and this can lower the weight of the tree and make clean up easier. However, if you are making full use of the tree, Ramial wood mulch can be made from the branches under 7 cm diameter, with or without the leaves. In full leaf there will obviously be a higher green matter content to the mulch and the fresher the branches the more nutrient available for the soil. 

4. Firewood can be hard and heavy work, cutting, moving and stacking firewood over the cooler months, which are often quieter farm wise, can be easier than doing it in the heat of summer. You have a higher appreciation of the results when you enter the warmth of the house after hours in the cold. 

There are of course other factors for timing of firewood cutting. Pruning done at any time is potential firewood or wood mulch and can be specific to what season suits each particular tree. Fruit trees are good example of this with stone fruit usually pruned in summer to avoid disease. Weather being another factor, in very wet climates the drier months might be the only time to get firewood done. But the general time frame would be cut wood in the winter or early spring, dry over summer and into the shed by March ready for those cooler nights. 

So, the trees are down or the branches are pruned, what now? 

The wood needs to be cut and split into sizes suitable for your woodstove, often we will just ring it into the right length and leave it in piles until we are ready to shift it. It is thought that by leaving the wood in the elements the rain will wash out the sap which keeps it green and speed up seasoning. However, most trees are best split fresh as they can harden over time and if you are hand splitting with an axe it is easier to split the wood fresh. We then stack the cut wood on pallets to keep the wood off the ground and allow airflow underneath. A tidy outer wall layer is stacked with attention put into stabilising or ‘locking in’ the corners with crossover pieces. It’s a bit like building a 3D jigsaw, most of the wood is either flat, triangular, half round or round and can be fitted together to make a stable structure. The gap in the centre is filled with the odd pieces, short bits and knobbly bits etc. These are put in randomly but the space needs to be filled as you stack the walls and be relatively close packed to support the walls. Air will still flow through as there will be many small gaps in the stack. Once the stack reaches about 1.2 metres we level it off and place several sheets of old corrugated iron on top, weighed down with some heavy chunks of wood.  

Why go to all this trouble you might ask?   Firstly, firewood is an extremely important resource for us, it not only heats our home, but all our hot water via wetback and we use our woodstove for cooking, we do have a gas stove but the gas is an outside expense and the wood is a homegrown sustainable resource. Secondly, the structure that is created is very stable and can be built in the paddock where the livestock are, the cow might occasionally try to knock it around a bit but the structure stays standing. The size of the stack, which is the width of a pallet and usually 3 or 4 metres long, means we can stack for drying a large quantity of wood, approximately 2 cord, in a relatively compact space. Most firewood stacking advice that I have seen says to single width stack, while this works, for us it would take up too much area, not be as stable in the paddock and be difficult to put a corrugated iron ‘roof’ on. 

The stack is levelled and a corrugated iron ‘roof’ put on to keep the rain out and increase heat inside the stack

The corrugated iron provides a heat sink which warms and dries the air inside the pile, while keeping the majority of rain off. Yet the outside of the stack is still exposed to the elements especially wind and sun. We find the stacked wood is ready to be transferred to shed storage in about 3 to 4 months, it will be bone dry and excellent burning. Bone dry wood burns hotter, longer and, when the fire is shut down, turns to charcoal which creates a low burn to last through the night. Once shed stored it should stay dry, but it pays to check the roof for leaks and have a shed that is North or North West facing for maximum sun and that allows air flow. A simple cheap design is a corrugated iron roof on four poles/posts 2m or taller. Cover the floor with pallets to let the air flow under and keep the wood off the damp cold ground. Hurricane netting can be used around the outside ‘walls’ to hold the wood in but still allow air flow and if necessary, a wall can be built on the prevailing rain side or to the south, as long as the sun side is left open. Any wood on the outer edges that gets rain wet will soon dry on a sunny day as long as it was seasoned/dried before going in the shed. The 1000l pod cages (without the plastic tank) or the big wooden produce bins can be used, but make sure to cover the top with corrugated iron or something to keep the top rain out. 

Burning wet or unseasoned firewood firstly produces less heat and secondly can cause creosote buildup in your flue, especially with softwoods, which can cause chimney fires. A good example of this is when we first moved into our property in the winter. The note from the previous owner said we would need to clean the flue every month to keep the fire burning well and that the drier wood was in the rear of the middle bay, which involved climbing over wood to get to it… We thought what the hell, well used to wood fires, it should only be cleaned once a year and why would I want to climb over wood to get the firewood. But once the stack of wood by the back door was gone, we realised the issue. The whole three farm shed bays of firewood, which was pine, had been wet stacked. It was moldy and damp. This was causing excessive smoking and clogging of the flue, and we wondered about the health impacts of burning moldy wood. Luckily after a few days of wet weather it cleared for a couple of weeks and we pulled out the front of one stack to open more wood up to the sunshine and air. Each time we went to get firewood it had to be checked for dryer pieces, while still not bone dry it was a lot dryer than before. As the wood dried out the smoking and flue issues eased as well. Our primary wood shed is about 100 metres from the house, this is not ideal and we will build one closer. It is a good idea to have at least a weeks’ worth of wood close to the house in the event of bad weather. Trudging across a paddock in the rain with a wheelbarrow load of firewood is not cool for you or the wood. 

There are many views on firewood and systems to manage it, but this suits us and provides us with loads of well-seasoned firewood throughout the year. By planning a sustainable woodland or large multipurpose orchard and nut grove, we can provide ourselves not only with firewood but food, livestock food, garden mulch and stakes, fencing materials, timber and a beautiful landscape. 

*https://fodderfarm.co.nz/2021/04/18/coppiced-woodlands/

A shed full of dry firewood is a great comfort as the cooler months approach

Planning for Autumn and Winter Planting

Whether you are thinking of planting a home garden, an orchard, food forest, hedgerows, shelter belt, or a firewood or fodder/forage woodlot, planning for your Autumn and Winter planting is a must. (As my Husband always says… ‘Prior Planning Prevents Poor Performance, the five P’s’ but I think I might change it to Planning Planting Prevents Poor Performance…). Planting at this time of the year allows for the plants to develop a good root structure prior to spring growth. Also bare rooted plants are available over the winter months and this makes the larger deciduous trees more affordable, especially if buying through mail order. As long as the roots are kept moist at all times this method of buying trees and shrubs is very convenient and easier than lugging around heavy planter bags.

So where do we start…

Evaluating your site’s conditions is the first step. Sun direction, wind direction, wet or dry, soil type and temperature all influence what you can plant and where. A useful tool for this is a site map or plan, if you do not have one already a simple method is to use Google Earth Pro to print an image of your property or area you wish to plant. You can then either draw directly onto the image or use translucent paper to trace the key objects like fences, buildings, existing trees etc.

20190325_173015
Printed Google Earth image of Fodder farm, over drawn with property boundaries, fencing, existing structures, sun and wind direction and any other key points.

Next, finding your focus for your property will help decide what you wish to plant. Are you looking for low maintenance, but attractive? Functional? Self-sufficiency? The time you have to spend on creating and maintaining the planting will greatly influence the style of planting too.

Also spend some time investigating garden/landscaping philosophies. There are many different methods and ideals, finding one that resonates with you can inspire ideas you may never have considered otherwise. These can range from ‘conventional’, to relaxed go with the flow, or to Permaculture, Regenerative or Biodynamic.

We are Homesteaders so this means our focus is on creating a functional property which supplies most of our food, home and medical needs, it also needs to provide us with an income. Our philosophy is to do all this as naturally as possible, but we are also realistic and if a ‘conventional’ approach is needed we will resort to that. We do not follow any one established philosophy but take many great ideas from across the board and adapt them to suit our family and property.

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Plan for Fodder Farm traced onto translucent paper. Included is what we have already achieved and what we are planing.

When choosing plants for your site make sure you consider its full growth potential and the possible impacts this may have on other plantings or structures etc. This could include shading, root invasion (especially for willows in water pipes), crowding out, incompatibility, etc.

However you choose to manage your property there are some pretty consistent processes when it comes to planting.

  • Clear the area to be planted. There are two main reasons to do this, firstly it removes competition for nutrients and water allowing the new plant to establish well. The other reason is allelopathy, this is when a plant releases a growth inhibitor toxic to prevent plants growing around it. A good example of this is walnut trees which release a compound juglone into the soil surrounding them which is toxic to many other plant species, this often results in bare patches under the trees. This can also occur with many conifer species and also Gums which suck the ground dry. Some grasses have a similar action, rye grass, which is very common in most New Zealand pastures, is being studied for its effectiveness as an herbicide. 1

(note; this doesn’t apply if simply inserting a plant/tree into an existing garden with compatible or support plants)

20181021_152816
Blueberry planted into a mulched garden.

  • If using a loose mulch this can be applied to the area some weeks or months prior to planting along with manure to create a ‘bed’ into which planting can be done. This method has the benefit of improving the soil prior to planting and reduces the work at planting time. Another method is to cover the area temporally with a plastic sheeting, cardboard or another solid material to ‘smother’ the existing plantings at least a couple of months before planting.
  • Ensure the area to be planted is moist and if the plant is bagged it is also moist. Dig a hole wide and deep enough for the plant’s roots to spread out. If the plant is bare rooted create a small mound in center of hole for the roots to spread over. Ensure the plant will sit at the same ground level height it was in the bag or ground and carefully full back in around the roots firming as you go. If planting into clay soils or other poorly draining soils plant into mounds to allow for better drainage. If it is a grafted tree site the graft so it is facing south.  Consider the shape of the plant when placing it, they tend to grow more on the sunny side so place it to achieve balance or if in a windy site consider placing any lean towards the wind. For fire wood trees consider where it will eventually be dropped and place any lean or weight in that direction.
  • Stake if necessary, this is often needed for bare rooted fruit trees as their roots have been trimmed or larger trees to give support until established.
  • Water well and mulch around plant, this could include spreading out wet newspapers, cardboard, old carpet (wool) etc. and covering with wet straw, bark chips or old sawdust (untreated) or compost to 90 -120 mm depth. This will protect the roots, keep moisture in and control or suppress weeds. But keep mulch away from the stems of the plants.
  • If planting where there is livestock ensure plantings are protected from their reach.

apple tree
Apple trees in the main garden at Fodder farm

Many properties or paddocks I see are devoid of trees, some believe that the trees and shrubs take up valuable space or grazing. But what they do is change the space to create vertical productive space, micro climates to support other plant species, they can provide food for you and your livestock, bring in the bees and other insects for better pollination. They can actually help protect the area from drying winds and excessive sun, or absorb wetness and redirect surface water; it is all about choosing plants which will suit your property and needs. So plan, plant and enjoy…

Fodder and Forage

Fodder and Forage for Horses – a Natural System

https://grdc.com.au/resources-and-publications/groundcover/ground-cover-supplements/ground-cover-issue-79-new-farm-products-and-services-supplement/turning-rye