Starting to Come Together?

When Wednesday arrived, it was time to do all we could to put the difficult beginning behind us and finally find out more about Lakehayes Nursery. After our porridge, we made our way to the polytunnel for some seed work with Sarah. The first seeds needing our attention were mahonia aquifolium. More commonly known as Oregon grape, it is a species of flowering plant native to western North America. The evergreen shrub growing to 3 ft tall by 5 ft wide, with leaves of spiny leaflets and thick clusters of yellow flowers in early Spring, followed by dark bluish-black berries.

The small fruits, which are quite tart and contain large seeds, are included in small quantities in the traditional diets of Pacific Northwest aboriginal peoples, mixed with salal or another sweeter fruit. Today they are sometimes used to make jelly. Oregon grape juice can also be fermented to make wine, similar to European barberry wine folk traditions, although it requires a very high sugar ratio.

The inner bark of the larger stems and roots of Oregon grape yield a yellow dye and the berries give purple dye. Certain extracts from the plant may be useful in the treatment of inflammatory skin diseases such as eczema and psoriasis, although side effects include rash and a burning sensation when applied.

Sarah’s plants, however, have a very different and quite specific purpose. The plants grown and sold at Lakehayes Nursery, or Bee Happy Plants, are for the benefits of bees (and humans, as a result). In recent years, seed companies have been genetically modifying plants to become hybrids that don’t require pollination and, therefore, don’t produce nectar or seeds. This means that growing plants, including vegetables, requires the use of new seeds for each growth, rather than the grower being able to collect seeds for use in the next growing season. So, by avoiding the need for bees, we not only have to deal with more seed purchases, but also the rest of the effects of genetically-modified plants. By growing plants of a heritage stock which require bee pollination, the bees would return to the picture and the benefits to the grower and the rest of us, alike, would persist (or return, in some cases).

The seeds we were working with that day had just started to grow out a root and so it was time for them to get into some compost in a seed tray to take root and become little plants. Working with loose compost in the seed tray, we tucked the seeds into the soil, root down, gently and carefully so that the root would not break. We worked through six trays before moving on to the next bunch of plant seeds.

These next seeds for our attention were berberis darwinii, or Darwin’s barberry,native to southern Chile and Argentina and naturalized elsewhere. The plant is an evergreen thorny shrub growing to 3 ft tall or more, with dense branches from ground level. The leaves are small oval with a spiny margin. The flowers are orange in Spring and the fruit is a small purple-black berry 4–7 mm diameter, ripening in Summer.

Berberis darwinii was discovered in South America in 1835 by Charles Darwin during the voyage of the ‘Beagle’; however, the berries of this species were consumed by prehistoric native peoples in the region of Patagonia over millennia. The species was one of many named in honor of Darwin. The edible fruit is very acidic.

We worked through 9 trays of berberis darwinii, preparing those and the 6 mahonia aquifolium into water baths for the evening as the work day ended and we ventured out to our afternoon walk of the nearby narrow lanes.

Thursday morning brought about more vacuuming and bedding washing, as well as, a planned visit from the plumber. We had thought he was due the day prior, but when we’d asked Sarah that afternoon, she had indicated it would be the following day. Thursday morning, however, she had heard back from the plumber and not only did he still not have the required part, he suggested she order it and handle herself rather than requiring a house call from him. She prepared to do this from her mobile home and then discovered that she did, in fact, have the plug that our boiler had been requiring and so the hot water was finally sorted and we would have showers that evening, at last. The WWOOF time of the day was spent taking a couple of hours to tidy the main polytunnel with Sarah and her daughter Joy, who works at the nursery, as well.

Friday was spent in full WWOOF fashion, our task for the day to pot up a whole set of hawthornes. Each small tree plant was moved from a seedling pot into a 2L, or larger in some cases, potting bag, one by one, until we’d completed around 100 of them at day’s end!

The other event for the day was the arrival of a 20m exterior internet cable to pull the access from Sarah’s home to the WWOOFer mobile home, as the Wifi was failing consistently to get to us . So, after our late afternoon walk, K laid the wire from the router in Sarah’s mobile home, along the length of and across the gap between the two homes and into our living room. Finally, internet access!

The progress made this week meant we are only left the cold and damp (and spiders) to manage through over the next few weeks. Hopefully, the coming Spring can at least help a little with that.

Loving Simplicity