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Luke Mitchell

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since Feb 04, 2020
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Biography
I manage a smallholding in Pembrokeshire, Wales with my partner. We have established a small coppice (mixed species, mostly hazel) and are growing edible mushrooms on hardwood logs. The majority of the land is managed as haymeadow, rich in wildflowers. We grow a large amount of food on our small, polycultural vegetable area with a focus on perennial and low-input varieties. The site is a haven for wildlife and we keep conservation in mind whenever we make changes.
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Recent posts by Luke Mitchell

Judson Carroll wrote: I think they assembled the blade upside down.... probably because that is how it is sown in the add - obviously, the sellers have no idea how to use a froe!



I just clicked on your link and it was the first thing I spotted - the two photos showing it in use are completely wrong! D'oh!

As for recommendations, for anyone reading in the UK I have one from Bristol Design and it is OK. There is a tendancy to slip from the handle which could be solved by using a wedge - most froes I have used didn't have this issue, however. It comes sharp and the profile works well.

The best froes I have used all seem to be made from spring steel, usually an old 4x4 leaf spring. They seem to grip the handle better and were much heavier than the froe I bought (meaning less whacking with the mallet to split stubborn rounds).
1 month ago
This evening I grafted scions onto three of my rooted MM106 cuttings. You can see their root development in the attached photo - interesting how much they seem to vary! All three cuttings were treated identically - pushed into the same pot, same potting mix of home made compost and surplus builders sand (washed by the rain).
1 month ago
The article suggests that the main benefit is that the biochar coffee grounds rehydrate the concrete as it sets, preventing micro-cracking and strengthening it. It suggests that using 15% biochar (replacing sand) results in a 30% increase in compressive strength when compared to 'regular' concrete. This sounds a bit too good to be true, to me, but it does make sense on paper.

Given cob's tendency to crack as it dries, I think a similar addition (perhaps ~15%) would be beneficial. It would slow down the drying time at any rate and this alone could be helpful in hot conditions.

Too much coffee (at the expense of sand) is going to be a detriment to the compressive strength of the mixture as charcoal is porous and will crush down. If there is a benefit to using it, I would guess that the perfect proportion will vary based on the specific clay, sand and climate it is being used in.

As for obtaining coffee grounds, that is actually very easy in my part of the world. Most cafes will store it in coffee bean bags and these are often stacked for people to take. I've also asked cafes to save their grounds for me and they have always been happy to do so. I think I could collect upwards of 10kg/day if I tried without too much effort and maybe even without driving.

The coarseness of the grounds is an interesting question. Espresso does tend to be finely ground but filter, 'pour over' and french press coffee should be coarser. Depending on the cafes near you they might use those methods.
2 months ago
cob
Demitrios, you raise an interesting question about the fruits of the common root stocks. I have just planted out two of my MM106 cuttings and I intend to keep them for future root stock material. I had intended to coppice them after a few years and air-layer the shoots, using woodchip mounded around the stool, but I am now a little intrigued about what fruit they might produce and I might leave a stem or two to grow on.

As for eating wild apples, I've done a fair amount of that and the fruit is often OK. I've not found a wild tree with 'good' fruit but plenty with passable: good for an apple or two, better for cooking with. They usually lack the sweetness of cultivated apples.

I know of a man who has found an excellent wild apple by the beach in north Pembrokeshire. The variety has been named Blas y twyny meaning 'Taste of the dunes'.
2 months ago

Winn Sawyer wrote:Fruitwood Most apples are very challenging to root or air layer, so you may find it's impossible to get them on their own roots unless you plant seedlings



I don't have a lot of experience with apples but, last winter, I successfully grafted a few trees and then plunged offcuts from the rootstock into some well-draining potting mix (60-40 sand:compost mix). From the 6 that I tried to root, 5 were successful. I made sure that I kept the trees protected from the frosts and well watered during our summer drought but, other than that, they didn't get much attention. Perhaps its because these cuttings were from a strain selected as a rootstock (MM106) and so are particularly vigorous and well-suited to rooting.

I would be tempted to obtain fruit trees on a semi-vigorous rootstock such as M25 or MM106 and, once they are established, to take cuttings in the winter and try to root those. If they take then you will have an abundance of non-grafted apple trees of a known fruit cultivar. The downside to this is that you might find the resulting trees are quite disease prone - an undersung role of most rootstocks is their added resistance to some of the many diseases that plague apples and other domesticated fruit trees. You might not have these problems if you don't live in a traditional orchard area, however.
2 months ago

Hugo Morvan wrote:Leaves me wondering which willow variety they speak of and which oak particularly.



I also wondered the same. My suspicion is that they lumped anything in the Salix genus together as "Willow" and both our native oaks (Quercus robur and Q. petraea) as "Oak". It would be helpful to know, though!

We have a mixture of willows (S. caprea, S. cinerea and hybrids, along with planted S. viminalis and S. fragilis) so I'm comfortable that they are supporting a good cross-section of those insects. Our oaks, to my knowledge, are all Sessile Oak (Q. petraea) and I have no idea how that compares to the English Oak.

The hedgerow scheme that you mentioned is interesting. There is a lot of conversation in the conservation community (hah!) about hedgerows acting like "wildlife corridors" and effectively connecting areas of smaller woodland into a larger, more resilient one. You may be aware that species require a minimum viable population size (= area of habitat) in order to cope with freak weather events, drought, disease, etc. The effect of connecting areas of woodland habitat using hedgerow corridors facilitates larger population sizes as well as maximising the amount of 'edge' that the woodland has.

Timothy Norton wrote:I always tend to focus on the the 'bad' bugs when it comes to specific trees.



That's an easy trap! I wonder if our language surrounding 'bugs' makes it easier to think of pests? 'Bugs' definitely brings to mind pests, parasites or 'creepy crawlies' - perhaps a word like 'invertebrates' is more neutral.

Another thought is that 'bad' bugs for one tree might be the food of 'good' bugs for another. My view is that more diversity is always better; sure there are more pest species but there tend to be more predators for them too. It's only in really unbalanced ecosystems, where a few species dominate, that issues seem to arise.

If you happen across any good literature, do post them for us to read!
2 months ago
I saw this image posted on a Facebook group recently. There was no credit given but it seems to be a photograph of a book, pamphlet or maybe a slide from a presentation. I found it to be a very interesting reference and it's something I'll look back on when planting in the future.

I was particularly surprised to learn how supportive the birch and willows are. Both are fast-growing and often considered to be "weed trees" over here, taken out without much consideration. I have personally removed and cut back quite a few medium-sized willows on our land as they frequently fall over onto our fences and the hazel stools in our copse. They've always struck me as being a bit of a nuisance so it is nice to learn of their importance for insects.

We only have a small number of silver birch but, as a result of finding this image, I'll encourage a few more to grow and thicken up the boundaries of our woodland. They grow quickly, which will help thicken up the woodland around the barn that we will be building, shielding it from wind and view, and they look very pretty in the winter. If we have to remove any in the future, the wood burns very nicely too, as a bonus.
2 months ago
Most wooden spoons (and other wooden, kitchen utensils) that I see for sale, modern or historic, are made of beech wood. It is hard, pleasant to work and doesn't readily split when it gets wet.

In Wales, where I live, there is a tradition of making cawl (stew) spoons from sycamore - a non-native but widely naturalised Acer species, probably quite similar to some of the maples in the US. I have never carved sycamore but I suspect it is also quite nice to work with. I have used it to make simple tool handles although I prefer ash as it is plentiful and more suited for the task.

My favourite woods to work with are fruit woods: hawthorn, blackthorn, cherry. As Efrem says, they are hard to carve (and blunt the knife quite quickly) but the results can be stunning. They are a good lesson in using the axe as much as possible!
2 months ago
We grow potatoes in our 'raised' beds. Our garden uses rows of composts that we have mounded on top of cardboard, directly onto former grassland pasture. The rows/mounds follow the contour lines of the garden to try and retain water, with frequent spaces for paths. The paths, between each row, are woodchipped using more cardboard for weed and grass suppression.

This method makes planting and pulling the potatoes incredibly easy. The soil is loose enough that I can plunge my hand into it, up to the elbow in some places, and root around with my fingers for the potatoes. This minimises soil disturbance (which I value) and is quite fun. I tend to start by pulling out the whole plant and shaking it, dislodging the soil from the root system and dumping the still-attached potatoes onto the bed for me to collect. There are always some that I have to go fishing for, using the technique I just described.

We plant the potatoes directly into the mound and do very little 'earthing up'. The potatoes seem to grow downwards in the loose soil without much difficulty.

Timothy Norton wrote:How much garden space do you dedicate to potatoes?



This year we grew 2 small beds, approximately 1.2x5m each (approximately 12m2, 130 sq. ft.). We grew mostly an early, white variety although there was also a small patch of purple potatoes too. I think we yielded about 35kg from ~4kg of seed potatoes. It was a bad year for potatoes this year, however, with all the local farmers suffering, and we expect to grow more from a similar area next year.

As a proportion of our garden, we grew in 2 of the smaller beds. It was maybe 7.5% of our growing area. Despite occupying a small area, potatoes (and also squash) form the majority of the calories we grow.

Timothy Norton wrote:Is there really such a thing as too many spuds?



In my view this is a yes. For my partner and I, 50kg is about perfect. We can eat all of the potatoes before they start to green up and sprout and we can save a few to grow on the next year. Last year we ended up with about 120kg of potatoes as we are also members of a community garden. This was too many and we ended up selling quite a few.

Given that my labour costs for planting and harvesting are very little - only an hour or two for each process - I would gladly grow many more potatoes if I had a good way to sell/trade or gift them. Next year I suspect we will grow many more.
2 months ago
I'd like to add my concerns about horseradish - whilst it is edible and commonly eaten here in the UK (the root diced and mixed with cream to make a sauce for meat, usually), it is invasive here and where I see it wild it is taking over. I wouldn't plant it in the soil but, as you suggest, a large container would work. It has a large root system (1-2 ft or more, thick tubers in the right conditions).

I think you should add comfrey and mugwort to your list of herbs. Both are contentious and, with improper use, can be toxic (as with all medicines, the key is the dose) but have a long history of being used for tonics and cures here in Britain.

You could also add sage, thyme, rosemary and bay. They are primarily culinary herbs but they also have effects and benefits of their own.

Lavender is another useful herb that can be eaten or used to sooth the nerves and sore muscles. It also makes amazing honey if you forage bees nearby.
2 months ago