Last week, whilst walking my dog, I noticed lots of larch cones on the forest floor, some still attached to small twigs and branches. I picked a few up with the intention of learning more about larch seeds and of seeing whether I could grow a larch tree from seed.
I consulted a range of sources before beginning the process of attempting to harvest the seeds. I learned that the cones of larch may open and close according to climatic conditions, so whilst the cones may have “dropped” some of their seeds already, it might be possible that the cones I had picked up still held some seeds too.
All sources recommended that the cones be put into a warm room to encourage them to open. I put my cones into a paper bag in the bottom of our airing cupboard.
Today I opened the paper bag and started my larch seed adventure! I tapped and shook the cones gently to see what came out. I didn’t really know what to expect or how to recognise a larch seed. To my delight, some of the cones did yield some very small, light brown seeds with very delicate “wings”. I did a Google search for images of larch seeds, and I was excited to discover that I had indeed managed to harvest a modest number of seeds.
Some sources suggest that these seeds can be planted immediately. My trusted tree bible, Tree Planting And Aftercare , suggests that such seeds are better stored in a polythene bag in a fridge at 2-5 degrees celsius until sowing time (usually around the beginning of March).
Closer to sowing time, I can decide whether I sow straight into a seed tray or use a pre-sowing method like stratifying (as with elder). Should I want to optimise the germination rate, I could also consider “sowing” seeds directly onto a tray lined with moist kitchen paper. The tray would then be placed in a polythene bag and returned to the fridge for 3-6 weeks. After the chilling period, the tray is then brought to room temperature but kept covered with newspaper. The tray needs to be kept dark until the seeds germinate. When the seeds have germinated, they can be planted out!
Today, I returned to Portglenone Forest with my dog. The floor was damp with mulching leaves; the fallen acorns had been ravaged by local predators; and the beech nuts had been squelched open by heavy-footed walkers. I had the sense that Time had picked up its pace, like a runner in a race that had caught sight of the finishing line : the Winter threshold is almost visible,
There’s a part of me that’s quite sad that my haiku adventures are coming to an end. I planned to write 30 for my self-publishing adventure, and today is haiku 29. The process of writing haikus has brought me closer to the outside world and brought me closer to my inner world. I feel more present, more aware and more connected. I’m noticing much more and I’m appreciating much more. And I’ve slowed right down.
The writing process has helped me to explore, and realise, my creative potential, and it’s encouraged a sense of growing confidence in some capabilities that I’d forgotten I possessed! Haikus have woken me up. That’s the best way of putting, I think. Haikus rouse you from the sleep of remembering and bring you into the aliveness of presence. I didn’t realise that 17 syllables could have such power!
I’ve chosen to write a haiku about the acorn today – its associations with potential and growth seem fitting for this part of my haiku journey. You can read my poem here, and I read it out loud on today’s video blog too.
Today’s been a really grey and wet day here in Northern Ireland. When I took the dog out for his walk this morning, I looked up the sky, but it didn’t look far away at all : it was like it was nose-close. It was like it was threatening me! And it wasn’t just “one rain” : rain, it seems, is a powerful collective, capable of synchronous action. It’s more of a “they” than an “it”.
It didn’t take long for the rain(s) to start. It wasn’t heavy but it was persistent enough to feel oppressive, to feel like it was playing with me, to feel like it was letting me know that it was in charge. That they were in charge.
It’s the kind of weather that would give you a headache, you know? The strangest thing of all though is that when you’re inside , the sound of falling rain is actually quite comforting!
What I’m learning through writing these haiku poems is that it’s the more familiar things (like rain) which I’m finding difficult to capture or “edge closer” too. To touch the nerve of the thing I’m describing, I’m having to cut through swathes of preconceptions and memories. I want to make sure that I’m describing the rain I experienced today, rather than old memories of rain, if that makes sense?
So today’s haiku is called Rain and you can read it here. You can also listen to me read it out loud on today’s video blog.
I’ll tell you something : I was actually looking forward to an elderberry wine-making adventure. I’d found a recipe and done all the research about equipment. I was hearing reports of bumper crops in Scotland and in Northern Ireland too. I was all set.
Only thing is though, the elders on the farm are in really exposed spots and didn’t even yield enough to make a sherry-glass of wine, let alone a bottle or two.
So, for today’s adventure, I decided to make an investment for future generations, should they wish to make their own wine 🙂 . Today, I learned how to prepare elder seeds for sowing at the end of Winter. This way, my grandchildren may be able to produce something lovely from the “wine trees” that I planted for them today!
Using my “Tree Bible”, Tree Planting And Aftercare, I learned that the flesh of an elderberry is filled with chemicals which inhibit germination. So stage one of the preparation is to either let the flesh rot off (by keeping the berries in a plastic bag) or to use a blender to help the natural separation process along.
The blender method was surprisingly straight-forward. I placed the blended mix in water and this helped to separate the flesh from the seed : the seeds floated to the top and the flesh sank to the bottom. Once I had cleaned the seeds, I was ready to mix the seeds with moist sand and place them in a stone-lined pot. I covered the pot with protective mesh, as I did for the oak, beech and horse chestnut seeds. This mixing of seed with sand and then leaving outside is called “stratification”.
As Winter progresses, I’ll keep my eye on the seeds. As soon as I observe chitting or splitting of the seeds, I’ll knowing they’re ready for sowing!
Yesterday I took my dog for a walk in Breen Wood, near Ballycastle. It’s one of the few surviving ancient woodlands in Northern Ireland ; oak trees have been on this site for more than 200o years.
Many local forests (such as Portglenone) were plundered in the seventeenth century but not this one. People think that it wasn’t touched because of its association with fairies (its name means fairy palace in Irish) : if the forest was harmed, whoever cut the wood would have expected bad luck (or worse!)
The feel of Breen Wood is very special – and completely different to the feel of Portglenone Forest. It feels as old as it looks. It is dense, lush and holds a “far-away” quality to it.. almost like you just stepped behind a curtain. I also think it has its own micro climate. Autumn is not as advanced in this place – but it’s definitely creeping in.
As you’d expect, there are a lot of oak trees. In fact, I don’t think I’ve seen so many oak trees in my life! But what I didn’t expect was the proliferation of holly – it was everywhere. Not many of the holly trees were in berry, but I did find one.
Reading a bit about the holly tree, I discovered that only female trees bear fruit, and the green berries will turn red as we move closer towards Winter. I also discovered, when researching the lore of the oak tree, that the holly and the oak are locked in an eternal symbolic battle cycle. The “Oak King” symbolises the waxing year, and the “Holly King” symbolises the waning year. As the holly berries begin to turn red, heralding the arrival of the darkest months of the year, the oak sheds its acorns and prepares to sleep before the Battle Of Mid-Winter. The Oak King always wins the battle for lengthening days – and he always loses the Battle Of Mid-Summer, sacrificing himself so that life can be renewed.
Today’s haiku is about the holly tree, and you can read it here. I also read it out loud in today’s video blog.
Yesterday’s seed collection and planting adventure inspired me to write a haiku about the horse chestnut tree. As I stood underneath the tree, I noticed how its leaves look like large hands and how the casings of the conkers looked like medieval battle flails . Flails are spiky metal balls on chains, used to wield heavy blows and cleave into armour.
Because a knight could swing a flail, it could deliver a much more powerful blow than it’s cousin, the mace (and it could also reach over, and around, armour and shields).
I have tried to include the idea of the tree having hands, and being loaded with weapons, in today’s haiku. Having read that the conkers are ready for planting when the casings are just splitting open – I squeezed that information in too!
You can read today’s haiku called “Horse Chestnut” here. I also read it out loud on today’s video blog.
Wow! What a fabulous adventure I’ve had today 🙂 . I managed to collect some beech nuts, acorns and conkers; I used the sink-float viability test* for my beech seeds (with surprising results!); and I learned how to plant these seeds too.
I used Tree Planting And Aftercare as my reference source : it taught me how to plant directly into pots. I used a traditional deep sowing technique for the acorns (to protect them from mice and birds) and regular sowing techniques for beech seeds and horse chestnut fruit. I forgot to mention in my video that the protective top layer of compost and “hidden” gauze marker get removed in Spring for the acorns.
The germination rate for beech is about 60%. It’s about 80% for oak and chestnut. With my seeds offered optimal conditions, I’m hoping for an exciting Spring!
*After I planted the seeds, I also learned that this viability test can be used with acorns and conkers.
When I was out walking my dog in the woods last weekend, I noticed how the whole forest seemed to be turning from green to grey-brown. The colours of Summer looked like they were being washed away, from the sky downwards.
However, as I placed my attention on the ground, keen to see how all the mushrooms were getting on, my eyes were greeted by the vibrant green of moist, healthy ferns. It looked like the ferns were spreading themselves out in preparation for the imminent Autumn cooling ~ as if they were making some kind of promise to the forest floor to keep it warm.
Since my walk, I’ve discovered that many varieties of fern are evergreen. They seem to be the unsung heroes of many gardens, woodland areas, hillsides and parks. They are very undemanding, very colourful (even when everything else is fading), and they thrive in shady and damp areas.
I’ve tried to capture the essence of the fern in today’s haiku, which you can read here. I also read it out loud on today’s video-blog.
This morning I went for a walk with my dog in Portglenone Forest, near Ballymena. Sparky adores it there : I think it must smell really great 😛 (and there’s plenty of territory to be marked too!)
A lot has changed since last week. I noticed that the mushrooms have started to die away ; only the honey fungus is looking anywhere near healthy. The path is rusting with leaves, and our walk was punctuated by the sound of falling beech nuts.
In one part of the forest there is a hollow which catches the sun. In this area, it still looks and feels like Summer. Some Red Admiral butterflies were sunning themselves in the hollow this morning, and they allowed me to get really close with my camera. Even Sparky was mesmerised by them!
For me, “butterfly” brings up words like transformation, change, metamorphosis and regeneration. Butterflies make me think about Nature’s continuous, and repeating, cycles. Since my poetic adventure is all about marking the transition from Summer into Autumn, a haiku about the butterfly makes for a perfect inclusion in my collection.
In this part of the world, the harvest is in, and a new cycle of activity is happening in the farming community. Many farmers consider the Autumn to be the beginning of the farming year – particularly arable farmers. Right now, fields are being ploughed and re-seeded with crops like winter barley and winter wheat.
Speaking to a local farmer this morning, I was asking about how winter crops work. He told me that if they plant winter crops around this time, then they would expect to harvest them in June/July next year. If you do the maths on that, that means the crops are in the ground for around 9 months. It really didn’t take me long to smile about the significance of that number, and the words Earth Mother came straight to mind 🙂 .
So today’s haiku is entitled “Earth Mother” : it’s a poem all about what happens after the harvest. You can read it here, and I also read it out loud on today’s video-blog.