Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Phytopthera ramosa spreads to West Wales

The dreaded Phytopthera ramosa has struck Pembrokeshire's population of larch trees with vengeance,
so much so that it has arrived just 10 miles away from my forest garden. Now the larch is not a forest 
garden tree, though its timber is a valuable soft wood commonly used for construction, indeed my
compost loo frame is made from it. 
I inherited 3 Larch tees which are over 30 years old when I moved into the property 12 years ago and they have become a quite a prominent part of the garden architecture with their graceful swaying branches providing protection form the wind and shelter form the sun.
About 2 months ago I received an email from the Pembrokeshire Coast National Parks warning of the rapid spread of PR and that they have already had to clear fell a plantation of larch in the Gwuan valley as some of the trees had become infected. I wrote back asking advice on my 3 trees especially as these were located near to my sweet chestnut trees and I knew that PR can affect these also.
My answer came a few days later saying that it would be wise to fell them as it is inevitable that they would become infected and that this would mean that I would loose the Chestnuts as well. So in just one day my three 30 year old larches were felled and lo there was light and a lot of wood to process.
So I've lost the Larches but gained firewood and kindling and an awful lot of hard work. For the record Phytopthera ramosa was first found in imported larch saplings in 2010 it also affects bilberry, possibly all the vaccinium family and the rhododendron family.
It affects Larch more veraciously due to the massive colonisation of the needles from the PR spores some 50,000 can be found on a single needle. The spores can spread in the air or in water and already infected trees have been found in almost every part of mainland UK. Sadly there seems to be no let up in the spread and destruction of Larch and worse still the mild start to winter will insure an increased survival rate of the spores and an increase in infections next spring.
So far there is no news of possible methods to restrict the spread or discovery of any resistant clones.
Before felling with my Mulberry tree almost underneath.
Wain from Aberteifi Tree services expertly dismantles the first one
Some of the bounty from the felling, which includes 3 new chopping blocks. The stumps have been left 4 foot tall so that I can have them sculpted into appropriate images. Now I have to split the  rounds, saw up the side branches and collect and stack the kindling before I can reclaim the lawn.

Friday, 6 December 2013

Championing Sweet Chestnuts

Chestnuts waiting to fall.
Anyone with a sweet chestnut tree near to their home will know what a great year it has been for this superb nut. I am lucky enough to have not 1 but 2 of these majestic trees just a 30 meters from my door, well I did plant them on purpose of course because I just love to eat chestnuts and a forest garden should include them if its large enough. My trees were planted just 11 years ago and this year I have managed to collect about 12Kg of nice quality nuts.

I well remember as a child my Dad taking me into Richmond park to collect chestnuts from some truly magnificent trees may of which still stand today, in those days the public were still allowed to collect them but nowadays they have to be left to the deer and squirrels. I did manage to use my shoes to peel the prickly burr to reveal the nuts but it was quite tricky and was quite a knack. I also remember well trying to peel the inner skin (pedicule)off the raw nut so I could get a taste of the nut in its raw state but beware if this wasn't taken off entirely the nut was virtually inedible. When we got them home and roasted them all the undesirable bits came away easily and the delightful irresistible taste of roasted chestnut hooked me for life.

As a vegan chestnuts have become an important part of my dietary regime but I have to say getting them ready to eat is not without its challenges.

A|s the trees are accessed every day the nuts are best dealt with immediately as the pedicule is more easily removed whilst it is still in its damp fresh state. If allowed to dry then the process becomes more difficult. This year the sheer weight of the crop meant that I could not keep up, so into the fridge they went ( nb I must invest in a bigger fridge for next season).  After many different methods of processing I came up with what I consider the ultimate solution, unless anyone has a better method(suggestions welcome)

taken out of the husks using protective gloves.
Keep a saucepan half full of water on a rolling simmer. Take 6 nuts cut a cross in the  pointed end,pop into the water for about 2 minutes. Take out and replace the nuts with 6 others. The skin and pedicle will come away easily taking about 2 mins so you can keep a constant stream of production until your complete batch is finished.

Now with the partially cooked nuts you can put them in the fridge for a few days or freeze them for cooking later. Of course if you just want them for roasting keep them in their skins and when roasted both the skin an pedicle will come away fairly easily.

What to do with the semi cooked nuts then.

How about a chestnut roast, here is my first one ready to be wrapped in greaseproof paper and stored in the freezer.I have me 3 so far ready for the festive season.

Perhaps a chestnut and mushroom wellington, I am now working up some recipes and as soon as perfected will be happy to publish to my readers.

Chestnut flower is also another option as well as chestnut puree which can be converted into delicious sweet dishes. I will have ago at both after Christmas and report my findings.

I should also tell of the reason why this posting is rather late. Well its Phytopthera Ramosa the dreaded pathogen which has been devastating the larch population in West Wales .I had 3 healthy trees but was warned that they would eventually succumb and as this pathogen also attacks sweet chestnuts I was advised to act sooner rather than later. So my 3 -35 year old trees had to be felled. There was and still is a lot of work left for me to do as the tree surgeon only took a day to complete the work, I  wanted to use every part of the wood branches and needles so after cutting the trunks into rounds I have all the rest to do. I do have the benefit of more light , 3 nice chopping blocks and a years supply of firewood. I have lost the graceful pendulous swinging arms of those beautiful trees which graced the garden for such a long time. We can only hope that some way will be found to re introduce this important tree some time in the future.