We are in the process of developing Edible Hedgerows along some of the fence lines that are not along existing hedge lines. The hedges will function something like a linear forest garden, allowing us to create a higher yield of edibles than in a standard hedge, whilst also carrying out several more usual hedgerow functions.
The yields we are aiming for from these hedges are:
- A stock proof hedge to support the fence, then replace it when the fence reaches the end of it’s life
- A harvest of edibles – berries, leaves, fruit.
- Shelter for livestock
- Supplementary forage for livestock. Herbs and leaves to provide health promoting micro-nutrients to supplement what is available in the pasture. Stock will only have access to one side of the hedge (currently through a fence), the other side being along a track way.
- Wildlife Habitat
We are establishing the hedgerows gradually – it would be expensive to buy in all the interesting plants we would like to have in sufficient quantity to create a hedge. Some plants we are propagating ourselves from existing plants, eg gooseberries. For others, we are buying one or two “parent” plants from stockists such as Martin Crawford of The Agroforestry Research Trust with the aim of propagating them on ourselves.
We are using a technique inspired by Hugel culture to establish the hedges. First, the turf is removed and carefully placed aside. Next the topsoil is removed and placed on strips of black plastic (to make it easier to shovel it up again afterwards). Branches and sticks (produced during laying an existing hedge) are then piled into the bottom of the hedge. These will gradually rot down and provide a long term source of fertility. The turves are then put onto the wood, vegetation side down, and then the top soil is placed on the top. The plants are then planted into the top of the “bed” and generously mulched with old hay.
Plants we are using include various Elaeagnus umbellata varieties, various Hawthorn craetagus spp which have larger berries then the wild type, Berberis, Mahonia, Chaenomeles, Aronia and others combined with lots of Gooseberries and Worcesterberries.
We are planting blocks of each variety to facilitate harvesting. Eg gooseberry cuttings are grouped by variety – a stretch of hedge will become ripe for harvesting at one time and can be picked without having to move between scattered plants. The hedges we are planting at the moment are along the boundry between a field and a trackway, meaning the hedge will only be fenced on one side as it establishes and there will be easy access to one side of the hedge for harvesting.