Homemade willow rooting compound

Willow sticks for making willow tea - a homemade hormone rooting compound.

Willow sticks for making willow tea – a homemade hormone rooting compound.

I had often heard that you can make your own hormone rooting compound from Willow (salix sp.) so after we had coppiced our willow I made sure I had enough left over for a few experiments. The first experiment was willow rooting compound.

Before the use of synthetic rooting hormone compounds gardeners would make a willow tea to increase the likelihood of their cuttings growing (strike rate). It turns out that what we might call folklore has some scientific backing as willow steeped in water releases indolebutyric acid – a hormone that stimulates root growth, and salicylic acid which triggers the plants defenses and helps protect the plant from pathogens. Pretty cool eh?

Now I have always been pretty useless at growing box (buxus sp.) from cuttings. It’s something that I’ve tried time after time. After all have you seen the price of decent sized box plant in nurseries? To me it makes sense to try and propagate them from plants you already have.

After a bit of research I decided to combine the bits of many different willow tea recipes:

Homemade rooting hormone instructions

My box cuttings with homemade willow tea root hormone compound.

My box cuttings with homemade willow tea root hormone compound.

  1. You’ll need a handful of sticks of willow, preferably the ends of the branch as that’s where the growing hormones are. Don’t use dead branches,
  2. Take off all the leaves and cut the sticks into short pieces (so that they’ll fit in your jar),
  3. Put the sticks into a heatproof container with a lid I used an old glass jar,
  4. Fill the jar with hot water so the water covers the sticks- be careful if you are using a glass jar you don’t want the glass to explode if the water is too hot,
  5. Seal and label the jar,
  6. Leave for at least 24 hours and up to two months – I went about a week before I moved onto the next step,
  7. Remove the willow while retaining the willow water,
  8. Put your cuttings in the willow water to drink it overnight,
  9. Plant your cuttings,
  10. Use the rest of the willow water to water the cuttings in if you wish
  11. Look after the plants in the usual way

They grew well and I am pleased with the result.

Perhaps you are wondering why a forest gardener is bothering with buxus sempervirens at all, after all it’s slow growing so I probably won’t be around to harvest the wood, doesn’t do much for biodiversity and you certainly can’t eat it. Truth be told I am also a sucker for a formal knot garden and a bit of ornamental topiary and I hope there will be a little space in my garden for those too.

The second experiment? Artists Charcoal. That’s another story.

Hanging Strawberry Planter – how to guide

Our polytunnel in June

Ginger keeping a close eye on the polytunnel


Our polytunnel in June

Our polytunnel in June

A week or so a go I posted some photos to our facebook page that received a few comments and questions.

Can you guess what caused all the feedback?

The hanging strawberry planters made from old guttering :). Yes they are slug free! and yes picking them head height is easy!

I can’t claim to be the originator of this idea. I had many a summer job when at high school picking fruit for commercial soft-fruit farmers, one of the easiest and best was picking strawberries on hanging planters in giant polytunnels. Although their solutions were a lot more expensive than mine.

Hanging strawberry gutter planter how-to guide

Hanging strawberry gutter planter how-to guide. Click image for larger version

It’s a pretty easy thing to set up if you have horizontal crop-bars in your polytunnel (if you don’t have crop-bars? I don’t know. Hopefully this will be a starting point for you). Just to stress the importance of crop-bars – they are designed to take weight hanging from them. Gutters full of strawberries, soil and water are heavy, so please take care and make sure you know your polytunnel (or other growing space) isn’t going to collapse with the extra weight before you try anything like this.

I just wanted to say a few things, things we learnt so that you can go straight to strawberry heaven in your polytunnel.

Firstly, these gutters swing in the wind, even with doors shut. So do make sure you use a good strength string to hold them up with and a really tight knot to tie the ends of the string together. Fingers crossed and touch wood ours haven’t tipped over. We have doubled up on the string, just in case one breaks. I say string, but it’s actually some old electric fencing wire.

Secondly, we drilled some drainage holes in some of the gutters and not in others. There hasn’t been any difference that I can see between the plants. So as long as the gutters are not absolutely horizontal – ie the water can drain, I wouldn’t bother drilling holes in the plastic if I did this again.

Thirdly, unless you set up a sophisticated overhead watering system you’ll be watering with a watering can. Therefore work out your optimum height for lifting a full watering can and picking fruit and aim for that when tying the strings. Oh and don’t forget the plants underneath – how high are they going to grow?

Strawberries, heaven in a bowl

Strawberries, heaven in a bowl

Good luck! Let me know if you try this and how you get on.

PS We’ve been eating strawberries from the polytunnel for two weeks now. The strawberry plants outside are only just starting to set fruit. Whether the ones outside will get eaten by slugs or not only time will tell, but the strawberries hanging inside will always be slug free.

PPS A special thanks to the team from the south-west Wales permaculture group who, after our foraging walk, helped divide, plant up and put up the planters. xx

Springwatch swallows

Last year we had a lot of close encounters Swallows (Hirundo rustica), it was amazing. I even promised some video footage that I had managed to take of a nest in the porch of the summer house.

It looks like at least one couple have claimed one of the porch nests again this year, so I’ll be taking more footage. In the meantime, take a look at this shot last year (and about time too I hear you say … ).

Foraging in early April

Wood anemone carpet

Beautiful Wood Anemone (Anemone nemorosa) carpet but not much to eat

Earlier in the year, when we agreed to hold a forage walk here with friends, we had no idea that spring was going to be so late. I have to admit to being a little nervous as I looked around our land a week before the walk. I was struggling to find more than hairy bittercress, nettles, pennywort and sorrel to eat. Even the chickweed and goosegrass hadn’t dare show their leaves.

Time to check the books and increase my knowledge. We bought “Wild Food” by Roger Philips many years ago from a second-hand book shop (I’m not sure that it’s even in print now). It quickly gave a few more ideas for things to look out for and I kept the pocket-sized Collins gem “Food for Free” on me at all times.

Foraged additions to our salad

Foraged additions to our salad

As always with gatherings my understanding about what can be eaten from the wild grew enormously on the day as everyone added their knowledge. By the end of the morning we had added to base salad with:

  • (very young) bramble leaves (Rubus fruticosa),
  • dandelion leaves (Taraxacum officinale) – some people added,
  • gorse flowers (Ulex europaeus),
  • hairy bittercress (Cardamine hirsuta),
  • hawthorn leaves (Crataegus monogyna),
  • Navelwort (Umbilicus rupestris)

    Navelwort (Umbilicus rupestris)

  • navelwort (Umbilicus rupestris) – it’s abundant in the woods, and
  • sorrel leaves (Rumex acetosa),

and experimented with making gorse flower tea and cleaver (Galium aparine) tea. So, maybe not up to Fergus the Forager standards yet but it’s a step. We were very lucky that Alison had made wild garlic quiche and nettle soup to further set our wild taste buds racing.

Although one of our group had heard that celandine flowers could be eaten, none of our books covered Lesser Celandine (Ranunculus ficaria), so we didn’t pick it. However is in “Culpeper’s Complete Herbal” as a cure for the eyes, piles and many other things… I’ll do a little more research before I try it …

Pretty perfect polytunnel

It is almost a year to the day that we started on this polytunnel episode. I am so pleased with the result.

Meet our first indoor growing space:

Polytunnel with raised beds in early Spring (April) 2013

Polytunnel with raised beds in early Spring (April) 2013

We knew from the start that for this polytunnel – the closest to our home – we wanted to include raised beds. It’s a growing space for home grown veg and herbs (rather than trees) and for sitting in on rainy days. We’ve worked in spaces like this before and by just raising the growing space a little it makes it so much easier on the back and knees for sowing and harvesting. The beds are sized so that every bit can be reached from the aisles. The double depth middle bed is two arms lengths deep. It’s also double the height of the side beds.

Breakfast in the polytunnel

Breakfast in the polytunnel. Note the eggs from our chooks!

We had a plentiful supply of well rotted horse manure so these beds are extra fertile! I just can’t wait to get those heavy feeding veggies like squashes planted out (they are in the propagator at the moment).

Before we had finished all of the beds we gave it a trial run as a breakfast space. It’s so warm in there. The perfect start to the day.

You can’t see it in this picture, but in the middle bed we have dug down about 30cm below the soil level and added sticks and new manure as a kind of low hugelkultur (Sepp Holzer) to add long-term fertility to the bed. Then layered well rotted manure and soil on top. We didn’t build a full height hugelkultur because of the shadow it would create in this east-west aligned tunnel, especially in the winter months.

Polytunnel raised bed building team

Polytunnel raised bed building team: Me, Craig, Holly and Wilkie.

We’ve finished creating the raised beds!! Meet the raised bed building team. Thanks guys!

Let’s get growing.

The road of faeries, sprites and goblins …

If you go down to our woods today, or any day, you can be sure it will be full of magic and mystery!

Sian Bowi (professional photographer and friend) visited in early March and captured some wonderful images. I am very lucky to be able to share Sian’s photographs with you.

The first picture, according to another friend, Gil …

“… be the road of faeries, sprites and goblins and the portal to ancient myths, legends and times forgot, but, be warned, ’tis also the domain of the Dark Weinci. Pass at thou’st peril. (‘weinci is Welsh for weasel)”

We are sure he is right and that if we find the time to linger long enough we could find dragons here or be transported back to the time of the Mabinogion

The road of faeries, sprites and goblins

© COPYRIGHT NOTICE All rights of my work are reserved to © Siân Bowi 2013 and may not be reproduced, copied, edited, published, transmitted or uploaded in any way without my written permission.


Further along the road you find our Ent. We are almost certain this is where the faeries, sprites, goblins and young dragons play and where Moomins come for holidays …

Under our Ent

Canghennau Cwm Tŷ Hen © COPYRIGHT NOTICE All rights of my work are reserved to © Siân Bowi 2013 and may not be reproduced, copied, edited, published, transmitted or uploaded in any way without my written permission.

To see more of Sian’s beautiful work check out Sian Bowi’s flickr photostream or her website www.ffotosianbowi.co.uk

Thank you Sian for allowing us to share these photos here. xx

Willow coppice

Bowles Hybrid Willow Year 1

Bowles Hybrid Willow before coppicing

It seems counterintuitive to coppice our willow (Salix spp.) in it’s first year of growing, but coppice it we must! Cutting it back at the end of the first year will encourage multiple shoots to form at the base. Which means that in years to come we will have a denser screen and more willow biomass. That’s the theory at least.

We planted the 500 cm lengths of Bowles Hybrid willow back in December 2011 for a couple of reasons. Firstly to hide the very ugly farm buildings just behind our home, and also as a biomass crop to keep us self-sufficient in wood for heating in later years.

The willow around the farm buildings grew at a tremendous rate, we were really impressed, reaching over 2.5 meters in their first year! The willow in the field did less well. Mainly because we didn’t keep the grass around the small stems down. We think the root competition combined with the grass shading out the young plants were the main causes.

Bowles Hybrid Willow Year One

Bowles Hybrid Willow harvest

Now we have a lot of willow cuttings. We are going to use them in several ways;

  • to fill in any gaps where the original willow failed to take,
  • to extend our biomass plot,
  • to make a rooting hormone liquid,
  • to experiment with making artists charcoal, and if I have time
  • to practice basketry making with.

Nice! Don’t you just love willow!

Half-welly walk

Coppicing willow at the National Botanic Garden Wales

Coppicing willow at the National Botanic Garden Wales in late January

We spent a lovely day in late January volunteering at the National Botanic Garden in Wales. We were helping to coppice the willow in the Education area near the Science building. It was a lovely fun if rather wet day (particularly nice as the Food Fair was on in their giant greenhouse – The Parsnipship vegatarian food for the 21st century was by far the best stall), but the whole day left us wanting more! Luckily for us there is a lot of work we need to do to get our woodland into some kind of managed state.

Half-welly walk

Half-welly walk - a more accessible section (before)

Half-welly walk is a wide track that takes you down to part of the wood. Or at least it would if it wasn’t for the fallen trees, brambles and general overgrown junglyness in the way.

That’s the first job decided.

Half-welly walk is such a wonderful micro-habitat. Standing in one spot I counted seven native trees around me. If I’m right in my winter identification of trees, this could make it a species-rich hedgerow, and possibly an ancient hedgerow – more research needed. Wonderful responsibilities to have.

Bluebells emerging

Bluebells emerging

Two weekends later and half-welly walk is walkable. Good timing too as the bluebells are just poking through the earth. Now we will be able to see them easily on our trips down to the river.

Looks like we’ve got a lot research to do about the species lining this walk and the implications … not least perhaps a more respectful name if it is such an ancient hedgerow …