How to keep a healthy meadow and other thoughts ...

Hay raking in the meadow

The garden team have been busy, with a number of autumnal tasks. This includes the upkeep of a healthy meadow, as well as being a great habitat for wildlife, for evermore. Read along to also discover what is in store for the leaf mold and what future plans are afoot! Over to Joe ...

These last few months, one of the garden tasks has been the cutting of the meadow grass.  Initially a decision was made to phase the cutting of the meadows to prolong the season for the invertebrates warming themselves in the sun amongst the cover of long grass, including butterflies and crickets which I certainly recall were still pretty audible at the start of September.  In turn, however I think we’ve ended up being kinder on ourselves as well as the wildlife, and certainly kinder on the gardening budget. 

Orange tip butterfly in the garden at Stoneywell
STWS orange tip garden butterfly stoneywell
Orange tip butterfly in the garden at Stoneywell

Some may disagree and suggest I’ve just prolonged the agony of course, but I didn’t hear too many moans and groans from the garden team, at least not to my face, and I think they just about all would.  A few mornings raking at the start of every Tuesday and Wednesday, after each of the three cuts, and we managed to be well and truly on top of the clear up, and what’s more the disposal as well. No great mountain to rush into skips at great expense, instead we’ve been able to burn dried grass, raked that day in bitesize chunks and with our most considerable amount yet heaped throughout the garden as habitat piles, perhaps for our slow worms, who knows? 

Slow worm at Stoneywell
STWS Slow worm 2
Slow worm at Stoneywell

We don’t like to waste anything at Stoneywell, for the health and maintenance of the meadows and the acid loving species in the grasslands, cutting and removal is vital to keep the nutrient levels low, but it has always left us with a headache of what to do with all that grass.  Likely packed full of seed it’s not the sort of stuff we fancy in our compost, but we’ve very much gone back to an old Gimson practice and it’s a photographers dream capturing a low autumnal sun streaming through the smokey haze.  Anyway back to the not being wasteful and you can be sure we’ll use all our ash spread through our compost heaps or directly top dressing our soft fruit to improve our soils potassium levels, which can often be low in light soils like ours, due to leaching.

Late summer sun in the Stoneywell orchard
Stoneywell orchard in the autumn mist
Late summer sun in the Stoneywell orchard

We’re in the midst of using another resource and that’s the leaf mold from last year’s collected leaves.  Mulching our beds after they’ve had a good once over and emptying those bays just in time for the rakes, tonne bags and big novelty yellow hands to make an appearance again as we collect this year’s leaves!  We’ll also be getting a chipper shredder in soon to get through another mountain from the year gone in all our wood prunings which once chipped will be making their way onto appropriate paths and the like next year and as it’s the year for trying new things we’ll be looking at shredding bracken too, whether that’s to use straight as a mulch (credit: RHS Wisley, as seen on Gardeners World) or to help in the process of making ericaceous compost.