The Orange Tip

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Tag: vetch

Popping Vetch

Some of the earlier flowering meadow species are beginning to set seed as their seasons are winding down. Of the more dominant players in the mix the most apparent are currently the ox-eyes (top), yellow rattle and the common vetch (above). All three began their blooms back in May and have more or less dictated the meadow colour scheme since.

With the sun low over the bottom meadow this evening Charlie and I made the most of the warm and went out to collect the vetch seeds, now ripe in their blackened legumus pods, to store and sow next year. Vetch plants have developed an ingenuous method of natural seed dispersal, allowing the pods to dry out under the sun on the stem until they literally burst open and twist, sending the seeds flying out in all directions. In his published diary, ‘Notes From Walnut Tree Farm’, the late naturalist Roger Deakin described the sporadic ‘popping’ of vetch seed pods in numerous entries. One of them reads;

‘Standing in the home meadow in the long grass, listening to the vetch pods cracking open in the sunlight and warmth after a rainy night. The rain has softened them, then the sun has blackened and hardened them, causing the pods to snap open like little springs’.

As we collected them into paper envelopes this evening, every now and then one would suddenly explode either in the hand or from within the paper, making us jump. No nicer endeavour on a warm Summer evening.

Re: Stacks

Some of the most frequent questions I was asked last month, during our public open day for the National Gardens Scheme, concerned the ‘strange looking towers’  in the garden. Very few people seemed to recognise what they were, and only a handful could guess why they were there. By the end of the day I was beginning to question them too. What seemed at the time like a sensible, if a little aesthetically-motivated strategy for storing  and making use of the meadow cuttings from last Summer, began to feel a like an unintended, obtuse ornamental gesture, akin to artistic structures in a sculpture park that no one is meant to understand.

They’re haystacks, essentially. Clumps of drying meadow heaped into mounds with some lengthy sycamore limbs stuck in for support. Back in July, as our four stretches of wildflower meadow were falling over their mid-Summer peak and ready to be cut, I thought it would be good to prepare haystack poles as a way of drying out the cuttings. Traditionally this would have been the way most grass meadows were initially stored, before dismantling, tying into bales and moved indoors to feed livestock through the Winter. Unfortunately I don’t have a cow (although it’s tempting) and so my hay is destined to become chicken bedding and mulch, but even to these basic ends, it acts as a much more natural alternative to the commercial supplies, and a great money saver too. The stacks have also been a good source for nest-builders during the early Spring. I hadn’t actually considered or intended this when constructing them, but it was great to see birds flying in and out in the early mornings last March.

In about a month’s time I’ll be dismantling them, ready to take on the next season’s cut. No doubt some mice and an army of snails will need to find new homes, but I can put the rest to good use. Whether the poles will need replacing or not will then be a testament as to how successful the drying process has been. So far it seems most of it has worked well; rain water running off the outer layers and air circulating enough around the inners in order to dry the green to a pleasing dusty-brown. In the mean time, the meadows are coming up fast. Ox-eye daisies, vetch, campion and knapweed are all well on their way to flowering, and that same wash of white that looked so stunning in the sun last year will be here again in a week or so. And hopefully so too will all the butterflies.