Wind breaks (446)

by Max Akroyd

I love our field and confer as much importance on to its productive potential as having a roof on the house. But it’s not naturally adapted to growing fruit and vegetables. Yes, it’s on a south-facing slope and the soil isn’t too bad when fortified with muck. The big problem is the wind.

Brittany is very susceptible to weather freshly served from the Atlantic, it’s part of her charm. But the almost constant west wind is not conducive to the production of the more delicate vegetables – which, let’s face it, is most of them. Tellingly, northern Brittany has cornered the market in the other sort: globe artichokes, pink onions and cauliflowers. The sight of a bunch of old men taking a break from the artichoke harvest, with a bottle of wine or two served from the back of an ancient Renault van, was one of my first impressions of Finistère…

But, despite a surrounding barrier of established hedgerow, I’m left with a severe impediment to growing good vegetables: the depredations of the west wind. The knowledge of this nags at every other effort out there in the field. I didn’t come here to be a pig farmer or a goat herd so something has to be done…

The solution I’ve come up with is to establish a tiered system of tree-planting. My first line of defence will be tough, wild fruit trees – things that will laugh in the face of the wind, but will also provide fruit (of sorts). We’re talking rowans, blackthorns, medlars, amelanchiers, dog roses, wild pears, crab apples… a large consignment of these arrived yesterday, and I hope to get most of them in the ground today. Belatedly, these will form the inner boundaries of the productive areas.

The next rank will comprise hazels, which go really well here and make up the core of the ancient hedgerows. I’ve planted a few already, but hope to get more in later this year. Next up are the tree fruits which, until now I’ve planted in the more sheltered areas but, hopefully, can in time be brought into centre-stage.

Finally there are the taller, tougher vegetables. Artichokes spring to mind here, a thicket of the globe sort will provide a bit of cover. But it’s the (unrelated) Jerusalem artichokes which offer the most potential in this regard. They’re a bit of a taboo in this household, my wife despises them and she regarded my recent acquisition of a few tubers in just the same way as Superman would welcome a delivery of kryptonite. I hardly dare tell her that I’ve accidentally double-ordered and I’ve got about 40 of the things to plant.

But at least that error has encouraged me to address my awkward wind problem!

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After a leisurely debate about where to best locate our new baby trees, we set about planting 18 of them at strategic points around the field. Even though they’re tiny they provoked big ideas about how to develop adjacent areas. Although the majority of these ideas will be forgotten or prove beyond our means financially, what better way to spend a Sunday afternoon than dreaming up modest plans?