hay days

An important objective of the mowing and pruning management is establishing a parklike landscape with many transitions between grassland and wood. 26 May 2016.

These days, at the end of July, I have started to mow the vegetation around the house. Time and frequency of mowing depend mainly on the weather, the soil and on what you want to focus on. In my case one of the main objectives is enriching the vegetation with as many different spontaneous plant species as possible and then it is important to make the soil less fertile with your mowing management so that aggressive species have less opportunities.

Two days before, I had mowed this area, between the house and the vegetable garden and this day I gathered the hay on heaps. The small green shrub, Cornus sanguinea, and the Almond tree are spontaneous and were left in place. The green patch of the grass Brachypodium phoenicoides (behind them) was also spared as it stays remarkable green the whole summer and is also, for its height, an interesting structural element in the vegetation. 23 July 2018.

The best way to this is cutting the vegetation and taking away the hay frequently. But not all of the grassland area on the terrain has a deep, fertile soil so the mowing is usually restricted to areas around the house and around the ponds where the soil is deepest.  On very fertile soils at least two mowing sessions are necessary but in my case, after many years of taking away the vegetal material, I usually mow once or even skip one or two years. The best time of the year is heavily dependent on the weather, but if you only mow once a year on a relatively poor soil it falls usually at the end of July and the beginning of August. Then the vegetation is not yet completely dry and dead and you can still take away some nutrients from the area.

The grass species Bromus diandrus was heavily dominant in the beginning as here in April 2007.

While mowing I try to avoid rare or important species to give them an extra chance of establishing. Also selecting or avoiding certain shrubs and trees is a very effective measure to steer the vegetation structure in the direction you want. My aim is to get a semi-open, semi-wild park landscape with many transitions among grassland, shrubs and wood. Apart from being pleasing to the eye, these kind of border structures are among the richest wildlife habitats. For example of the almost dozen orchid species, almost all of them grow in the half-shade of trees or shrubs.

After more than 10 years of applying this kind of management I can say that the results are important. There has been a clear shift in the vegetation with a higher variety of species and a more complex vegetation structure.

After several years of mowing, the quite ornamental grass Phleum phleoides seems to have replaced Bromus diandrus. 20 June 2016

Aggressive species, especially the grass species Bromus diandrus, have diminished, the vegetation is more open and gives more opportunities for delicate species. Very conspicuous is  now the presence of species like Scabiosa columbaria and Orlaya grandiflora which attract loads of butterflies and other insects for weeks on end. In the undergrowth Hieracium pillosella and Prunella laciniata have considerably increased their area.  Phleum phleoides is now quite dominant in some areas but it is a beautiful grass species almost all year round and  leaves a lot of space for other herbs. Also the orchid species have probably taken advantage of the mowing management, demonstrating a steady growth in number and area along the years.

After some years of the mowing management Scabiosa columbaria has conquered big areas around the house, attracting loads of butterflies. 28 June 2018.

The hay obtained this way is an important ingredient for my vegetable garden. Together with straw, it forms the important mulch layer which covers, protects and enriches the soil. Once the vegetation is mown, I usually leave the hay a couple of days in place to give the seed some time to ripen and fall and not contaminate the vegetable garden. But more than 5 days doesn´t seem to be recommendable, because then the nutrients start to leak out.
The movement of nutrients from the wild garden to the vegetable garden is a really nice example of efficient recyling, with clear benefits on both fronts.

Mown area near the ponds. Neighbouring areas have not such deep soil and are not mown. 24 July 2018.

For mowing I use a traditional scythe. No noise,  cheap, almost no maintenance, good exercise: a powerful mix of advantages of the scythe and yet almost forgotten by many people. In my situation it is also an ideal tool because instead of breaking down the vegetation like the traditional grass mowers or weedwackers do, it leaves the vegetation intact enough to easily take away and use as a mulch in the vegetable garden. The relatively short blade of 40cm of my scythe favours a more detailed selecting and avoiding of certain plants and shrubs. The irregularity and, in my case the lack of professionalism, in the handling of the scythe is more a feature than a fault. It offers welcome variation and opportunities in the vegetation layer, and the same holds true for the mowing in phases and on different days on different spots, keeping in mind to do the same thing more or less every year on the same spot. Can you still follow this 🙂

 

 

This plant Teucrium capitatum grows on only three places and so was spared. The short blade of my scythe (40 cm) permits this kind of selection. 24 July 2018.

Apart from the mowing, an important factor has also been the steady growth of (new) shrubs and trees. The sheep herds that roam the region do not enter the terrain and this might be an important factor for the survival of many shrub and tree seedlings (and orchids!).

The general aspect of the terrain is really going into the direction of a beautiful parklike landscape. At the same time the inverted amount of energy and time has actually been quite limited. It is more a question of steering, encouraging and discouraging than actively manipulating and imposing. Just switching nature on!

The hay harvest goes to the vegetable garden where it makes a nice mulch layer. 25 July 2018.

As an illustration of the shifts in the vegetation caused by the mowing regime, below you can see the distribution maps of some species which were especially affected, increasing or decreasing their numbers. Fix your attention to the area around the house in the northwest corner where most of the mowing takes place. Also the distribution maps in my article about the orchids on the terrain are quite illustrative.

Changes in the presence of Scabiosa columbaria over a 10 year period.

The same for Phleum phleoides

The same for Bromus diandrus.


 




orchids orgy

One of the most frequent and conspicous orchids on the terrain is Orchis purpurea with almost 100 flowering plants every year. 15 April 2007

Cephalanthera damasonium appeared this spring with 3 representatives on this spot in the shade of the oak wood. It was probably already present in former years but only with bulbs or leaves or perhaps it was eaten before flowering, which happened with 2 of the 3 specimen afterwards. 23 May 2018.

The fact that one hectare of land harbours more than 250 native species is already a feat but the presence of at least 9 different species of the Orchid family is remarkable. This spring  they were exceptionally abundant. This ´orgy´ was probably partly due to the very wet weather but I have noticed a steady increase over the years, not only in plant numbers but also in species number. For example this year I welcomed the sudden arrival of 3 plants of Cephalanthera damasonium. Members of the Orchid family are notorious for their erratic and unexpected behavior, appearing one year in abundance and then hiding for several years.

Ophrys apifera. 10 June 2007.

Ophrys apifera. 10 June 2007

Anacamptis pyramidalis has steadily increased its numbers and area over the years. It started from this area in the semi-shade of a holm oak in front of the greenhouse back in 2008 and appeared on several other spots since then. 8 June 2010.

The distribution maps of Anacamptis pyramidalis of resp. 2008 and 2018. The spectacular increase in 2018 is probably partly due to the exceptionally wet spring.

Almost all of the present orchid species seem to prefer the transition zone between wood and grassland. The fact that my terrain is rich in this kind of border niches may partly account for so many orchids. Related to this border effect is their tendency towards human culture, that is they prefer semi-natural situations where humans have a low but decisive impact on nature: mowing grass, pruning or cutting trees, moving soil.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Their relationships with other mammals is, in my experience so far, somewhat controversial. It seems that sheep for example love to eat the generally tender broad leaves of orchids and the fact that sheep don´t enter the terrain may have a positive impact. But I also notice that badgers, wild boar, weasels and/or similar wild animals which do enter the terrain, go for the bulbs or rhizomes of the orchid, digging very specifically like expert botanists. A positive side-effect might be that while digging they help to spread the extremely fine seed (and the necessary mycorrhiza).

Limodorum abortivum is a very peculiar orchid. Better quote Wikipedia: “ …although Limodorum contains photosynthetic pigments, these are insufficient to support the nutrition of the adult plant which is believed to rely entirely on a mycoheterotrophic or parasitic relationship with fungi, primarily of the family Russulaceae. Seeds are among the largest produced by orchids and seedlings develop very slowly, remaining entirely below ground for 8–10 years before flowering.” 19 May 2007.

The leaves of Limodorum abortivum are reduced to mysterious scales. 19 May 2007.

Ophrys sphegodes is one of the most unpredictable orchids on the terrain, appearing on different spots every year. It´s also the earliest one to flower and distinguishable by the yellow-green sepals. 4 April 2010.

The flowers of Orchis purpurea can vary their colours considerably but this completely white specimen (´variant albiflora´) seems to be quite rare, according to Peter Zschunke on his website. 2 May 2018 17:20

Cephalanthera damasonium was first detected in 2018.

Below are shown, in alphabetical order, the distribution maps of the other orchid species present on the terrain. For the Epipactis species I have no reliable data yet, as it´s not very clear if it´s just one species (Epipactis helleborine) or several (sub-)species, but every year there appear about a dozen of them spread over the terrain, especially on the borders of woodland and grassland.

Changes in the presence of Limodorum abortivum over a 7 year period.

Changes in the presence of Ophrys apifera over a 10 year period.

Ophrys insectifera was first discovered in 2009.

No data of Orchis purpurea for 2018, but numbers and distribution have grown little by little over the years.

Only data of Ophrys sphegodes from the year 2013, as it flowers quite eary in the year and escapes the survey later in spring.

Changes in the presence of Ophrys scolopax over a 10 year period.