Winter has well and truly arrived here at The Big Raise and the pond is full for the first time since the spring of 2018. Hurrah!

Wood burner

Our wood burner heats most of the house pretty effectively. It takes about two hours to get the living room from 12C to 20C. By the end of the next day, when the walls have warmed up, the living room gets up to 23–24C. A fan motor allows us to pump hot air from the fireplace to about two-thirds of the house. When we do that, the bedrooms reach 18–20C quite quickly.

The other third of the house is heated with (locally made!) electric radiators, which is renewably sourced but expensive, so we’re planning to install 20kW of solar panels on the barn this summer. The aim is to produce more electricity than we use and to sell the surplus to the grid.

Blanche putting a protection on a chestnut

“Just like putting on a big condom,” she says!

We’ve started planting sweet chestnuts and hazelnuts in the small field behind Steve’s Wood. This will give us the option of making and selling nut butter, oil and flour in 10 years’ time. And if we decide we don’t want to commercialise our nuts, well then, we’ll have reforested a small corner of France!

Alexis in the orchard

Here (above) are some peach trees in the orchard that we grew from stones. Peach trees are, as far as we know, the only fruit trees that grow true from their seeds. All other fruit trees are grafted because otherwise they revert to the wild version ie apples to crab apples. (N.B. Several fruit tree specialists took umbrage with this simplistic view of the world! Their comments are reproduced at the bottom of this article. Thanks Olivier and Thibault!)

Bottled fruit

We’ve just started opening the first of the bottled foods. Tomatoes, beans, peaches – it all tastes just like summer!

Alexis leading course participants back from the field

Our courses are going really well. February, March, April and May 2020 are all now waiting list only. June 2020 (Permaculture & Meditation) still has a few places. We’re thinking of putting on an extra Permaculture and Vegan Cooking course on in July because, after a slow start, that’s what most people seem to want to do! Watch out for some new offerings – Permaculture & Foraging and Permaculture & Fermentation – in the back half of 2020.

Thelma + Louis chilling out

Thelma and Louis have been hanging out in the Paris flat quite a lot this winter because we have too. They’re not best pleased about it. No mice to catch and eat, no barns to rummage around in, no fences and trees to climb, and dreadful (very expensive, perfectly balanced, organic) canned cat food. Poor little darlings.

Comments on how fruit trees propagate

Olivier G:

- Any fruit tree (of any kind) can grow from a seed or stone.
- The risk that your tree will not produce the fruit you want is important – and it’s true that for peach trees this risk is less.
For plum trees too, seedlings can produce very good fruit (but which will not look like Reine Claude or Mirabelle plums even if the stones come from these trees).
- They “go wild” is not a very appropriate term – it’s just that natural genetics won’t give you the phenotypic characteristics (beautiful fruit, juicy, tasty) you want, unless you are lucky (it’s possible but very unlikely) – that’s how today’s varieties were bred -> by selecting little by little the traits we want in fruit.
- In order to free ourselves from this very strong genetic risk, we prefer to graft varieties whose characteristics we like – much less randomly? But less natural – and indeed, you might as well use rootstocks sown directly on your land (to develop a good tap root and self-sufficiency in water).

Thibault L

Almost all fruit trees are reproducible by seed, but the resulting tree will usually be a cross between the tree from which the fruit (and therefore the seed) is taken and another tree of the same species (not necessarily of the same variety). The result will be an effectively unknown phenotype, but the “new variety” created will be more adapted to the soil of the parent trees.

Grafting has nothing to do with this, it allows varieties to be adapted to a terroir by “sticking” two different varieties of the same species together, the trees do not become “wild” in this way.

On the other hand, it is important to know that a direct sowing of a tree will allow the tap root to develop fully while a pot will constrain it (grafting or not). The tree will then be self-sufficient in water, will not need support and will be much more resistant thanks to the endemic symbioses.

Two videos to support my claims: