Saturday 13 December 2014

Rat Problem

We noticed a few rat burrows close to the chicken feed area. I have not seen any rats themselves, but if we block the holes by collapsing them they are soon repaired. We don't like the idea of poison bait as other animals may find the corpses. We've tried metal vermin traps to try to catch the rats live, but without success. The rats are clever enough to remove the bait without springing the traps.

This week I purchased 5 kilograms of Dry Ice pellets. In the process of a couple of applications we stuffed the entrances of the burrows with Dry Ice. This vaporises producing carbon dioxide gas which fills the tunnel system and fumigates the rat burrows by asphyxiating the vermin. It is quick and painless.

Since application we've seen no rat activity. This is not the cheapest solution with Dry Ice costing about £10 per kilo in small quantities, but it avoids causing harm to other animals or birds.  There is no residue left in the soil.

Update: One week later.
I was too optimistic, the rat activity started up again. It seems their burrow system was much larger than we'd estimated and the CO2 gas didn't reach everywhere. We've given in and tried rat poison. (Tomcat Bait). Our particular horde of rats seem to be immune to the poison (Bromadiolone) as they have munched through 1.5 Kilo's of bait in less than a week. The guidance is to never under-bait!  Just as I arrived on site with a batch of different poison I found our first dead rat. Overall their activity seems much reduced, so fingers crossed it may have worked.

Update 13th May 2015
The new bait seems to have worked; there are no rats living close to the chicken run. I keep the bait topped up and it gradually decreases, I think this is from visiting rats.

Monday 24 November 2014

Complexities in creating an orchard

It pays to look and think when planning work on agricultural land. When we purchased the land just over a year ago our solicitor did the usual searches for drains and pipes close to the land but nothing unusual showed up. We also ran our own internet searches with the national grid and nothing showed. Once we'd cleared the undergrowth around the hedges we noticed a couple of marker posts just inside the boundary fence of our neighbouring farmer. The detail plates were missing from both marker posts.

The posts were clearly quite old and covered with lichen. There were no obvious clue as to what utilities lay nearby. None of the local people seemed to know what services were represented or whether they no longer existed. After a lot of work tracking down old plans we were able to find the record to two pipes crossing the adjoining field.

One of the pipes is an old water clay pipe with a six inch diameter. This is now disused. A little further away to the south is a more modern plastic pipe (18 cm) also believe to be carrying clean water. I'm not sure when these pipes were laid, but there are no signs of soil disturbance, though the plans I've seen a date of July 1993 for the plastic pipe.

The small circle on the plastic pipe in the plan represents either a bowser point (A point on a water supply system where it is planned to put one or more water bowsers in the event of disruption to normal water supplies)  or an inspection hatch (A vertical access shaft from ground level to a surface
water sewer to allow cleaning, inspection, connections and repairs). We need to do some more investigation to establish the exact location because even though the pipe is not on our land it can influence what we plant.

Recommendations for tree and surface planting:
• Poplar and willow trees should not be planted within 10m of the water main
• The following trees should not be planted within 6m of the pipeline – ash, beech, birch,
most conifers, elm, horse chestnut, lime, oak, sycamore, apple and pear
• No shrubs or bushes should be planted within 1m of the centre line of the pipeline
• The following shallow rooted shrubs/bushes are suitable for screening purposes in close
proximity to water mains – blackthorn, broom, cotoneaster, elder, hazel, laurel, privet, quickthorn,
snowberry and most ornamental flowering shrubs.

As we are planning to undertake willow spiling on the river bank we need to be sure it is 10 metres distant from the water pipeline.

Sunday 26 October 2014

ASBOs for orchard owners.

The UK Government is introducing new rules aimed at preventing the spread of invasive alien plants. Landowners are exposed to 2500 GBP fines and a criminal conviction if they don't control these plants on their land. The focus is on Japanese Knotweed and also Giant Hogweed. However they've also included Himalayan Balsam in the scope of the legislation. 

We have found some Himalayan Balsam on our orchard plot and during the year have taken action to carefully remove the plants when we find them. The problem is largely under control. The seeds seem to be carried to the field along the route of the Ecclesbourne river. There are large infestations both upstream and downstream of our stretch of the river which act as a source so it is going to be a continual process of eradication. I do wonder how the adjoining land owners/tenants will deal with their infestations. As we're on the edge of a residential area there is a risk of ASBOs (Antisocial Behaviour Orders) and a criminal record.

Other links are here.

Wednesday 22 October 2014

Electric fence progress

I spent a few hours in the orchard today to complete the main part of the installation of the electric fence. There's now five stands of fence wire installed and correctly tensioned mounted on suitable insulators. In total there is over half a kilometre of  wiring, 60 insulators  and 25 wire knot joints. Feeding the high tensile wire was really hard work because I didn't have the correct "bobbin" to roll out the wire. Instead I had to work from the coil of wire. The coil was constantly threatening to explode into a birds nest of wire tangle. I had to feed each inch of wire carefully whilst keeping a tight grasp on the main wire coil.

The Gripple line tensioning tool (Torq) worked superbly and made the job of tensioning the wire really straight forward. Tomorrow I'll be ordering the lead/acid  batteries to power the fence.
Five strand Electric fence at Turnditch Orchard
Electric fence at Turnditch Orchard

Edit 25/10/2014

The electric fence is connected and live as of 5 pm today. The connection process was straightforward as a consequence of the careful planning work and preparatory effort. The "hot" wire strands are interconnected at various points along the length to ensure maximum connectivity and to minimise any power leakage, The measured voltage on all strands is 7000 volts. The bottom strand will not normally be connected to the power, but will be configured as a ground wire.

Edit 15/01/2015
We were beginning to wonder if we'd wasted money and effort on the electric fence. However when we drove past the site today and noticed the sheep were back in the adjoining farmer's field. The fence seems to be keeping the sheep out of our orchard. Yippee!

Friday 17 October 2014

Busy in the Orchard today

I spent most of the day in the orchard driving fence posts into the ground. I had to dig holes a metre deep for the larger posts and used a 20 kilogram post driver for the other wooden posts.  I covered 120 metres run of fencing. This will be used for the electric fence. By the end of the day the post driver was feeling very heavy. The next step is to cut back the under growth with a brush cutter before I install the insulators on the posts. I'm creating a six strand fence.

Update Sunday 20th
Yesterday I had a couple of hour's hard work to cut a swathe through the weeds and blackthorn saplings. These had sprung up on the neighbours field side of the hedge following last winter's hedging work. There's now a 120 by 2 metre strip free of weeds along the route of the electric fence. 

Today I installed the insulators on the fence posts and both the top and bottom strands of the fence. The bottom strand is high tensile galvanised steel wire it will not be electrified, but will be grounded to earth, The top strand is white polypropylene electric fence rope of approximately 7 mm diameter. It will be electrified to 8000 volts. I've chosen this to make the fence obvious to anyone passing close by to the fence. Once the Gripple fence tool arrives I'll install the other strands of the fence using 2 mm alloy wire. This wire is specially designed for the job with a very low electrical resistance to reduce voltage drop along the length of the fence. However the thin grey wire is difficult to see in poor light conditions,  hence the obvious white top strand.

I've spent a while this evening practising the knots used for fencing wire attachment of the insulators mounted on the end posts. Along the length of the fence the gap between the wooden posts is about 12 metres. I'll be placing lightweight plastic step-in posts between the wooden posts to act as wire spreaders. These will discourage sheep etc from pushing through the fence strands.

Fence is broken

As I drove past the orchard site yesterday I noticed the top wire of the new fence at the roadside was slack. I stopped to inspect it. At the lower end someone or something had pulled back a couple of metres of wire. When I followed the length of the fence, about 100 metres, I found a break in the wire. It looks like a stress break so I'm not sure what caused it. The fence after all is only one year old. Such are the trials of land ownership.

I effected a quick temporary repair and pulled the wire back into place by hand. It will need some proper tensioning and a permanent repair. The fence has a 15 year guarantee, but it seems a bit mean to call the fencer out just for a single wire break. 

As it happens I had been driving back from Lester Lowes with a pair of 8 foot  by 6 inch fence posts. I'd purchased them to form the end posts for the electric fence which I'm planning on the other side of the field. I needed to have a method of tensioning and fixing the high tensile conductor wires for the fence at each end. Last night I've decided to invest in a Gripple Torq wrench and some Gripple fixings. I can use the tool for the fence repair, the electric fence installation and also for future fence repairs. I'll no doubt do some damage to fences when I start coppicing trees on the embankment. and river bank.

Edit 21st Oct 2014

The Gripple tool arrived today. After checking a training video on YouTube I went to the orchard to fix the fence using Gripple fixings. I repaired and retensioned the fence in less than five minutes. It gave a neat strong repair.

Saturday 4 October 2014

Road closure in Turnditch

We've just discovered  in a newspaper report (Derby Telegraph) that the A517 Ashbourne Road which provides access to our orchard will be closed  during the day (9:30am - 3:30pm) by Derbyshire Country Council between 20th Oct until 10th November. The gate of our orchard is within the closed section of the road. The closed section is from the Railway Inn (B5023) to Windley Lane. For vehicles over  7.5 tonnes the diversion adds 8 miles to the journey from Cowers Lane to Ashbourne.

We'd planned a lot of works in the orchard during that period. Let's hope we can make some access arrangements otherwise it will delay our planned work, possibly by another year!

Edit: 9th Oct 2013 The inhabitants of Turnditch have made contact with the council and suggested their needs are taken in to account with the planned closures. It is believed the original plan may be modified somewhat. Local businesses losing custom for three weeks was somewhat unwelcome.

Friday 3 October 2014

Electric fence at the orchard

We're planning to install an electric fence at the orchard during the next two weeks. It will be positioned outside of the recently laid hedge on the field side of the orchard. The wire fence at the road side will not be electrified. The fence will be of a semi-permanent construction running for approximately 100 metres, with wooden posts spaced at 10-15 metres. There will be  temporary green plastic push-in posts supporting the wire between the wooden posts. Once the hedge has grown strong enough to repel browsing farm animals the fence will be removed.

The fence will be built using five strands of galvanised braided wire (1.6 mm) and a top strand of white poly-electric fence rope. The fence design is is aimed to prevent sheep from damaging the hedge or the fruit trees in the orchard. They did a lot of damage last winter.

The fence will have a powerful charge capable of penetrating the insulating wool of the sheep, probably in the region of 8000V. It is about twice the power needed for a electric fence configured for horses/cows. While the charge on the fence is not dangerous it would be very unpleasant for you if you touch the fence and get a shock. It would be similarly unpleasant for a dog.

We'll be labelling the fence according to the regulations. It will be possible to access it from the public footpath if you wander off the path and trespass into the farmer's field. However it will not affect access to the public path.

The legislation sets out specific safety regulations which must be adhered to.  These are as follows:
  • Every electric fence must carry a suitable warning sign:
    • The sign should have the size of at least 100mm x 200mm.
    • It is recommended that the basic colour of the sign be yellow with black inscription and should use the words "ELECTRIC FENCE".
    • The inscription shall be permanent, inscribed on both sides and have a height of at least 25mm.
  • An electric fence when installed in such a position that members of the public might reasonably be expected to touch it, such as along a public road or highway or as a boundary fence, should be identified by a number of warning signs (as explained above) which must be clamped to the fence wires at intervals recommended to be of approximately 10m to 50m, but not exceeding 90m.
  • A clear warning notice should also be fitted at every point where persons may have ready access to the electric wires, rope or tape. The notice should bear the words 'LIVE WIRES' in block letters not less than 13mm high, the letters should be red on a white background and the size of each notice should be not less than 62mm x 50mm overall.

Wednesday 24 September 2014

Resting at the moment

I managed to pull a muscle in my back while working in the orchard a couple of weeks ago, so I've to to put plans on hold for a few weeks while my back fully recovers. Meanwhile I've been helping friends with their new website. A local Belper Driving Instructor can be found here: Pass with Paula. If your family is looking to take up driving Paula should be your first call.

Friday 5 September 2014

Bullace season

It's reached that time of year to make the Bullace gin. The bullace plums didn't show prolific growth at the orchard this year, but we have found a couple of bushes not far away in a secret location. By picking at both sites we were able to collect a few pounds of the bullace ready for making the bullace gin.

Bullace plums from the Turnditch orchard.
Bullace from the orchard

We've now cleaned the bullace and left them steeping in five bottles of Morrison's own label premium gin and sugar in the dark of our cellar. You can buy bullace gin, but it is cheaper and more fun this way.

Having picked the bullace I decided it was time to prune the bullace bushes. They grow at the side of the river. The competition for light from the elm and hawthorn had created long leggy branches about four to five metres tall. These were sagging over the footpath and blocking easy access by vehicles. It was not only inconvenient, but exposed the bushes to damage if a tractor used the route and pushed the branches aside. I've lopped them back to about two metres in height. They should bear fruit in the next year or two. 

Bullace bush by the river, pruned.
Bullace tree cut back

While I was pruning the bush a visitor who's interested in the site called by by for a chat. He had a carrier bag of apples and plums from his own fruit trees which he kindly gave to me. Nice fruit, hopefully within a couple of years I'll be able to return the gift from our own trees.

Sunday 24 August 2014

Planting a Mulberry Tree in the orchard

A few months ago we ordered a King James Mulberry tree for the Turnditch Orchard Project. It arrived a couple of days ago, so we planted it today. It was pot grown so it is currently in leaf and can be planted any time of the year. It is also known as a Chelsea Mulberry. The tree comes from a single survivor of a plantation originally created in the UK by King James I around 1608.  It will be a few years before the tree fruits. The delicious juicy berries are very fragile and do not travel well. I predict a few of the locals will have purple stained fingers and clothes in August in future years.

A mulberry in the orchard.
Mulberry in Turnditch Orchard
The fruit looks like this:

Saturday 16 August 2014

Progress on the Drum Smoker

We're waiting for the last few parts to arrive before we fully assemble the drum smoker. We have most of the parts already including the metal shelves. We'd looked at buying a BBQ/Smoker, but for that size (57cm diameter) the prices are ridiculous at £400 for a Weber, a price which allows for a discount of 20% off list price. 

After some thought we asked a local fabricating company (Twiggs) to cut some discs of the correct diameter from flattened expanded mild steel. The cost was not excessive and the work was done promptly by Twiggs. In the picture below you can see one of the discs standing beside the smoker.

The thick hide gloves are essential for handling the grill shelves as they have razor sharp edges from the manufacturing process. The grids are mounted within the drum to form three shelves, the lowest being the charcoal level. They are each supported on three 10 cm bolts inserted through the drum walls. This arrangement seems to be sufficiently robust to support a substantial cooking load.

Each of the upper two shelves will provide approximately one square metre of cooking area.

We've also started the process of installing the air vents at the lower end of the drum. These are fabricated from brass 22mm plumbing fittings mounted through the drum wall. The design will allow the air flow into the drum to be adjusted during the cooking/smoking process. Thus providing temperature control by restricting the amount of air available to the charcoal. In operation the lid will be placed on the top of the drum. It will be fitted with an adjustable smoke vent.

Edit 18th Aug 2014: We've built the smoker, with the exception of the thermometers. Those were ordered over the internet, have been despatched and are expected any day now. We've undergone a first test firing with a small load of charcoal and all seems well.

Wednesday 13 August 2014

Building an Ugly Drum Smoker.

We're building an Ugly Drum Smoker/Barbecue (UDS) on the orchard site from an used 50 gallon steel drum. We'll use this to cook pork and beef "low and slow over charcoal" in the American style for guests at the orchard. If you've not tasted this type of food before let me assure you it is delicious and the meat is tender and soft.

The UDS will be used elsewhere in support of charity fund raising events and also for our family events. Cooking times of 5 - 10 hours are not unusual, but it is well worth the wait. It is possible to buy these smokers ready made, but they tend to be very expensive except for the small ones. 

The drum was delivered a couple of days ago. It had been previously used to transport sour cherry juice. It was in good condition, washed clean and no rust. However the first step of the process in building a smoker/barbecue is to strip the original paint from the drum and replace it with heat resisting paint. The original paint would not withstand the barbecue heat and would taint the food being cooked in the unit. The most easy way to achieve this is to light a hot fire in the drum and burn off the paint.

In the picture above you can see the drum was originally painted green on the outside and a clear protective lacquer inside the drum. We piled in some cardboard, scrap timber and applied a lighted match to set the fire in motion. We then left the site for a few hours to allow time for the fire to burn out. On our return most of the paint had burned off the surface of the drum, but we took also a paraffin flame gun to burn off any remaining paint.

Once the steel drum had cooled down we set to work with Aluminium Oxide sandpaper. It took an hour's hard manual work to clean off the paint residue on the outside of the drum. We hand sanded right down to the shiny bare steel. When the surface had been prepared we sprayed three coats of black heat resisting stove paint over the outside of the drum. The inside needs no further preparation or cleaning at this stage of the construction.

Reading the instructions on the spray can revealed we had to heat the paint to cure it to the final finish. This required we heat the drum to an operational temperature and maintain it for at least an hour. We fixed this by placing a bag of quick lighting charcoal on the ground, lighting it and leaving it until the charcoal was burning well. We tipped the drum over the fire (mouth down) so the heat from the charcoal would heat the drum to an operational temperature. and thus cure the paint. A couple of supporting bricks helped ensure an air gap to feed the fire.

Once we'd made sure the fire was going well and the drum achieving a working temperature, we left and will visit the site tomorrow morning. The quality of paint finish on the drum was very good.

Monday 11 August 2014

Important Hedge in Turnditch Orchard.

It turns out the hedge we had re-laid is an "Important Hedgerow" under the terms of the  Hedgerows Regulations 1997 which were made under Section 97 of the Environment Act 1995 and came into operation in England and Wales on 1 June 1997. The hedge forms the boundary between our orchard and the farmer's fields to the south. As such it is protected from removal and destruction. 

The reason why it is classified as Important is it marks the boundary between two parishes prior to 1850, it being on the parish boundary between Turnditch parish and the Shotlle and Postern parish.

The hedge at the river end of the field is also under the same category because the public footpath runs closely parallel. Under the regulations having a footpath or bridleway close to the hedge makes it classified as Important and thus protected.

The trees in the woodland on the embankment adjoining the orchard are regulated under the Forestry Act 1967 which imposes limits on which trees can be felled. They control the amount of timber which can be felled (up to 5 Cu M per calendar quarter) and allow some exemptions for pruning, thinning, pollarding and coppicing. The plans we have for tidying and maintaining the woodland will fall within the exemptions. We are planning gradual coppicing spread over three years. It does does however mean we'd have to apply for a felling licence if we were to need to fell the large old Ash tree on the south hedge.

Tuesday 5 August 2014

Burning blackthorn brash wood

I had a busy day yesterday burning piles of blackthorn cut during the hedging process in February/March. We tried to burn the stuff then, but it was too difficult to ignite, even when we used copious amounts of kerosene [paraffin] oil.  The wood burns a lot better now having had the chance to dry during the summer months. We've found the trick to starting the fire is to use a pile of cardboard boxes to start the fire. The methods we learned years ago as scouts about starting camp fires are just too slow and painstaking. The main problem is that nettles, thistles and grass have grown up through the piles of blackthorn branches making them difficult to move to the fire.  It is hot sweaty work hauling branches two at a time to the place of the fire. You definitely need tough hide gauntlets to protect your hands from the vicious thorns on these branches.

It was easy to create roaring two metre flames with little smoke in the fire. It was too hot to approach within three metres at times, but it needed constant work to feed the fire. We're now left with just three large piles of branches on our side of the fence. They were too difficult to move due to the interwoven branches, thistles, grass and stinging nettles. I think I will carefully burn those in place, making sure the fire does not get too big and damage the nearby fruit trees.   I'll use the flame gun to create some fire breaks.

This leaves several piles of thorn branches in the neighbouring field which will require disposal before the stock fence is installed to protect the hedge.

During the work I was also reminded what a pain horseflies can be at this time of the year. I'd last come across horse flies in the Black Forest in Germany when I was a child on holiday. On one of the days I had neglected to use insect repellent and was bitten on the back of my hand by a horsefly. Fortunately I spotted it fairly quickly and received only a minor bite. It was itchy rather than painful, The insect was promptly squashed. It is the female of the species which needs a feed of blood before it can lay its eggs. 

Horse Fly
I have found that Avon's Skin So Soft Dry Oil which is sold as a cosmetic is actually quite an effective insect repellent. It contains citronella in its formulation. I was a bit dubious at first, but bought a bottle as a trial. I have found the flies do not bother me on the orchard when I've applied this stuff. I'm not too keen on the DEET  based insect repellents as I've seen what those can do to plastics.

Sunday 3 August 2014

The new winch arrives

We've taken delivery of a new Ace wire rope hoist/winch, wire rope, some associated lifting strops and snatch blocks. It is the same style as a Tirfor winch. The equipment has a lifting capacity of two tonnes. This purchase was in preparation for the work necessary to tidy up the river bank and the woodland at the Turnditch orchard.

In the river we'll use the equipment to lift a fallen tree from the river bed, The winch will also be used to haul out the elm tree trunks we'll be cutting down as described before. Our first action will be to cut a couple of stout 4 metre Ash spars from the woodland. These will be used to form a sheerleg lifting frame. The sheerlegs will be combined with the winch to form a crane to lift the heavy items.

Fallen tree on Ecclesbourne at Turnditch
Fallen tree creates partial blockage on Ecclesbourne river bed
Later in the autumn we'll be using the wire rope and winch to prevent trees from falling in the wrong direction when we fell them as part of the coppicing work.

End of day update: I tried out the winch combined with ropes,slings and the snatch block. It worked extremely well. I was able to fell an elm tree and drop it through a two metre gap, thus avoiding damage to the newly laid hedge.

Monday 28 July 2014

Investigating the river

We spent Sunday morning at the orchard site. I'd been intending for some time to get my wellington boots on and go along the river during the low summer water levels. As long as I avoided the obvious deeper areas I was okay and didn't get boots full of water. The banks are about 2.5 metres above the riverbed and quite steep, I pre-fixed a knotted rope to a tree so I'd be able to climb out again. 

One side of the orchard is a road embankment which leads to a railway bridge from the river. The road was built across the floodplain when the railway was first built, so quite a substantial amount of landfill was used to create the "hill" leading to the bridge. The bottom section of our field which forms the river bank has also had some build up of fill to allow access to the  road. It looks like the fill material was quarry chippings. Over the past 150 years this has been overgrown and no longer looks artificial. However when the river runs in full spate in the winter rains it fills almost to the top of our river banks. The river is a very different beast from the gentle brook of the summer months. The flooding causes erosion of the material dumped to form the ramp up to the road. 

Riverbank washout
Wash-out of the river bank

The washed out materiel is then dumped on the river bed. You can see the results of this in the above picture. The rubble is limestone chippings and appears to have built up above the normal level of the river bed. The picture below shows the roots of elm trees which have been exposed by the erosion of the bank during periods of river spate/flood.

Erosion of tree roots River Ecclesbourne
Eroded tree roots on the river bank

We'll be removing these compromised trees in the autumn and as mentioned in an earlier blog replacing them with  live willow spiling to control the erosion of the river bank. During this inspection process I was assisted by two young apprentices. They  seemed to be intent on making much splashing in the river.

Apprentice river bank surveyors

We also managed some weed clearance, particularly the Himalayan Balsam  which is an unwanted invasive species. This is going to be an on-going battle because the weed is is rampant upstream and down stream of our site. We can at least prevent the seeds being formed on our land. There are some legal responsibilities in dealing with this weed.

Himalayan Balsam on the river bank

Sunday 27 July 2014

Turnditch Orchard Barbecue Sauce

I threw together a barbecue sauce for a BBQ in the orchard today. It was gorgeous, so I must record it before I forget the details.

3 English mustard sachets 
4 Tomato Ketchup sachets
1 glup of Rapeseed Oil
1 glup of Sherry Vinegar
5 shakes of  Lee & Perrins Worcester sauce
1 sachet of Golden Syrup Maple
1 pinch of Cumin powder
2 sachets of salt
1 sachet of ground black pepper
1 half tube of tomato puree
1 small glass of cloudy pear juice
1 half palm full of dried mixed herbs
1 half palm full of demerara sugar

Place all in a glass bowl and sloosh it around with a fork until the sugar and golden syrup have dissolved. and you are ready to go. Use it as a marinade, or coat  with the sauce the meat just before barbecuing slowly.

For the purpose of this recipe; sachets means those small ones designed for catering/cafe dining tables.

We're building an Ugly Drum Smoker (UDS) from a used 50 gallon steel barrel. The UDS will see service in the orchard as we use it to slowly cook pork shoulder, pork ribs and beef brisket over charcoal. In this context slow means several hours. The sauce will help to add flavour to the food.

Saturday 19 July 2014

Elm trees diseased and need removal

It is clear on in inspection some of the small elm trees near the river have become diseased and should be removed. This summer they suffered sudden and severe leaf wilt.  I've marked the affected ones with arborist spray paint (blue) and as soon as the bird nesting season is over we'll be in with the chain saw, winches and ropes to remove the affected trees. They are clustered around the river end of the field.

Diseased and wilted Elm leaves in Turnditch orchard
Wilted Elm leaves at the Orchard

We'll dispose of the diseased wood on site in large bonfires. This will avoid spreading the infection elsewhere. It is a pity to destroy elm trees which are no longer a common species, but if they are infected there is no option.

I saw some trout in the river Ecclesbourne while I was checking the trees. The water level is at the summer lows at present, so in places it is only a few inches deep, but the fish seem happy enough. They looked like brown trout. Part of the river bed is now above water. It looks like crushed stone debris. Possibly the debris is the result of the river bank erosion caused during the winter flooding. It demonstrates the need to undertake some bank reinforcement works with live willow spiling.

Tuesday 15 July 2014

Finally building the tool shed

We've been able to spend some more time in the orchard. This time the focus was on building the tool shed. It was a flat pack metal construction. The package was too heavy for one person to lift, so we ferried it in sections to the site over several trips. My wife is greatly pleased it is no longer cluttering the hallway in Belper.

I'd laid a concrete base last November which had been hiding and curing under a plastic sheet until now.  So we at least had a head start on the construction process. I was a bit worried the base might not have been accurately laid, but my fears were unfounded. The shed assembly process showed only tiny inaccuracies in the concrete base. I've built in some security features which are not obvious to casual inspection from the outside of the shed. We are also using Smartwater to mark any items temporarily stored in the shed.

According the instructions contained in the pack the assembly process is listed as taking 3- 5 hours by two people. I feel that figure is rather optimistic. It might be true on the factory floor by two experienced personnel, but we have spent far longer in reality. The instructions were surprisingly clear with only a couple of errors. Some of the time has been spent talking to people from the village who pop by and are quite intrigued to find out what is happening at the orchard site.

The completed tool shed in Turnditch Orchard
The completed tool shed

I 've taken to running a small wood fire while I was working on the shed. The smoke seems to successfully deter annoying biting insects from lurking on the trees in the area. We've using a small incinerator bin for the gradual removal of odd pieces  of wood from fallen branches and trees that we've cut down. While we've been working I have noticed the Elm trees are not at all healthy and have suffered sudden wilting. I'll be removing those quite soon as they must be a source of infection. It is a pity.

The shed dimensions or an 8x4 ft base with a height at the front of 5 ft at the front of the sloping roof, so it is not quite high enough to stand up in.

Wednesday 2 July 2014

Deadwood removed

We were at the orchard briefly today to cut away some infected deadwood from the Guinevere Plum. There are some promising green shoots lower down, but toward the top of the tree there are clear signs of infection including little orange spots on the "trunk" of this small tree. Hopefully we've caught the infection in time, but only time will tell. I believe it is called "Coral Spot fungus, a sure sign the wood is dead just there.


Thursday 26 June 2014

Strimmer Rash

I have discovered one of the risks of letting the grass and wild flora grow in the Orchard. I woke this morning to find red blotches, weals and some blisters on my arms. It is where they'd been exposed to a combination of the debris from weed strimming and direct sunlight. It is apparently called Phytophotodermatitis  caused by the sap of Hogweed and Cow Parsley (Umbelliferae species) from the strimming debris causing my skin to react to the sunlight. There's an article about it here.  

Fortunately I'd been wearing gauntlets and a full face visor/helmet while using the brush cutter/strimmer a couple of days ago, so it is only my forearms which have been affected. Owing to the warm summer weather I was wearing a short sleeve shirt. I should have known better. This should clear up in a week or two, thanks to the ministrations of a friendly Nurse Practitioner who diagnosed and recommended treatment.

In future I'll wear a full body disposable coverall protective garment when I do this type of work on the orchard. They are not expensive. They have elasticated cuffs. The downside is the protective suits get quite warm if one is active. You just might see me taking some clothes off before donning the bunny suit.

Note I am talking about Common Hogweed (Heracleum Sphondylium) which has leaves that can be cooked and eaten when young. The Giant Hogweed (Heracleum Mantegazzianum) is much more nasty proposition, I'd wear protective clothing and a flame gun to remove that!

Treatment: In my case, antihistamine tablet followed by twice daily hydrocortisone 1% cream lightly applied to the affected areas. At night an application of sudocrem on the affected areas. Gently wash twice a day using tea tree oil shower gel and pat affected areas dry with a clean towel. The sudocrem and tea tree oil reduce the chance of secondary bacterial or fungal infection. 

Note (17/04/2015) that the damage to my skin persisted for several months

Wednesday 25 June 2014

First apple in the Orchard

When checking the orchard we saw the first apple growing on the Cobra apple tree. We're not expecting any fruit this year as the trees are young and will have to overcome the shock of transplanting into their new home in Turnditch Orchard. It will be interesting to see if the apple survives through to maturity in the autumn. The crab apples are loaded with tiny fruit, but at the moment we don't count them as fruit, but rather as a decorative pollinator plant.

Our first Cobra Apple in the orchard

We are allowing clumps of Comfrey to grow as their flowers are a good source of food for bees. The foliage also makes a good base for fertiliser. At the moment it is all looking very healthy and prolific.

Wild Comfrey in the Turnditch Orchard

We have had a bit of a failure with the Guinevere Plum tree. It was supplied as a potted three year old tree complete with root ball, but for some reason a lot of it has died back. However there is some signs of partial growth, so we'll get the secateurs out in the autumn and prune back the deadwood.

Struggling plum tree in the Orchard

Overall we are pleased with progress. Both the quince and the walnut tree are looking particularly healthy and happy in their new locations. The walnut tree will be fed by the body of our faithful old dog Rocky who was buried by it's roots in the Spring. Rocky lived to be 23 years old and now has the job of guarding the orchard. He was a Staffordshire Bull Terrier Labrador Cross who we took in as a rescue dog when he was 6 years old.

Rocky, died 2014  aged  23