Sunday 26 January 2014

Rotten trees in the roadside hedge

The fencing contractors employed to install the wire stock fence, on the roadside of the orchard site, cut back some of the hedge bushes. This was fine by us. They needed relatively straight lines of sight for the fencing process which involves tensioning the wire. 

However the trimming back exposed several small trees of up to 15 cm (6 in) diameter which were rotten through to the core. I was able to push these trees over by hand. They then fell down the embankment into our field site. It would not have been good if winds had pushed them in the opposite direction on to the road. It is yet more urgent work needed to tidy the woodland on the embankment. The rotten trees were mostly Elm and Hawthorn. I'll collect the rotten trunks and store them either on the embankment or in a corner of the field so any wood boring grubs inside are not disturbed.

We'd intended to do this tidying work during November and December of last year but the temporary loss of my driving licence (a single 30 second blackout) has greatly impaired our ability to transport equipment to the site. Hopefully the Government officials will decide I've been punished enough for the single isolated health event and return my licence to me. Otherwise progress on the work of setting up the orchard will be impaired. It is unlikely the orchard will ever generate enough income to pay for the extensive use of contractors. There's just a couple of months left before the birds nesting season starts which will put a stop to any major works in the woodland.

Friday 24 January 2014

Planting the Willow

Today we were hard at work planting 100 willow wands (1.5 Metres tall) on the Orchard site.  We've planted Salix Viminalis which is a fast growing native plant. It will grow about two metres higher in the first year. We'll prune it in the late autumn of 2014 to encourage side growth.

Planting Willow.
Planting willow wands

We planted the wands through metre wide woven textile membrane which you can see in the picture above. The membrane mat is laid on the ground and will suppress other plants which might compete with the willow as it establishes its root system in the ground. The edges of the membrane have been pinned down with special plastic pegs driven into the ground. Later we'll cover the membrane with wood chippings.

We're protecting the base of willow with clear plastic spiral tubes. This will help to prevent damage from rabbits nibbling the bark, We've planted the willow grove close to the line of the ditch which has been filled in during previous owners of the land. The wands are planted about 50 cms apart.

Aside from the usual mix of birds we saw a grey squirrel and a mouse (or vole?) on the land today.

Complete planting of willow
Complete 100 wands planted

Wednesday 22 January 2014

Early signs of spring

The river is still in spate today after the heavy rain over the past few weeks. The picture below shows the current level and some debris from a fallen tree.  This picture was taken from the road bridge. We're planing to clean the bank side and remove many of the failed trees. In their place we'll be planting some willow to consolidate the banks Their thick roots can withstand water logging in the soil and will dig down deeply binding the soil against flood erosion.

We noticed some snowdrop flowers on the field under the hedges and also in the open ground. You'd not normally find snowdrops in fields grazed by farm animals as they may be toxic. It is a further suggestion that some garden soil has been dumped on the field. I also noted some buds were beginning to swell on some of the twigs. Let's hope there not a cold spell in February to burn this sign of life.

Roadside fence completed.

The contractor (Red Hill Fencing) visited the field yesterday and installed the new roadside stock fence at the top of the embankment. We'd chosen a lightweight fence wire as it is not likely to need to resist any heavy animals. Red Hill have done a really good job and we are very pleased with the result. Now there no chance of animals straying on to the embankment from the road. There's a strand wire fence at the foot of the embankment which prevents large animals from straying from the field.

New fence at the Turnditch Orchard site.
Over the next few years we'll regrow the hedgerow behind the stock fence using typical Derbyshire hedgerow trees and shrubs. Much of the old wood will be cleared during the coppicing process. When the hedge has regrown we'll have it re-layed in a traditional style removing the stock fence when it's secure. This was an cost unanticipated when we purchased the site, but is necessary for safety's sake. We'd thought the hedge was in better condition  than it really was.

We already had a positive comment from one of the neighbours who was pleased he could walk along the roadside foot path unimpeded. The clearance work by us and the contractor means people no longer have to step into the road.

Monday 20 January 2014

Muddy boots in the Orchard

The heavy rains of recent weeks have caused the land at the Turnditch Orchard Project to become rather water logged. It didn't help much having a herd of unwanted sheep feeding in the area. Their hooves have compacted the wet soil somewhat. On old maps I can see signs of an old water course across the land. This is is in addition to the River Ecclesbourne at one end of the field. This water course has been filled in at some point by a previous owner, but it hasn't removed the need for drainage. There's now a large puddle which traces the route of the water course.  The gentleman we have employed to re-lay the hedge also reports the ground is quite boggy as it sucks at his wellington boots.

Clearly we need to take some action to ensure the land is well drained if we want to grow fruit trees successfully. We've decided to fall back on an old technique used for hundreds of years to help de-water the land. We are going to plant willow in the affected area. Its roots can withstand waterlogged soil and in the summer it also transpires about 4 times as much water as other common trees. We've ordered 100 willow saplings (Salix Viminalis), some spiral tree guards, and some matting to cover the soils where we plant the willow. This  matting will suppress any weed growth while the willow sapling become established. We'll be planting these around the area of the watercourse in the next couple of weeks.

The Viminalis is native to the UK and will grow about two metres in the first year.  At the end of the year we'll pollard the willow at about chest height. This will encourage regrowth which we can harvest in later years for basket weaving supplies or firewood. We've decided on the use of pollarding rather than coppicing as a defence against sheep/rabbits attacking the bark, they are less likely to chew the older bark below one metre. We'll also use some of the willow we grow in spiling the river bank as mentioned earlier in this blog. This willow is also very conducive to insect life which in term attract a variety of birds, so there should be an increase in the natural diversity over that provided by hawthorn/blackthorn in that part of the field.

Saturday 4 January 2014

Stung in Farm and Builder's Mechant. (720% overcharge)

Ironic that I was praising Lester Lowe (Kniveton Ashbourne)  in a previous posting. They just charged me £15.12 for 2 boxes of fire lighters. These would cost about a £1 a box in the supermarket. I'd popped in to buy a post knocker this morning and while I was waiting in the queue to pay I noticed fire lighters on a nearby shelf. I remembered we needed some at home so I picked up a couple of boxes then paid in cash at the till. You can see a copy of the invoice here. I did think  at the time the bill was a bit high, but I was in a rush. It was not until we got home I realised I'd been grossly overcharged.

I've since phoned them and said I'll bring the invoice in for a refund next time I'm in the area. The correct price was £1 (ex VAT) per box.

Friday 3 January 2014

Hedging started at the Orchard.

We called in at a local agricultural and building supplies merchant (Lester Lowe) yesterday afternoon to pick up a couple of bundles of fencing stakes. The merchant offers cracking good value for fencing timber. We'd calculated we'd need something in the order of 100 stakes. We plan to use some for staking the fruit trees and also providing fence enclosures for the trees. Our hedging contractor Adrian also mentioned he needed a few stakes. The stakes are rough sawn untreated wood about 1.5 metres in length and about 4 cm square. The first problem we faced was getting them to the site as we didn't want to hang around awaiting a delivery, so we took our Freelander car to the Lester Low site. With the back seats folded down we just managed to cram the 100 stakes into the back of the vehicle and squeeze the door shut.

Turnditch Orchard sheep damaged trees
Trees damaged by the sheep

We drove on to the Turnditch site to drop off the stakes. We found Adrian working on the site starting to clear some of the overgrown hedgerow ready for laying. He was quite concerned about the potential damage caused by the sheep chewing the bark of the bushes he'd cut down. They'd already damaged some hawthorn, but left the blackthorn alone. It looks like we need to install a temporary stock fence on our neighbours land to protect the hedge from the sheep for a few months. We've tried to contact the neighbouring farmer last night to discuss the options.  Oh the joys of restoring farmland, more expense!
Hedge laying in the Turnditch orchard site.

Adrian also mentioned the gully under the embankment. His thoughts were that we could see some flood waters coming through from the other side of the road if the Ecclesbourne River flooded those fields with the heavy winter rains. He'd found the location where he was working had become quite boggy with the action of the sheep hooves and the wet conditions.

Wednesday 1 January 2014

Bullace Gin

We mentioned earlier our creation of a Bullace Gin using wild fruits gathered from the orchard site. It is very similar to Sloe Gin and is simple to make. The taste is vary "moreish" and it was a popular Christmas gift to family and friends. We had made a couple of litres of this nectar made from local fruit. We even had enough to reward the local butcher with a quarter bottle for his excellent service during the year.

The process of making the Bullace Gin is straight forward. You simply fill one or more large wide necked bottles half full with the fruit, add some demerara sugar using a funnel then top up the bottle with Gin. Seal the bottles.  Leave them in a cool dark room for a few months, agitating the bottles a couple of times a week. Just before Christmas decant the liquid contents into smaller clean bottles and voilĂ  you have a great drink to share with other adults. It is a deceptively strongly alcoholic drink, so remember to warn people who might be driving afterwards.