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.

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