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

Tuesday 24 June 2014

Local angling club pays a visit

I was hard at work cutting down overgrown grass and thistles in the orchard site yesterday when the officials of the local angling club paid a visit. We'd spoken on the phone before but it was good to meet them in person. They were spending some time cutting down Himalayan Balsam while awaiting delivery of 200 young grayling fish. They are re-introducing the grayling into the River Ecclesbourne. The young fish had been raised in a local fish farm using grayling parents borrowed from the nearby River Derwent. I was leaving for some well earned lunch just as the car arrived carrying two large plastic bags containing water and fish. The release of fish was supervised by the local nature conservancy organisation.

We are really pleased with the progress of the hedges which we'd had relaid earlier this year. There are some gaps in the hedge we'll need to deal with, but overall it has been very successful. Even though it seemed expensive at £11/metre compared with wire stock fence at £4/metre the results are worth the extra expenditure. 
Ash shoots in relaid hedge

We particularly pleased that the ash trees which were extensively damaged by sheep during the winter have pulled through and are successfully sprouting after pleaching and laying of the restored hedgerow. The hungry sheep had almost completely ring-barked the trees. In the picture below you can see the see the same tree/sapling after the sheep damage (it is the thicker light brown trunk).

We're still waiting for a quote from a local fencing contractor to provide a stock fence to protect the hedge from grazing animals. It's only been three months delay so far! This chap was recommended by our neighbouring farmer, but it is stretching our patience a bit, so we'll probably go back to the contractor we used for the roadside stock fence. 

Last autumn we experimentally felled three Ash trees to evaluate how well they'd respond to coppicing. During the past couple of days we've noticed there is some lively regrowth around the base of the felled tree.  This is important as we want to make sure the trees on the embankment slopes continue to live after coppicing. If they die away it could be bad for soil stability.

We're not completely mowing the field. We're leaving some stands of grass and natural plants we'll allow to grow to full height. This will help to improve diversity while not allowing the weeds to rampage.

Saturday 14 June 2014

More wildflowers

We were at the orchard site yesterday to install some posts around the fruit trees. To our delight we found some Common Spotted Orchid growing where we'd cut the grass. It's good to see some wild flower there.