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.