Monday 28 December 2015

The Committee Visit to the orchard

The Committee undertook its annual inspection visit to the Turnditch Orchard Project this morning to assess the work done by the Management and Volunteer Team. They expressed satisfaction with the progress of the work. The visitors retired to a local pub shortly afterwards to celebrate the success.

Monday 21 December 2015

More trees in the orchard

We were able to plant some more trees in the orchard at the weekend. We planted a Medlar tree (Nottingham), an American Red Oak and a Ginko tree. We also covered the concrete beam by the gate with soil, so other than the fence post no trace remains of the civil engineering work.

Ginko Leaves

Medlar fruit and leaves
Red Oak

Friday 18 December 2015

Why are things never simple in the orchard?

Finally on Thursday we were able to pour concrete to form a beam to support the new gate post and fence posts on the top of the river bank at the Turnditch orchard. The beam is about two metres long and approximately sixty cm square in profile. It took roughly 2/3 of a cubic metre, about 1.5 tonnes, of ST4 grade concrete with added polyester fibre to reduce cracking to complete the beam.  The actual pour process only took about 30 minutes from the time the mixer lorry arrived. We now have to leave the beam for a couple of weeks to harden somewhat before setting up the posts. 

Concrete beam supporting gate post

In the picture you can see the fence post cast  in place. It looks a bit tilted, but that is just caused by the camera angle. According to the  builder's level it is well squared and vertical. At the base of the post you can make out a couple of layers of plastic bubble wrap. This was added to increase the diameter of the post socket hole in the concrete. We'll lift the post, remove the bubble wrap, and then reinstall the post with dry sand packing. This will allow subsequent removal of the post for maintenance without damage to the concrete beam. 

You can also see a dummy post embedded in the concrete. This also has bubble wrap and acts as a form for the socket hole in the concrete for the gate post. When we are ready to install a gate post we'll pull out the dummy post leaving a clean hole for the new post. 

There is a matrix of steel reinforcing bars hidden and embedded in the concrete to strengthen the beam. The steel is carefully designed to resist the potential stresses from the posts. During the next few days we'll cover up the concrete beam with aggregate/soil from the original hole so people will be unaware of the minor civil engineering buried beneath. As mentioned in an earlier post this work will help to prevent river bank collapse so close to the road bridge. 
It was a lot of work, when all we were expecting was to drive a post in for a short fence on the river side bank.

Wednesday 2 December 2015

Civil engineering in the orchard?

As we work through the plans for the gates to the orchard site it is beginning to sound like a civil engineering project. We've worked out we'll need about half a cubic metre of medium strength concrete to cast the beam required to support the riverside gate/fence posts. We've phoned around various suppliers to discuss the options and it seems a mix-to-order truck which mixes the concrete on site is the best option. A local company J C Balls provides a suitable service at a reasonable price. 

Fortunately where we are working is close to the roadside so delivery is not a problem. We'll just need a robust wheel barrow to move the concrete to the place we need to pour. The truck is charged in half-hour timeslots.

We're going for a concrete ST4 mix with polyester reinforcing fibres. We've now received the re-bar for the steel reinforcement of the beam for Twiggs, so all that remains for us to do is to dig out the trench for the beam and install some 18mm plywood shuttering to create a form for the concrete. We'll then position the re-bar and wire tie it in place before pouring the concrete. We need a 7 day period to allow the concrete to cure and gain strength, prior to installing the gate/fence posts.

The rebar awaiting installation, and wire tie equipment.

All this effort is necessary so we can set the gate post and the fence post in such a way that it will provide sufficient strength of support without creating risk of damage to the slope down from the road. The gate post will be exposed to frequent use by the public as they open/close the gate for their dogs as they make use of the public footpath. A gate post just driven or dug into the limestone chippings of the slope will inevitably fail within a few years. We mentioned in an earlier blog posting that we'll leave the historic stone gate posts and stile in place.

Once we have the gateposts installed we'll build a pair of wooden gates to match the distance between the posts. It will not be a standard gate size and we have to allow for footpath access, so using "off the shelf" gates is not an option..

Wednesday 25 November 2015

Bending steel

After some spraying of blue marker paint on the ground and lots of measuring, we've specified the steel reinforcing bar for the concrete beam to support the gate posts of the field gate. In an earlier post on here we mentioned the reasoning for constructing a concrete beam. Now we've taken a view on the likely forces that will be imposed on the concrete. We've also considered how the posts will be replaced in future if significant repairs are required.

Some research on YouTube has made us instant experts on how to set out rebar (Steel reinforcing bar) and to create shuttering to hold the concrete used to form the beam. We've had to understand the British Standards for common rebar shapes used in the construction industry. This allowed us to produce specifications for the amount and shape of rebar required for the concrete beam to support the orchard field gate. It is a cantilevered design to prevent the gates from sagging in use. We requested a quotation from a local steel supply firm Twiggs for rebar bent to our custom requirements. The price was so reasonable I actually rechecked they'd included the cost of bending within their price. We've placed the order and await delivery.

The beam will be approximately 200 cm long by 90 cm wide with a depth of approximately 40 cm. It will be capable of withstanding the weight of heavy agricultural machinery which might pass through the gateway. It will be buried from view once the posts are installed.

The reinforced beam will provide reinforced sockets for the gate post (200 mm diameter) and a fence post (100mm). When we're casting the beam we'll mount the gate and fence post in position in the beam. We'll pre-wrap the end of the posts in plastic bubble wrap so we can lift them out once the concrete has hardened. The sockets are also designed to prevent the accumulation of water under the base of the posts. After removing the bubble wrap we'll re-install the posts in the beam using sand to pack the gap between the beam sockets and the posts. This installation method allows the post to be securely mounted, free from rocking/tilt, but allowing for easy removal for future maintenance. If you just mount the posts directly in the concrete when it is poured subsequent maintenance of post removal is difficult.

We are also practising the art of wire tying to fix the rebar in place before pouring concrete. Youtube helps again.  All that remains now is to trick the volunteer team into agreeing to, dig the trench and to mix the concrete when the management team are ready to construct the beam. We'll be incorporating reinforcement fibre into the concrete mix to provide extended life.

Little did we realise when we started the orchard project that we'd become involved in civil engineering and reinforced concrete design.

Sunday 15 November 2015

Heavy rain, river is high

I popped up to the Orchard today to measure up for the new roadside gate. The work was soon done and I'll now be able to order some timber to build the new gate(s). We've had a lot of rain over the past week and the river Ecclesbourne has swollen accordingly. From what was a gentle brook after a relatively dry early Autumn it is now a fast flowing muddy torrent at least 75 cm deep. It would be difficult to stand in the water. 

Clearly our work earlier in the year to clean up the river bank and remove fallen trees and river bed obstacles has paid off. The water flows have less turbulence, swirling and scour. The accumulated bank of silt, where a fallen tree had been laying, has now washed away.

Wednesday 11 November 2015

Fixing the main gate

One of the first things I noticed when we acquired the site for the Turnditch Orchard is that the main gate at the roadside is broken. The old sandstone hinge post is fractured and the gate no longer swings from it. The latch post, again old sandstone, has a substantial lean from the vertical. The latch post was probably displaced when the river bank collapsed near the bridge and was rebuilt by the local authority. The iron tube gate itself is heavily rusted and the bottom bar corroded through. Steel chains attached to an elm tree stump currently provide hinges for the gate.

We've decided the best way of repairing the gate is to install new posts behind the the old original posts. This approach will preserve the historical stone posts, but it does present some problems. The latch post is at the top of a relatively unstable river bank and also close to the historic stile "gate" for the public footpath. If we are careful in positioning the new post we can avoid blocking the footpath stile, as required by law. However the new gate would effectively block the route to dogs accompanying people using the footpath as we need to be able to lock the new main gate.

We also need to be sure the installation of a post does not create long term potential for damaging the riverbank close to a public road bridge. It is inevitable that walkers will swing on the new gate post as they pass through the stile. Some form of reinforcement will be required to prevent damage to the river bank. We are already planning a hidden steel reinforced concrete beam to support the fence post for the riverside stock fence. We'll extend that beam to provide support for the gate post on the river bank. Once the works are complete the concrete beam will be buried and unobtrusive, but it will prevent the gate post and fence post from toppling and damaging the riverbank.

We'll design the concrete reinforced beam with post sockets so that the gate and fence posts can be replaced in future without disturbing the beam.

There's no legal requirement to provide access for dogs on the public footpath at the end of the orchard by the river, but it is a popular route for local dog walkers. Currently dog owners just lift the old rotten metal gate to get their dogs through. So we are planning to introduce a dog gate which will allow passage to dogs. We've looked at various configurations because near the footpath stile space is quite cramped. There's not enough space at the top of the river bank to safely install a swinging stile gate. We can't reduce the width of the gateway, it has to be wide enough to allow the passage of farm machinery. Our current plans are to build a bespoke main gate which will have an integral dog gate built into the design. Dog owners will be able to open/close the dog gate without the need to unlock the main gate.

Monday 2 November 2015

Wildlife in Turnditch Orchard

We were working at the weekend to tidy some of the piles of branches left over from the river clearance and also starting to expose the electric fence ready for removal. As I wandered past the river bank I managed to surprise an adult heron fishing in the water. It took off in a hurry. I'd guess now we have removed most of the bank side vegetation the heron found access to the water more attractive.

As we worked we were often interrupted by the sight and sound of wild male pheasants flying in and out of the other end of the orchard.  It's good to see our work hasn't really disturbed the local wildlife.

Tuesday 27 October 2015

River Bank Fencing

We've started installing fence posts along the river bank at the Turnditch Orchard. We'll be setting up a wire stock-fence using those posts. This is all part of the plan to make the orchard site safer for local children and dogs. Normally the river is quite shallow with a gentle flow, but after a storm or in winter when the river is in spate it is an entirely different beast. It would be a dangerous place to enter under those conditions. 

We've been clearing the river bank of uncontrolled shrubs and trees so that we can plant some willow spiling to help reinforce the banks against erosion. We've also removed some elm trees which appear to be infected with Dutch Elm Disease. All of this work has significantly exposed access to the river, so we need a fence to improve safety and prevent visitors and users of the public footpath from accidentally straying into the river Ecclesbourne. We also need to stop dogs entering the river from the footpath and going upstream under the road bridge to fields where sheep are grazing.

We were able to drive most of the fence posts into the ground. A 20 Kg post driving tool helped to ease the task, though the repeated lifting and dropping of the tool onto the posts was quite hard work. The following day we certainly discovered muscles we'd forgotten. However as we approached the roadside near the bridge it became progressively more difficult to drive the fence posts into the ground. We started hitting rock buried in the ground. So we have one fence post as yet not installed. We'll need to use a pickaxe to dig a hole and then use concrete to securely embed the fence post.

After the work I was talking to one of the local residents. I was very interested to discover that some years ago part of the river bank next to the bridge had collapsed into the river and had to be rebuilt by the roads authority. It certainly explains why we found so many rocks in the ground at that location.

Edit: in a later Blog posting you can see this single remaining fence post generated a lot of extra work.

Sunday 11 October 2015

Started the hedging

We spent a couple of hours in the Turnditch Orchard this morning in the bright Autumn sunshine. We were working on cutting some of the hedges. These we the ones we'd had re-laid and renovated early last year. They've grown quite tall and need trimming back to encourage dense growth within the hedge.

We've been using an extended pole hedge trimmer powered from a 2.5KW petrol generator at the end of a long power extension lead. The generator starts easily using a recoil cord if you remember to turn on the control switch.

Sam hard at work with the hedge trimmer.

Thursday 1 October 2015

Stump pulling competition

We had a great competition at the orchard field in Turnditch last night using a cable winch to pull up the stumps of the Blackthorn bushes. It was all going well until the occupants of a previously undiscovered wasp nest decided to intervene. Everyone received at least one sting from the insects who did not like us disturbing their wood pile. Then poor light stopped play.

The volunteer team scored a narrow 5 - 4 victory over the management in terms of stump extractions.

Thursday 24 September 2015

Clearing thornbush

Now the summer bird nesting season has finsihed we've been able to get down to clearing a sizeable patch of black thorn bushes at the end of the orchard. During previous years of neglect by previous owners these bushes have been allowed to grow on a level part of the field.  Their thorns make them a nasty almost dangerous type of undergrowth to remove. We've using a chainsaw to topple them leaving stumps some 30 cm high. 

Over the next few weeks we'll use cable winches to pull up the stumps and their root network. I was able to find a convenient source of steel chain. We use the chain to wrap around and grip the stumps as we winch them out. The chain  supplied in retail hardware stores is either too weak or grossly overpriced. Even our local agricultural supplier Lester Lowe  didn't have a suitable chain on its capacious shelves.

We've been left with a huge pile of bushes to burn. We started the burning this week, but the as the wood is green it will take a while to get the job done.

Our volunteer has learned a healthy respect for the thorns and I suspect he is very grateful for the thorn proof gloves we provided him at the commencement of his voluntary work period.

Thankfully after several weeks my foot is recovering from injury, so soon I'll be able to get back to a full schedule of work in the orchard.

Thursday 3 September 2015

Fruits of our Labour

I and the volunteer were working on the Turnditch orchard last night preparing the ground to remove some more blackthorn bushes which have invaded the field. With my wonky foot progress was a little bit slow but steady. We are working to make the land safe so other people can be invited on to the land.

I was able to take home a couple of the Queen Cox apples which we allowed to fruit this year. They have a gorgeous flavour. It gives promise of great fruit in the future.

Wednesday 26 August 2015

Neighbours to the rescue

The young man who volunteers came to the rescue over the long grass on the orchard. He successfully took on the task of mowing the the grass and weeds. It takes about five hours to complete this task and is hard work. While I'm recovering from my foot injury it's not a job I should attempt. The dumped rubble prevents the use of a normal mowing machine.

It orchard is now looking as though it is tended and cared for thanks to his work with the field trimmer.

Friday 14 August 2015

Off my feet

The grass is long in the orchard. A couple of weeks ago when I was cleaning out the stream bed I managed to tear the muscles under my right foot. It makes walking quite painful. The doctor called it Plantar Fasciitis and said it will take several weeks to resolve, but I shouldn't need surgery!

So no hard manual work for a while.

Meanwhile we were able to sample the first few plums and cherries from the orchard. They were delicious.

Saturday 25 July 2015

Removing sick Elm trees

We cleared out some sick Elm trees from the river bank this week. It is all part of the programme to open up the river bank down at the Turnditch Orchard Project. We used cable winches to prevent the trees falling into the river and a chain saw to cut the trees. I made good use of my new wader boots as the dummy in the water. 

It is a lot more open than it used to be when we first took possession of the field. There's a couple of pictures below showing the before state.

The river bank before cut back. Notice the marked trees.

Our dog getting ready for a paddle.

There is of course a very large pile of wood now awaiting destruction by burning on site. We don't want to risk spreading the disease any further. I'll devise some kind of furnace to keep the fire temperatures high. Elm is usually not a very good firewood, if left to its own devices it usually produces a lot of acrid smoke when it burns in an open fire.

This tree removal work will make space for us to introduce some erosion control on the river banks.

Friday 10 July 2015

Hedge trim and river cleaning

We had a reasonably productive week so far. With the aid of the new volunteer help we were able to winch a fallen tree from the river. A pile of silt had built up on the river bed where the tree was impeding the water flow. Hopefully that will resolve itself or we'll have to carry many bucket loads of mud from the river.

Fallen tree in the river

We were able to remove some invasive and some poisonous plants from the orchard, namely Himalayan Balsam and also full grown Ragwort. Ragwort is toxic to grazing animals such as horses. The persistent toxins destroy the animals' livers.

I spent a few hours yesterday trimming the roadside hedge which was encroaching the footpath and also beginning to hide some road signs. Thinking about the work made me realise I'd trimmed something like 400 Sq Metres of hedge using hand tools, mostly hawthorn and some ash trees. Wearing bright yellow clothing while working on the roadside footpath was an essential measure. The hump of the railway bridge makes it a blind spot for cars and lorry drivers.

Thursday 25 June 2015

Help in the Orchard

A pleasant change to the routine yesterday evening. We had a volunteer helping out. This young man, who lives locally, is helping as part of his voluntary service for his Duke of Edinburgh Silver Award Scheme. We started him gently with using the field trimmer to cut down a large area of grass and weeds. He probably now has a good feel for the unevenness of the ground. He discovered the powerful motor (5.5 HP) can be stubborn when it comes to starting on the recoil cord.

He did a great job and was learning fast. As preparation prior to starting work he'd spent a couple of hours viewing safety videos on YouTube. The objective is for his assistance to help us improve safety so we can open the Orchard to the local community.

Saturday 13 June 2015

Himalayan Balsam at Turnditch Orchard

The River Ecclesbourne which runs along the foot of our orchard is a conduit for the seeds of the Himalayan Balsam (HB). This is an invasive weed which needs to be controlled. Over the  past couple of years we've been removing any HB we've found growing on the land. It is under control now. You have to be very ruthless about its removal before it has the chance to go to seed. The seed pods pop and explosively scatter seed over quite a distance when they are ripe.

However the adjoining field and the river upstream of our site are full of this resilient weed and provide a source of new "infections" of HB. I noticed some growing in the silt at the edge of our river a few days ago, so I donned some waders to deal with the weed. It is fairly easy to uproot the  weed roots and all by gently pulling on the stem. If you leave any broken off weed stems they soon regrow.

Here's a picture of before and after:

Himalayan Balsam at the Turnditch Orchard

Himalayan Balsam removed from river bank
Note I removed the pile of weeds shown in the lower photo, they'll be incinerated. There's useful leaflet about controlling the weed from the Derbyshire Wildlife Trust here.

Wednesday 10 June 2015

Respect for the Landowners

I visited the orchard in Turnditch yesterday afternoon to trim back some weeds and to check the trees. Those familiar with the site will know there's a public footpath across one end of the land adjacent to the river bank. I've no problems with allowing the public to walk across that part of the land and generally the public are well behaved, except for a couple of dog owners who do not clear up their dog's shit from the land. 

The longer term objective of the project is to open up the orchard area as a permitted recreation spot for the local inhabitants/school kids from Turnditch, Shottle and Cowers Lane. At present it is not safe thanks to debris dumped during the previous owners tenure, but we're working toward the target. We also need to undertake some work to make the river bank safe but accessible. 

When I arrived I noticed someone had wrapped bright red marker tape around the top bar of the roadside gate. They'd also affixed an A5 sized red plastic notice on the inside of our gatepost announcing the name of an Ashbourne running club. I can only presume they are planning some event which follows the route of the public footpath. They'd made no attempt or the courtesy to contact us to seek permission to place these markers on our property. It's not difficult to contact us; this blog address and a contact phone number is shown on the same gate post.  The notice makes it clear the orchard is private land but the public footpath remains open.

Normally when someone wants access we'll bend over backwards to help out, but this lack of respect does make us wonder whether we should be so free with permission. I removed their litter from our land. Let's hope their event causes no further damage.

Monday 25 May 2015

Spring in the orchard

The orchard is bursting into life with Spring flowers and baby fruit. Many wildflowers remain in the borders, but we are now keeping the grass and weeds short in the main field to reduce growing competition for the fruit trees.

The Serbian Gold Quince is looking particularly healthy with attractive pink flowers just opening. 
Serbian Gold quince
Serbian Gold Quince in bloom

The cherries will bear fruit this year too, though we might pinch off 75% to avoid draining the young trees of energy.
Young cherries in the Turnditch orchard
Cherries forming in Turnditch orchard

Saturday 9 May 2015

Dead lamb in the river

While I was loading the field trimming machine into the back of my car yesterday, after a grass cutting session at the Orchard, I noticed there was a dead lamb at the edge of the river. The animal looked to be about 3-4 weeks old and was marked with a blue number "8" on its back. I presume it was caught in the river upstream and drowned before being washed down. We've had a few days recently when the rain was heavy causing the river levels to swell.

I'm not sure who's responsibility it is to deal with the carcase. It's not our property and there are strict rules for the correct disposal of dead farm animals. These usually involve the services of a specialist contractor.

Friday 17 April 2015

Orchard site trespass

Recently we've had some unfortunate incidents of trespass on to the orchard site where damage has been caused by the unwanted visitors. Firstly someone investigating the shed has damaged the sliding doors. We deliberately leave the doors unlocked and nothing of real value in the shed overnight. However some idiot poking his/her nose in the shed, possibly with the intention of theft, managed to force one of the doors off the slider runners. He/she must have used a lot of force to create this damage.

The second incident, which has occurred within the past couple of weeks is where a person or persons unknown have come on to the site and cut back trees/branches to access the culvert in the embankment. Even though the land, including the embankment, is posted as private land, someone has decided they have the right to trespass on our land to access the culvert entrance.  During their access they cut back branches and also damaged fencing which had protected the culvert entrance. They have left the entrance in a dangerous state whereby children can now enter the culvert and get trapped. It had been previously secure.

We'll take some action, at our expense, to repair the damage caused by these thoughtless individuals. We'll probably have a blacksmith create a secure grille to re-protect the culvert entrance. There is no excuse for the intruders' anti-social behaviour. If someone has a need to access our land they can find contact details posted by the entrance gate.

The contractors who'd been recently working on the pavement of the footpath along the A517 also dumped construction rubbish items through our fence onto our land. There is also a recent increase in litter dumping (fast food packaging) on the embankment with a timing coincidental to the contractor activity.

It is our intention to make the site available for amenity activity for local Turnditch residents once the site is secure and safe, but when damage is caused by thoughtless people our thoughts turn to increasing security to keep people out. A lot of work is needed before we can open the site safely.

Wednesday 15 April 2015

Easy trimming of weeds and high grass in Turnditch Orchard.

Last year I put a lot of effort into trimming the weeds and grass in the orchard. The previously dumped building materials and tree stumps prevents the use of a normal mower, so I used a portable brush cutter. It was hard work and took a couple of days to mow the orchard.

Weeds and long grass compete with the fruit trees for nutrients and water, so there's a function need for weed control not just the aesthetic appeal of a neatly trimmed sward of grass. Given the close proximity of the river we don't want to use chemicals to control the weed in the orchard area. We feel a combination of mowing the area and mulching around the fruit trees is probably the best compromise to control the weeds.

This year, after some research into the options, I have purchased a Hyundai HYFT56 Field Trimmer. It was a great investment.  One of the selection criteria was the machine had to be light enough and have a collapsed size which would allow transportation in the back of my estate car. Weighing in at 30 Kg I can lift it in to the car without the use of ramps. I had to use cargo straps to stop it rolling around the back of the car when I was driving.

The wheeled field trimmer works really well and greatly reduces the effort involved in keeping the weeds/grass under control in the orchard. The 5.5 horse power 4 stroke petrol engines gives plenty of power to tackle dense undergrowth and tall weeds. The 4 mm "string" does a good job of weed cutting. The field trimmer reduced the duration of the task to three hours from the two days it took last year with a hand held brush cutter. I also noticed there was less strimming debris on my clothes after three hour's use of the HYFT56 when compared with a hand held strimmer. You'll usually see me working in a white paper "forensic" coverall when I'm trimming the vegetation. I don't want a repeat of the "Strimmer Rash", but with the new HYFT56 I think it will be less likely.

The engine runs fairly slowly, this helps to reduce the noise of operation. It used about half a litre of fuel per hour which gives a current UK fuel running cost of about £1 an hour. The handbook recommends the engine oil is changed every 25 hours of operation.

Here's a video of  someone testing the machine on some weeds, it gives an accurate representation of what it is like to use in practice.

I read through the (pdf) handbook and noticed references to tools supplied with the machine. I didn't receive any when the vendor (Arb and Grounds Equipment Ltd) handed over the machine, so I'll be checking back with them.

The trimmer cord needs to be checked at the start of and during operations to make sure it is not too short. It lasts quite well, but if you hit rock/hard wood it is possible to snap the trimmer line.  I've ordered some Oregon Flexiblade Trimmer Line as a replacement. It will be interesting to see how it compares in operation with the original. Replacing the cord is easy and can be performed without tool is a couple of minutes.

Update 8th May 2015:
The field trimmer has lived up to expectations. It took only four hours, including rest breaks, to trim back the grass/weeds in the orchard. Last year I'd take two days to do this job when using a hand held brush cutter. The Oregon Flexiblade line worked well, though was a little bit trickier to install due to its greater stiffness compare to the original manufacturer trimming line.

Friday 10 April 2015

My low cost work-out gym

I've been busy in the orchard for the past few days and my body is feeling the benefit of the hard physical work. There's loads of twisting, bending and lifting work as well as walking the length of the site many times a day. In London I'd be paying £70 a month or more in Gym fees to get a similar level of exercise, but the difference is this workout is enjoyable and you see the results as we gradually reclaim the site. 

It has been gorgeous weather this week, though the flies are beginning to make themselves known. A few quick sprays of Avon's Skin so Soft lotion on the exposed parts of the skin soon deals with the flies. The trees are coming out in bud and the wildlife is coming to life. I was watching bats flying around the site yesterday evening as the sun was falling. During the day the raucous croak of male Golden Pheasants marking their territories resounded through the air.

At the moment I'm reclaiming a section of the land from thorn bush invasion. The previous owners neglected the land and allowed blackthorn and hawthorn to grow uncontrolled. These bushes are about four metres tall and ferociously self-guarded by twisted thorn laden branches. Their trunks are however not resistant to the caress of a chainsaw and these unwanted invaders soon come tumbling down. I've learned to wear protective clothing, gauntlets, helmet and visor when attacking these thorny trees. 

It does however leave the problem of what to do with the stumps of the fallen bushes. They are about 5 - 10 cm diameter with tenacious roots, it would be a lot of work to dig them out. Our budget doesn't stretch to tractors or quad bikes to winch them out, we have to do it by hand. As usual I turned to the Internet to research methods. Several references were made on YouTube to the use of farm hi-lift jacks to pull out stumps so I dipped into the kitty to purchase such a jack. It a bit of a disappointment as I found the base of the jack always ended up standing on the roots of the tree stump I was trying to uproot. I even constructed a lifting tripod with leftover fence posts, but it didn't provide a solution.  

I eventually resorted to using my trusty ACE cable winch. The winch was fastened to a convenient stout tree and the cable hook at the other end to the tree stump. It took some experimentation with lengths of chain to grasp the tree stump firmly, but I was soon removing stumps reliably and without the need for digging or chopping roots. In the space of two hours yesterday I hand winch pulled six tree stumps out. I was alone and unaided. It can exert a pull of up to three tonnes, if necessary I can use snatch pulley blocks to double the pulling capacity. It does however mean I have to cart about 100 Kgs weight of winching tackle to the far end of the orchard.

I had a visit from a family who live in an a nearby house, they wanted to know if their teenage son could help in the orchard on a voluntary basis. It would apparently count toward his Duke of Edinburgh's Award scheme. The young man seemed keen to help, I didn't refuse the offer, but for a while he has to focus on GCSE examination revision. I hope this works out, it would be good to have more local involvement in the project.

ps: I was pleased to find someone who could supply ACE Shear pins for the winch: Securefix Direct. I haven't required any pins, yet! 

Tuesday 7 April 2015

Tidying the river bank

Yesterday we finally got around to taking down one of the small Elm trees on the river bank. I'd noticed last year the leaves were heavily wilting at the end of the year. The tree is of the age where the bark is hard enough for the Dutch Elm Disease beetle. It was a slightly tricky felling as the tree was both bifurcated and over-hanging the river. The river is running too fast to stand in at the moment.  However a combination of an old ladder section propped against the bank and my trusty cable winch provided the solution and the tree was felled after a couple of minute's work with a chainsaw.

Inspection of the felled tree showed that most of the branches had died already, with just a few spouting buds. We need to clear the bank so we can install some erosion controlling willow spiling in the banks. We'll destroy the Elm wood by fire on the orchard site to avoid spreading any disease.

We're pleased to note the fruit trees we have planted are all looking healthy this year and are beginning to sprout leaves.

Saturday 7 March 2015

Clearing the river bank

I was able to put some time and effort into clearing unwanted trees from the river bank at the Turnditch orchard. The purpose of the clearance is to give some light for willow. We intend to plant the willow as woven spiling to protect the river bank from further erosion. This part of the River Ecclesbourne is prone to scour after the bridges in the fast flowing winter spate. 

We are initially removing some large hawthorn bushes which are overgrown, tangled and threatening to fall over into the river. We cannot simply fell the bushes as the weight of the top growth would cause them to topple into the river and make recovery much more difficult. Even directional felling cuts would not guarantee a safe or convenient fall of the bush. These bushes are about 20 ft (6 metres) tall and probably weigh about one tonne. They each have several upright trunks clustered around a root.

To achieve safe removal we're using cable winches to apply tension from the best direction. Once the trunk is under tension using a chainsaw we apply a partial felling cut, but not enough to fell that section of the bush. We then retire to the winch and increase the tension until the trunk disentangles from the top growth and falls. Using the winch we pull that section of the bush to a safe place where we can cut off branches then cut up the trunk. We are using an indirect pull from a cable winch and steel wire. The direction of the pull is set up using a snatch block pulley anchored to a convenient place.

We are delivering a coppice type cut to the hawthorn. It should allow them to regrow, but this time the process will be managed!

View of indirect winch set up.
Indirect winch arrangement

The snatch block anchored to old gate post:
Snatch black anchoring
The cable winch:
Cable winch anchored to ash tree
Applying tension to the bush:
Apply tension prior to cutting

The next step will be to remove half a dozen small Elm trees on the river bank. I noticed last year there were badly wilting which suggests they have Dutch Elm Disease. We'll burn the wood on site to prevent any further spread of this tree disease.