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.