Sunday 11 December 2016

Some new apple trees in Turnditch Orchard

We've just planted three new apple trees in the orchard. They are bare root trees. We've put them in the gaps between the existing fruit trees.

D'Arcy Spice -  This is a cooking apple.

Genet Moyle - A cider apple tree, it can also be used for cooking.

Tom Putt - A cider apple tree.

We have been a bit disappointed with the progress of the trees we planted a couple of years ago. The problem is probably the soil in the orchard. In places there's heavy clay soil on top of the floodplain alluvial soil. This arises from dumping on the site by previous owners, possibly with the waste from building sites.  So this time we've taken some extra care with these new trees. 

We bought some bags of top soil from an agricultural supplier. We added approximately 30% of well rotted farm manure and some bone meal into the top soil and then mixed it thoroughly. We dug holes large enough to comfortably accommodate the root of the new trees. In the base of the holes we added a 4 cm layer of sand and aggregate to improve drainage. We covered  the sand with a couple of cms of the soil manure mix. Next, we poured in water to the depth of approximately 5 cms deep. and let it soak away. On the side of the prevailing wind we drove in a treated 7cm tree stake to the base of the hole ready to help support the new trees.

Meanwhile we'd been pre-soaking the apple tree roots for about 30 minutes in a bucket of water. We lifted the tree into the hole and then coated the roots with Mycorrhizal fungi treatment powder. Next we lifted the tree into place in the hole, then we carefully added the soil mix around the roots to plant the tree. Once we had filled the hole we gently pressed down on the soil to firm it in place before added some water to soak the soil around the roots. A tree stake tie was used to secure the tree from wind damage, then finally we added a plastic spiral tree guard to prevent damage by rodents such as rabbits, rats, squirrels. We checked the other trees in the orchard to ensure they all had spiral plastic tree guards.

The Mycorrhizal fungi forms a symbiotic bond with the tree roots and helps the tree to absorb nutrients from the soil. The bone meal also provides nutrients which encourage root growth.

Sunday 4 December 2016

River bank erosion at the Turnditch Orchard

We had a nice bright sunny, but cold, Winter's day in the orchard today. The focus of the work was using willow cuttings to undertake some spiling to reinforce the river bank. The willow cuttings will take root and quickly grow next and subsequent years. The root system will help to stabilize  the soft earth banks of the river as the willow grows larger. I was inspecting the river bank while standing in the river today. I could see that the recent river spate caused by the recent heavy rain is undercutting the river bank. In places there were some small collapses of soil into the river. If you look at the junction of the river and the bank in the picture below it is possible to see the dark under-cut area.

During the year part of the bank was damaged by overweight farm machinery trying to maneuver too close to the edge of the river bank. This caused a deep wheel gouge next to the river fence, damaged the fence, and also pushed some of the bank soil towards the river.  We've planted some willow spiling today which will strengthen the top of the river bank once it has grown for a few years. The deep roots will help bind the soil.

We cut the willow wands from the willow grove we'd planted a couple of years ago in the orchard. We're using a hybrid of Salix Verminalis willow which grow 2 - 3 metres in a year. Once the willow is established we'll cut and layer the branches to form a low hedge at the top of the river bank.
Some of the harvested willow wands
We pollarded the willow at roughly waist height to encourage new growth next year. It also allow the bark to thicken around the base while the tender new branches grow out of the reach of marauding sheep.

While inspecting the trees in the orchard, after completing the spiling, I found a rodent, probably a grey squirrel, had damaged the bark at the base of the Egremont Russet Apple tree. It is so annoying because the damage will stay with the tree for the rest of its life. It just goes to show the tree protectors we'd installed on most of the other trees help prevent such damage. We've already ordered some replacements to cover the trunks of all of the young trees.

Tuesday 22 November 2016

Overnight Flooding

The heavy rain during Monday 21st Nov and through the night has led to some temporary flooding at the Turnditch Orchard. Last night we had automated flood alert phone calls from the Environment Agency.

The River Ecclesbourne overtopped its banks at approximately 9:30 pm last night. A couple of hours the peak flow had passed and the waters receded in the river. The far end of the orchard close to the under road culvert had some flooding this morning. Our plum tree (Guinevere) currently has its "feet in water", let's hope the waters drain quickly and there's no lasting damage. We'll stay off the land for a week to prevent any soil compaction.

The river bank ladder would have been swept away in the torrent of water had I not planned for the floods and anchored it to a tree stump. At the moment it is laying on its side at the top of the river bank. Judging by the vegetation damage it looks as though the river level was about one metre higher than the top of the ladder.

Saturday 19 November 2016

Open Day, Sunday 20th Nov

Thankfully the rains stopped around 10am and held off until the afternoon. The event went ahead and we were able to light the barbecue and feed the visitors. I also pressed the Ugly Drum Smoker into use as a food warmer for the soup (Hickory smoked beef and bean), the mulled wine and the baked potatoes. A couple of local families, the volunteers all braved the weather to come to the orchard to have a chat and share the food.  Sadly many others fearful of the poor weather stayed behind the locked doors of their cosy retirement cottages.

It was good to see the local interest in the site and to be able to encourage people to use the orchard.

Tuesday 1 November 2016

Grease Bands on the fruit trees

I was over at the Turnditch orchard this afternoon applying  Vitax fruit tree grease to the trunks of the fruit trees. The stuff is spread in a 100 cm band around the trunk at a height of approximately 40 cm. It helps to keep wingless parasites from climbing up the trunk to lay their eggs in the Winter. Notably the main such parasite is the Winter Moth, whose caterpillars can cause a lot of leaf damage in the Spring. In the summer the grease also keeps ants away from the trees. The ants "farm" aphids in the trees and protect them from predators such as Ladybirds. Once the ant pathways up the tree trunk are blocked the parasites such as aphids tend to disappear as the flying predators operate unhindered.

The grease is black and very sticky. It is made from Rapeseed Oil (canola).

Talking of parasites, I found the "missing" quince fruit in the orchard. It was laying in the grass about 30 metres from the quince tree.  A bite had been taken out from one side of the fruit, it looks like the bite of a juvenile human. An education for them perhaps?  Quince grown in this country are generally hard, very tart, and almost inedible until cooked.

Sunday 30 October 2016

More Civil Engineering in the orchard

We constructed a concrete socket and cantilever beam for the gate post in the orchard today. Thankfully we had help from the volunteer team in mixing the cubic metre of concrete needed for the task. We'd hired an electric cement mixer to assist us Our portable 110V generator provided the power. Whilst the volunteer team had no previous experience of making concrete after a brief demonstration by the management, they were soon enthusiastically hurling shovel loads of aggregate and cement into the mixer, most of which was on target.

During the week, we'd dug the trench and post socket hole. I then fabricated the reinforced steel frame work and fixed it in place in the trench and socket hole. First thing this morning I fixed a steel post socket in place within the rebar. I then used a quarter bag of Quickcrete to fix the socket in a true vertical position. After 30 minutes were were then ready to pour the concrete.

The work was completed within three hours, leaving us with the task of tidying up and loading the vehicles with the equipment. We'll leave the concrete to cure for a month before attempting to mount the gate.

Edit:31/10/16 With our typical luck the weather is turning colder. Let's hope the concrete cures enough to avoid frost damage.

Sunday 23 October 2016

Restoring the flora at the orchard

We're going to take some steps to restore the wildflowers at the orchard site. 

It the areas where we have previously thinned out the woodland on the embankment we are planning to plant some wildflower on the south facing slopes. We'll clear away the undergrowth around the remaining trees and coppice points during the winter

We'll be purchasing seed from a specialist nursery called Emorsgate Seeds for woodland and hedgerow flowers. This planting will take place in the Spring 2017.  We'll also plant a large patch of wild teasel and some Fullers Teasel as a great food source for pollinator insects and as a source of seed feed for finches in the late summer/autumn.

Wild teasel
The teasel growth will be part of our long term crop harvesting strategy. The heads retail at approximately 20 pence each.

Blackthorn stump pulling

We put in a good day's work today in the Turnditch Orchard pulling up old Blackthorn stumps. These were some tough ones left over from large Blackthorn bushes cut down last year as part of the land clearance programme. We had two cable winches in operation and a pulley.  Last year we did the same type of work in the form of a competition against the volunteers. Last year they beat the management team by the most slender of margins. This year the Management Team soundly thrashed the Volunteers with a score of 5 to zero.

The winches are able to exert a pull of 3.2 tonnes we are able to double this pull with the appropriate use of pulleys. The blackthorn resisted valiantly but stood no chance against us.

Wednesday 19 October 2016

Hedge trimming

I've been able to trim the Orchard hedges today. We use a 230 VAC powered pole hedge trimmer, so a day without rain to avoid electrocution was essential. There's no mains electricity on the orchard so we had to bring in our petrol powered generator and a long extension lead to power the trimmer.  There's now about 140 metres of hedge to cut on the field side of the orchard following the hedge laying work a couple of years ago.  Cutting the top off the hedge once a year encourages the bushes to grow sideways and thicken the hedge. The blackthorn which forms most of the hedge has sprouted strongly and was quite tough to cut this year.

The hedge after laying in 2014

I'll be stiff tomorrow morning. The pole hedge trimmer is quite heavy to operate at chest height, and I spent 4 hours working on the hedge cutting. I only did one side and the top of the hedge. The outer side is not our responsibility as the hedge is a shared boundary.

Carrying the 40 Kg generator up and down the orchard field was quite tiring too. We have a 25M extension lead, but it is not quite long enough to reach all of the hedges. We have thought about retaining a contractor with a tractor mounted hedge flail to trim the hedges, but the positioning of the fruit trees effectively prevents the use of a large tractor in the orchard.

Tuesday 18 October 2016

Rip-off Britain

I ventured over to Jewsons in Derby to buy some iron tying wire. Jewsons is a builder's merchant largely serving the trade. We were shocked when we got the bill. It was £12.70 for a 2 kilogram coil of wire.

We'd checked the typical prices on-line before going out. For a 15 Kg coil of 16 gauge tying wire it was £22.00 Ex VAT at Simply Precast.  An identical 2Kg coil at RFA-Tech is £3.66.

I can't see how Jewsons justify charging that price for such a common item.  We have complained. It will be interesting to see how they justify the rip-off pricing. I am not surprised they don't display their prices on-line when they cost 3 times as much as their competition. I doubt very much that we'll use them again.

We'll be using the tie wire to join the reinforcing bars used in the concrete beam we're building for the new gate post in the orchard.

Edit: 19th October 2016:
Following my complaint the local Branch manager called to apologise. Apparently I'd been charged the List Price. He's offered me a 100% discount for the order. Apparently their trade price is £5 for this item! I'll not be taking their offer, it's not the way we do business. We just won't use them again. I guess Jewsons have not adjusted their business model to the impact of the internet where it is very easy for prospective customers to find alternate pricing.

I've discovered my local supplier Twiggs does 15 Kg of tying wire for £23.20 at list price which, allowing for VAT is £1.85 per Kg working out at £3.71 for 2Kg  which is less than 30% of the Jewsons list price.

Their tagline seems so appropriate: "A Jewson lot more..."

Monday 17 October 2016

Planning for the orchard gate

The main field of the Turnditch Orchard has a gap in the hedge where a gate used to be located. We have a heavy (more than 50 kilograms) 4 metre steel gate on site which we believe used to be used as the gate for the field. At some point in the past the old gate posts have been removed. We'll need to install some new gate posts so that we can swing the old metal gate.
The old gateway, just after hedges re-laid.

We think the old gate posts were taken out so larger vehicles could gain access to the field to enable dumping of building/construction waste. With the fruit trees in place, we don't want any large vehicles on the orchard, so putting the gate back suits our purposes just fine. The gate will discourage unwanted guests from straying off the public footpath into the orchard field.

The soil where we'll put the gateposts is quite soft and any gatepost footed in a few centimetres layer of postcrete will soon sag under the weight of the gate. We've determined the need to build a concrete beam to provide a secure support for the hinge post. The beam will need embedded steel rebar and approximately 0.7 cubic metres of concrete. We'll mix the concrete on site as it is too far from the road to use a readimix concrete lorry without incurring charges for lorry rental or additional labourers to run around with wheel barrows. The steel work for the re-bar will be designed and ordered from Twiggs in Matlock during this week. A galvanised steel gatepost will be purchased from Lester Lowe.

The beam will be buried out of sight underground when the work is complete. We've used this technique of a concrete beam before  for the roadside gate. In that case we were concerned the gate post and fence posts could cause damage to the top of the river bank. 

Where there's gaps between the hedge and the gate posts we'll build a short section of fence to fill the gap. Later we'll plant hedge plants to grow against the fence to allow its replacement in a few years time.

Sunday 16 October 2016

It's that time of the year!

I didn't get a chance to go on to the orchard today, thanks to the weather, but I did use the time well. I decanted the 2015 Bullace Gin into presentation bottles. The Gin made with Bullace fruit from the orchard is a favourite of many who've tried it before. The bottles will be handed out to deserving people before this Christmas.

The 2016 Bullace Gin is quietly stewing in our dark cellar and may be ready this year. It tastes like Sloe Gin, but it is subtly different.

The code word is : willow

October weather arrives.

We had some work planned in the Turnditch Orchard this morning. When we checked the forecast at the start of the week the weather was looking reasonable, but the forecasts gradually got worse during the week. Now it looks like there will be solid rain until 2 pm. I guess bad weather in mid-October is not unexpected, years back when I ran sea scouts we'd have the boats lifted from the moorings around this time to avoid any storm damage from the sea.

One piece of work at the orchard which will be tested is the minor works we did to improve the water flow in the Ecclesbourne river. A bank of gravel had built up on our side of the river and the river was eroding the far side bank. The gravel bar in the river was formed mostly by debris following a partial bridge collapse some years ago. Much of this debris had been left on the river bed and over the years the wash down by floods had begun to accumulate. It's pointless to challenge a river on its course as it will win every time, but it is possible to suggest alternate routes and see if the river accepts them.

In the summer during low water levels we dug out a channel next our side of the gravel bar. It was a  straight channel about 7 metres long, 30 cm wide and 20 cm deep. The gravel and stone taken out was deposited at the base of the eroding bank to help provide some protection. So far the new channel seems to be working. It is now about 60 cm wide with a good flow of water through. The gravel and stone protection on the far bank has not been washed away, suggesting reduced erosion. The winter floods will be the true test, either the gravel channel will be filled or much of the bar will be washed away. We make no predictions.

Edit 14:15 Same day. The BBC Weather forecast got it wrong. Instead of six hours of rain, we had just a couple of hours and then the weather improved.

Saturday 15 October 2016

Hedge extension planning and spiling

Some of the hedges in the orchard have been removed during previous ownership. It is our plan to restore the hedges by planting new bushes along the original line of hedgerow. In a few years, when the bushes have grown large enough we'll have them laid in a traditional Derbyshire /Staffordshire manner to restore the hedge.

The first step is to raise some young plants in a nursery area on the orchard. As soon as the leaves have fallen this autumn, we'll take some hardwood cuttings to grow the replacement trees. We're planning on using a mix of Hawthorn, Hazel, Blackthorn, Elm, Ash and Oak. For the boggier areas we'll also include some Alder. We'll propagate the cuttings in pots in the nursery area with a target of 250 saplings ready planting in the next two years. We may supplement the local plants with some native Hornbeam purchased from a nursery.

During the winter 2016/17 we'll be planting more willow (Salix Verminalis) on the river bank using cuttings from the willow grove we've created in the orchard. The spilings we planted last year on the river bank near the road have been reasonably successful. This winter's planting will be in the lower section of river bank which is prone to flooding. The bank in that area is quite soft and is prone to damage from heavy agricultural vehicles used by the neighbouring farmer. When it is established, the willow root mass will help to reinforce the bank. This will reduce future damage and erosion. We'll pollard cut the willow over the years at approximately head height to encourage reasonably thick trunks. We can pleach cut and layer the trunks on the river bank in future years to form a living wall at the top of the river bank.

Thursday 13 October 2016

The Mystery of the Missing Quince

This afternoon I was able to visit the orchard to complete a section of stock fencing work at the neglected end of the site. Prior to our arrival I don't think that section of the orchard has received any maintenance work in the past forty years. There's almost nothing left of the original boundary fence at the railway end of the site. The area was heavily overgrown and also overshadowed by unmaintained trees. Earlier in the year sheep from the adjoining field were using this area as a route into the orchard. The neighbouring farmer should fixed the fence to stop his sheep straying but nothing happened. 

I had to remove a couple of heavily leaning trees to clear the boundary edge, but after that work I was able to install the final section of stock fence this afternoon. Hopefully this will keep unwanted two legged and quadruped from invading from that end of the orchard.

I was feeling quite calm and relaxed after the success and was checking the fruit trees around the orchard. We have a young quince tree (Serbian Gold) which is smothered in beautiful pink blossom in the spring. To give the tree a chance to grow I remove most of the fruitlets, and additionally the tree drops some of its own accord in the late summer. We'd been left with two good sized quince fruit on the tree. You don't normally pick quince fruit, in the UK, until early November, so we were going to leave the fruit on the tree for two more weeks. When grown in the UK they are hard and bitter until cooked. These Serbian Gold quince fruit look quite like a pear once the "fur" has fallen off.

One of the two remaining quince fruit has disappeared from the tree in the last 48 hours. If someone picked it thinking it was a pear they are going to be bitterly disappointed when they attempt to bite into it. I hope it didn't go to waste.

Perhaps the time has come to re-install the field gate at the entrance to the orchard to dissuade people from wandering in to the fruit trees.

Edit: 2/11/2016 The missing fruit was located.

Wednesday 12 October 2016

A nice cup of tea at the orchard

I've just given into temptation and purchased a Ghillie kettle so we can boil water and make tea or coffee while we are working on the orchard at Turnditch.  These don't need gas or electricity, just a few dry twigs to quickly boil some water in any weather conditions.

So now we'll be able to provide hot drinks for visitors and volunteers on the orchard. I guess I'll have to get a stock of camping mugs to hold on the site.

Edit (15 Oct 16) 

I now have a stock of mugs, tea bags, biscuits etc., but they won't be held on site. We'll bring them when we're working on site. 

I gave the kettle a test yesterday morning and it performs really well even in the rain.

Tuesday 11 October 2016

Last haircut for the year

I was able to complete the grass cutting in the orchard today. It will probably be the last of the season. The entire session was spread over two days because I had only limited spares of field trimmer cord with me on the first day and  I found too many obstacles which snapped the cord. Fortunately I have a 110 metre spool of the stuff at home and was able to cut some extra lengths for today's session.  It is a tough gray 6mm nylon cord designed to cut brambles. It is actually quite tough to cut, I use a sharp wood chisel against a block of wood to cut this cord. The trimmer takes two 30cm lengths of the cord which are threaded by hand in a strenuous process.

Yesterday, after the grass cutting session I was quietly checking the woodland when  the peace was disturbed by the cry of a cock pheasant hiding in the blackthorn thicket. It is good to see the cock is still around as I'd not seen any pheasants in the orchard for a few months.

Today's grass cutting session was interrupted by rain a few times, but I'd brought the Land Rover on to the orchard and was able to take shelter until the rain stopped. The orchard is looking quite smart and tidy at the moment.

There's a couple of good looking quince fruit on the Serbian Gold Quince Tree and I also had the opportunity to sample some of the yellow raspberry canes we planted late last year.

Sunday 9 October 2016

Insurance for the Orchard

We've decided it is about time we had some insurance for the orchard. We'll be starting that process this week. As usual it is more complex than we first thought. The following are all factors which affect the risk assessment of our particular site:

  • Location and size
  • What crops/animals are produced on site
  • Types of activities engaged in on the site
  • Are there bodies of water/rivers
  • Is the land fenced or hedged
  • Is there public access or rights of way
  • Are there volunteers/workers
  • What type of machinery is used
  • Is there woodland
  • Are there buildings
We already have some insurance cover through our existing public liability and employers insurance, but it would be get something properly tailored for the job.

Edit, later same day:

One of the conditions on one of the quotes is that we have lifesaving equipment on the river bank. This "river" is about 4 metres wide and is less than 30 cm deep. Sometimes in the winter in flood conditions the water can be a couple of metres deep and fast flowing, but typically this is approx three weeks of the year. Should we buy a lifesaving buoy like one of these? I can see that type of thing being a target for vandalism.

Tuesday 4 October 2016

Slow progress

When I took on the orchard I was thinking it would keep me busy and fit in my retirement. At the moment I'm so busy with social commitments and business activity I have little time to do those tasks which need to be done in the orchard. Fence maintenance, grass cutting, scrub clearance, fruit tree care have all taken a back seat at the moment. Hopefully things will calm down soon and I'll be able to get back to some relaxing hard work in the orchard before the weather turns bad.

Sunday 25 September 2016

Malvern Autumn Show

We took some time away from the orchard to visit the Malvern Autumn Show. My wife wanted to see the plants and animals. I wanted to see the varieties of rare apples and pears grown in that part of the country to get some ideas for the next trees in the Turnditch orchard. We had a great time and came away full of ideas. It is a big show and we took about 5 hours walking around including a couple of trips back to our car to offload purchases.

I'm thinking we can plant for cider apple trees and some perry pear trees. It might be interesting to make some cider in a few years time.

My countryside upbringing came to the fore as I was able to identify the parts of the vintage tractors on show. Sadly though I didn't see any of the old paraffin tractor engines, they stick in my memory as my boyhood farmer friends used to let me start the paraffin engine on their old tractor.

Sunday 18 September 2016

Bird nesting season over; back to work

The bird nesting season is now over in the UK so I'm able to start work in tidying up the woodland part of the orchard. There's a potential fine of £5000 or six months prison for disturbing a Schedule 1 bird. I've seen none of those on the orchard or the adjoining woodland, but it is best practice not to disturb any wild bird.

At the "far end" of the orchard the land is narrow and almost completely taken up by the woodland on the embankment. The trees there have not been managed at all so it is dark and tangled. Trees are leaning against each other and ivy growth is rampant. I spent three hours today with a pruning saw and chain saw starting to unravel the trees. It was mostly Hawthorn and Ash, but I also took down some Blackthorn bushes which been annoying me all year.

After the hard work it was great to relax in the open part of the orchard in warm and bright mid-September sunshine. I took the opportunity to sample one of the Egremont Russet apples. They taste great but the pips in the core were still white, meaning the apples need some more growing time.

Saturday 17 September 2016

Tidying the Ivy

At the side of the orchard nearest the road there is a steep embankment. It is wooded with a mix of trees, though mostly Hawthorn and Ash. It covers roughtly one third of an acre. The trees have been un-managed by previous owners of the land and are effectively growing wild. We're progressively managing them into a coppice wood, but deliberately progressing slowly to avoid upsetting the balance of the embankment and causing an earth collapse. However I've noticed some of the trees have too much ivy growing on their trunks.

I took some time today to attack the ivy by cutting the ivy creepers at the base of the trees. A sign of how poorly the trees have been managed is that one of the ivy "creepers" I cut was 4 inches (10 cm) in diameter. It had grown up the side of a large Hawthorn tree. At first I ignored it thinking it was part of the Hawthorn bush/tree but I noticed it didn't look right. It must have taken many years to have grown to that thickness! 

I also took the opportunity to harvest the apples from our Cobra apple tree. They taste delicious and are a dual purpose fruit suitable for both cooking and as a desert apple. The Cobra apple arises from a cross of the Cox Apple and the Bramley Apple.

Wednesday 24 August 2016

A new BBQ at the orchard.

Today we lit the orchard's charcoal barbecue for the first time. Though we'd not intended to do any cooking during the first burn we couldn't resist the temptation. A quick visit to Anthony Andrews, the butcher 200 metres up the hill in Turnditch. realised the supply of one pork chop. The meat was soon sizzling above the hot coals. It was very tasty.

Friday 29 July 2016

The world's most expensive cherries?

I was delayed from attending the orchard site for a couple of weeks following a neck injury. When I finally arrived I discovered the cherry tree had been stripped of its crop. I presume the culprits were either blackbirds or pigeons.

It is a great pity because the crop had looked most promising a few weeks earlier. We were able to pick just five cherries last year and they were delicious. Given the investment and expenses of creating the orchard, each single cherry has cost me £5000 (five thousand British pounds).

Hopefully the economics will improve next year.

Monday 4 July 2016

Finally the gates are installed

After a lot of preparatory work the new gates to the Turnditch orchard have been installed at the roadside entrance.

While the gates are level there is a couple of inches height difference between the two gate posts. The posts installed by the management team are of course correctly aligned. The other post installed using the volunteer team, whilst being perfectly vertical, is slightly height deficient.;-)

Some work remains to add a small wooden gate to the stile. This will allow free access to people using the public footpath, but will prevent animals straying on to the road through the stile stone gap.

Tuesday 28 June 2016

Keys to the Orchard

One of the consequences of the cutting the gate chain by persons unknown is the secondary padlocks, which were on the original chain, have been lost. Combined with the installation of new gates I'll need to have a few duplicate keys cut for the single padlock for the gate. 

I've continued the historic  informal licence of access across the land to the neighbouring farmer (the White family at Postern Gate Farm) and also to the local angling club who have fishing rights downstream from the orchard site. The farmer has already had a couple of keys provided free by me, but those have been lost. The angling club used to have their own lock daisy-chained in the old gate chain so they could gain access with their own key.

Having duplicate keys cut is not as simple as it might seem. The padlock is reasonably high quality and the keys need to be accurate. I've had keys cut at two different shoe repair shops and in each case the reproduction was not accurate. It was a waste of money for the keys, fuel and parking fees to visit the shop. I've found the only reliable way is to visit establishments who advertise locksmith skills and also to hand them the padlock to check their results.

A visit yesterday to the nearest Timpson store has produced some suitable duplicate keys. I now have the joys of getting the keys to the farmer and also to the fishing baliff. This time I'll absorb the cost, but if they need replacements for lost keys it will cost a minimum of £10 per key.

Monday 27 June 2016

Good progress on the roadside gate

Yesterday we completed the installation of the metal gate posts for the roadside gates at the Turnditch Orchard. We'd already dug the hole for the right hand side post and lined the bottom with a pad of concrete, but this was to be the acid test of whether we'd got everything in the right position. The gateway is at the top of a sloping ramp leading from the field to the road. At the gateway the ground slopes in two different directions. As we have two gate leaves meeting in the middle it is essential their support posts are accurately aligned in terms of height of the hinges and the vertical aspect of the posts.

When we came to complete the work it was clear that all of the careful pre-preparation has paid off. The volunteer team lifted the heavy metal post into the hole and we commenced the check measurements. After a couple of sideways shuffles of the post we had exactly 12 feet between the posts and they were perfectly level and aligned. The volunteers had not seen the magic of postcrete in action before this installation. We (the volunteers' leader sent a pensioner down the ladder to the river) grabbed a couple of buckets of water from the river and filled the post hole approximately quarter deep with water then poured four bags of postcrete powder in the hole around the post. Using a scrap piece of timber we tamped down the concrete making sure the concrete mix was thoroughly dampened as we poured. Within ten minutes the post was held firmly in place and accurately positioned.

We'll leave the gate post concrete to harden for a couple of days before we mount the gates on their hinges.

We've now turned out thoughts to where we should build the barbecue. I'll be double checking to see whether I need planning permission. The intention is to allow local people to come on to the orchard and make use of the barbecue.

We are currently planning to locate it at the foot of the embankment approximately half way along the orchard. The soil at this location seems to be quite poor and fruit trees and other vegetation does not thrive.

Thursday 23 June 2016

Electric fence energiser housing

We're building a small cabinet in the Orchard to provide security and weather protection for our new electric fence energiser. Today we excavated the base and laid a small reinforced concrete slab to provide a base for the housing cabinet. The base is not large, approximately 100 x 60 cms, so we mixed the concrete by hand from ballast and cement powder (6:1 by volume). Sam's Steps by the river provided a convenient access to fill our water buckets.  The warm humid weather and summer flies buzzing around did not make this work a pleasant experience. Once the base slab has cured we'll build a lockable housing for the energiser and its battery. There will be some additional security features to deter thieves.

After the work had been done I checked the orchard and found four young sheep lurking in a far corner close to the railway. They'd knocked over the temporary electric fence posts  to gain access to our woodland. I spent a couple of hours installing some heavy duty wooden posts, driven firmly into the ground and set up a six strand electric fence to deter these four legged marauders.

Edit 24/06/2016
I found sheep in the orchard again this morning. They'd pushed the six strand electric fence aside. These must be some mighty hungry sheep if they are prepared to tolerate the powerful 3 joule shock this fence gives. I think the problem is they are dumb juvenile sheep not yet "trained" to recognise electric fences. The older sheep steer clear once they realise it is an electric fence.

I've now ripped out the extended section of the electric fence adjacent to the railway line and replaced it with 30 metres of wire stock fence mounted on wooden posts driven in at 10 foot intervals.

I removed the plywood shuttering from the base of the energiser shed. The concrete slab is looking good.

Edit 28/06/2016
The installation of wire stock fence seems to have worked, there have been no further sheep invasions since I upgraded the fence to a permanent structure. Last night I added an insulator mounted electrified high tensile steel wire top strand above the wire stock fence to enhance the sheep resistance. I'd been trying to avoid a permanent fence as we still have to fell some trees in that area, but it seems to be the only solution to deal with the sheep.

Wednesday 22 June 2016

The battle with the sheep continues

The problems with sheep from the neighbouring field continue at the Turnditch Orchard. At lunchtime I found several sheep on the orchard. They'd found yet another route into the field.  Most of the fruit trees have now suffered substantial damage from Farmer White's flock. I must admit my patience is now wearing thin, I wish he'd do something to contain his animals, it is after all his responsibility and not  mine. The sheep seem to be very hungry. 

Damage to the plum tree

Leaves stripped from one of the apple trees
One of our young plum trees has lost most of its leaves and has had branches broken by the sheep. I'll have to prune them back to avoid infection in the tree. For some reason the apple trees have fared the worst. We've effectively lost two year's growth on the trees and will probably have to buy replacements and replant. 

I've found their latest point of entry, via two sections of wire strand fence and through woodland. The electric fence has been extended to cover this latest breach. It seems the theft of the fence energiser has had unexpected consequences.

The latest invasion by the sheep

Change of plan.

We'd planned to remove the electric fence at the Turnditch orchard. The theft of the fence energiser had just accelerated the plan. However the sheep from the White's farm have been too successful at finding ways into the orchard and have caused a lot of damage to the fruit trees. I'd even had phone calls from helpful neighbours who'd tried to chase the sheep out of the orchard.
We reinstated the electric fence yesterday with an expensive new fence energiser. It was warm and humid weather when I entered the adjoining field armed with brush cutter to trim back the vegetation which had swamped the electric fence. After a couple of hours hard work my clothes were sodden with sweat, but the work was done. I guess I had to clear about 250 sq metres. 

Now any malcontent sheep will receive a powerful shock if they try to invade our orchard. 

Monday 20 June 2016

Installing a gate post

We had a busy day installing one of the two gate posts for the new field gates at the roadside near the river bridge.

New gate post in place

This is the new left hand side gate post concreted in place behind the old stone gate post. The stone post has a substantial tilt and is not usable for a gate. The tilt was probably caused when the river bank collapsed some years ago. Whoever restored the bridge did not repair the post at the same time. You can see the stone stile of the public footpath standing next to the stone gatepost. 

The new metal gate post is fixed using postcrete in a socket in a concrete beam buried under the soil. We constructed the beam using steel reinforced concrete in December 2015. It was cast in place and also supports the wooden fence post shown to the left of the picture. The River Ecclebourne is just out of the picture to the left. We chose to construct a concrete beam to prevent any further damage or risk of collapse to the river bank. Many hour's work and approximately £150 (GBP) went into the construction of the beam.

The metal post is heavy galvanised steel tube with a cross section of 200 mm square (4 inches). The lower hinge lug is set approximately 20 cm  higher than if it was supporting a gate in a level field. The earth slopes down in two different directions at this gateway. We managed to set the post perfectly square and upright with a handy right angle magnetic post spirit level tool. The tool is placed against one corner of the post and it stays in place while you manoeuvre the post. We used a professional grade of Postcrete which was easy to pour around the post into the socket in the concrete beam. Once we'd triple checked the measurements and levels the post was firmly fixed in place within 15 minutes. We'll now leave it for a couple of days for the Postcrete to fully cure before attempting to hang a gate from it.

We've left sufficient space for people to be able to use the old stone stile for the footpath if they so wish, but we'll also make arrangements to allow pedestrians and their pets, buggies to be able to use the gate to access the footpath. 

I'd constructed a builder's water level to allow us to make sure both gate posts will be set at the right height on either side of the gateway.

Water level gauge

The picture above shows one end of the water level gauge at the old right hand gate post. Use of this tool will help to ensure the right hand steel post is exactly level with the left hand post which we've just installed. This type of level gauge tool is hundreds of years old.
We took the time to dig the hole for the right hand gate post, but need to double check the width measurements of both gates and their hinges before we position and install the gate post. The hole is over a metre deep and approximately 40 cm in diameter. We had to chop through buried stones and tree roots to complete the hole.

Right hand post hole

Friday 17 June 2016

Despite our best efforts

I noticed yesterday, while visiting the orchard in Turnditch, the sheep have finally succeeded in stripping the leaves from one of our young crab apple trees. They must have stood on their hind legs and braved a strand of barbed wire. Previously the electric fence  had kept the sheep away, but now the energiser has been stolen the sheep were able to find a way through. To be honest we should have planted it further away from the border fence in a place well out of reach of the sheep.
I doubt this tree will survive, so we will plant a new one during the winter in a different location.

Edit 20/06/2016 
Yesterday we noticed five young sheep, from Farmer White's flock, grazing in our orchard. With the kind assistance of a neighbour we managed to herd them up and return them to their field. The sheep had discovered a weak spot in the blackthorn hedge and had forced their way through. 
Now we have three young apple trees which have had their leaves stripped by the sheep. The trees damaged this time were in the middle of our orchard. I worked in the rain to patch the hedge with wire stock fence and three fence posts. This seems to have prevented further attacks, but I guess the sheep will find another route in before long.

Saturday 11 June 2016

Hot and sweaty

I was on the orchard cutting the grass yesterday. Boy, was the weather hot and sticky! To avoid strimmer rash and to protect my eyes I always wear full clothing, gloves and a visored helmet. The Hyundai Field Trimmer is quite good for not throwing up debris, but occasionally plant debris heads toward the operator. 

I had sweat running down my face and dripping from the helmet. I took plenty of water stops to cool down so I only managed to cut half the grass before quitting time.

The quality of the grass is improving and the weed count is dropping as a consequence of the regular mowing over the past couple of years.  I spent some time looking at the river and deciding what to do about the bank of stones that built up during the winter storms, but more about that later.