Sunday 24 January 2016

Building a temporary stile in the Orchard

In a couple of days time volunteers arrive on the orchard to start the process of culling trees on the embankment at the edge of our orchard field. I agreed to this work about a week ago, but in the intervening period I had to quickly erect some wire stock fencing across the width of the orchard to ensure the neighbouring sheep don't invade our land and damage the fruit trees. Unfortunately the new stock fence bars the way to the trees on the embankment and the volunteers would be faced with constantly having to climb over the stock fence, most likely damaging it in the process.

Today I spent a few hours building a stile over the stock fence to allow people to climb over safely and without damaging the wire fence. I utilised four round fence posts each about six foot (1,95 metres) tall to form the two sides of a ladder over the wire fence. I cut some robust half round 3 inch wooden fence railing into 60 cm (2 ft) sections to form ladder rungs. It is crudely constructed, using a chain saw, a spanner (wrench) and a hammer with coach bolts and fencing wire holding it all together. However it is a robust construction and should do the job. It weighs around 100 kg (220 lbs), carrying the wood and the tools to the far end of the orchard burnt off loads of calories.

Let's hope people find it useful!

Thursday 21 January 2016

Sheep Alert at the Orchard

We were driving back from shopping in Ashbourne and travelled past the orchard site. We noticed that sheep had appeared in the adjoining field. I had to rush back and perform some urgent fencing work to strengthen the weaker parts of the hedge between the fields. At the moment the electric fence is out of commission and there is a risk that sheep could stray into the orchard and damage the young trees. In theory the owner of the sheep has the responsibility to provide fencing ensure his animals don't stray on to our land, but he doesn't have a great history in that respect.

This afternoon I drove ten fence posts into the ground and installed about sixty feet (18 Metres) of wire stock fence.

Update 6th Feb 2016: So far no sheep on the orchard. My efforts paid off.

Tuesday 19 January 2016

Planning woodland work at the Orchard

We've finally reached the point where we can start work on managing the woodland at the side of the orchard. There is about one third of an acre of trees which have grown up unmanaged in any way in the past twenty years or so. It is mostly a mix of Ash and Hawthorn, though there are other species. They are too congested and need some culling to provide some diversity. Some of the trees overhang the road and some overhang the railway line, we'll have to proceed carefully with those trees.

We don't want to clear fell the whole area as this could lead to soil instability on the embankment leading up to the rail bridge. So we'll have a rolling three year programme of selective felling. The tree stumps will be left in place to encourage regrowth in a coppice environment.  We now have a couple more volunteers who are going to help in this work. Passers-by may notice we have selected and marked several trees in preparation for the winches and chain saws. The felling work will be technically challenging as most of the trees lean at an angle.

Friday 15 January 2016

Further harvest from the orchard site

I had to cut down an old apple tree in the original hedgerow. It had fallen under the weight of ivy growing in the upper part of the tree. The main part of the tree  was leaning excessively and close to falling.

Today I cut the apple tree trunk into sections and carted them home where they'll be seasoned and used as logs for our open fire. The smoke from such logs is very aromatic, There was some damage to the core of the tree, otherwise I might have sold the wood to carvers.

I've left the stump of the tree in the hedgerow. Hopefully it will regrow as in a coppice and rejuvenate. The old tree had only tiny apples and was not much good for fruit.

Sunday 10 January 2016

Willow harvest at the Orchard

We harvested last year's growth of willow from the grove planted in the Turnditch Orchard. We planted the willow (100 wands) in 2013 shortly after purchasing the land to form the orchard. This year was the first time we've taken a crop.

We were able to take about a wheelbarrow load of willow branches or wands from the plants. We've coppiced them to waist height to encourage the development of a trunk with thicker tough bark and provide future resilience from rabbit or sheep attack.

The field is quite soggy at the moment following all the rain we have had recently, The base of the willow was under water in a large puddle. Fortunately willow is able to resist such wet conditions without damage. Over the past few weeks the river has come close to the flood levels on several occasions, but fortunately the rain lessened and we were not flooded.

We were able to use the willow (Salix Verminalis) to start work on spiling the river bank. We were able to create a trial three metre section. We'll monitor progress during the year. If it regrows well we will repeat the process next winter.

The willow spiling is formed by pushing the thicker sticks into the ground (after using an iron bar to make a hole) in an upright position. The remaining thinner willow sticks (whips) are woven horizontally between the uprights to form a low wall. We also planted the butt end of most of the sticks in the soil. Most of the willow will take root and grow during the spring/summer forming a living green wall. The willow roots will penetrate down into the river bank in search of nutrients and water. The mass of willow roots will reinforce the river bank and protect against further erosion. The wall will collect sediment behind it during flooding and is not damaged by inundation. As the willow becomes established we'll have to periodically trim it back to stop it growing too tall.