Thursday 21 April 2016

Planning for fence removal at the orchard

A couple of years ago we had a hedging professional on the orchard site re-laying the boundary hedge between our plot and the adjoining field. Previous owners had neglected the hedge over the years and had allowed the Blackthorn to run wild. At 11 GBP per metre it was not an insignificant investment. We needed to protect hedge from hungry sheep in its early stages of regrowing. We also needed to fill in some gaps to keep marauding sheep away from the young fruit trees. There was a real risk of damage by sheep to both the fruit trees and the relaid hedge as an earlier Blog post can attest. 

To provide this protection we installed a semi-permanent electric fence just inside in the boundary of the neighbouring field. It had driven wooden fence posts, with insulators screwed into them. The fence part was constructed with four strands of high tensile electric fence wire. The top strand was polypropylene rope with stainless steel strands interwoven. There's almost one kilometre of wiring.

The electric fence has worked out well and the hedge no longer needs any protection. The fruit trees could be damaged by the sheep, but the regrown hedge, plus some wire stockfence, is now providing an effective barrier.

The time has come to remove the electric fence. This should be a simple task were it not for the high tensile fence wire. The wire is very springy and easily tangles if not managed carefully. When delivered it was just a coil of wire contained by some soft iron wire wrapped around the coils. We had to carefully unwind the coils to avoid tangles as we laid the fence.

To help manage the recovery of the fence wire we've been busy in the workshop fabricating wooden drums/bobbins to receive the recovered fence wire. They are about one foot (30 cm) in diameter and about six inches (15 cm) wide. We've recently taken delivery of a large bandsaw in the workshop. This machine made the process of cutting circular disks of plywood for the bobbins an easy task. Air powered nail guns improved the accuracy and speed of nailing the bits together. While it is possible to buy old used plastic cable bobbins or use some old electric power cable cardboard bobbins it is quite satisfying to just build them from scrap bits of wood. It certainly is much more fun than commuting to a city office and spending the time doing boring paperwork and tedious phone conferences.

Soon we'll be drawing back the wire from the electric fences. We'll recover the gripples we used to tension the wire. The fence posts will be lifted and reused for wooden fence building further down in the orchard in the part we've yet to recover from the scrub land. The fence insulators will be recovered and stored for later use.

One lesson from all of this is that if you are considering buying a plot of land for an orchard be sure to check the state of the boundary fences. Estimate the cost of restoring the fences, hedges and walls to a good condition. It takes time and money to fix them. Sometimes your neighbours will show no interest in funding long term fixes for the fences.

Monday 18 April 2016

A busy time of the year in the Orchard

Suddenly everything is springing into life in the Turnditch Orchard. The grass is starting to shoot up and will soon need trimming, but I want to leave it until the Celandine flowers have died away. These plants look a bit like buttercups but are a different species. We're still clearing piles of branches by burning them, but I've noticed a pair of robins nesting in one of the piles so we'll have to be extra careful in moving any pile. We need to rake the area where the trees were felled to remove any small branches from the grass or we'll be having trouble with the mowing machine.

The fruit trees are starting to flower, but we are still getting frosts at night. With the orchard positioned at the foot of a hill there's a risk of damage. I'll need to have some fleece fabric available to protest the fruit trees at this delicate stage of their annual growth cycle. Hopefully there will be no more sudden flooding. We need to mulch around the base of the fruit trees with compost to improve their resilience to drought and also to improve the soil quality, though we've applied some fertiliser I think in some areas the tree growth is retarded by poor soil quality. I'm beginning to realise that the land has been given little care over the past hundred years.

The areas where we planted herbs in the winter needs to be weeded. There are some areas where I need to use a flame gun to burn back weeds so can do some planting. Another walnut tree has arrived for planting.

Back at the house I need to get on with the annual service of the motors of the power equipment.  Typically I've left that a bit late. The volunteers are in the time of the year when they need to be revising for important exams so are not available. Coupled with an unexpected work commitment in London and a death in the family life is a bit complex at the moment. We were planning to buy the gates and posts for the roads side gateway, but an unexpected repair bill for my car windscreen has soaked up those funds, maybe I'll built them from timber rather than buy prefabricated steel gates.

Overall we are pleased with the general progress, but the work does seem to be mounting up.

Edit: 21st April 2016 Today we mulched around the base of the fruit trees with a one inch layer of rotted farmyard manure compost then covered the layer with large squares of discarded carpet to provide weed suppression. We've also undertaken the end of season servicing of the power machinery; cleaning filters, changing oil checking belts etc. Our dogs had great fun chasing field mice which had hidden under the carpet squares at the base of the trees.

Tuesday 12 April 2016

Riverside gate

As part of the safety work on the Turnditch Orchard project, we have installed a metre high wire stock fence along the edge of the river bank where the public footpath runs. Normally the river level is low and safe, but after heavy rain the river quickly turns to spate. The swollen waters are fast flowing and dangerous.

We've always intended to allow access to the river, but didn't have a the time or funds to install a gateway through the fence. We did however design the fence so a small gate could be easily installed.  Last weekend we didn't work on the orchard, but instead used the time to set to work in our man cave to build a new gate. It has been built from timber left over from an earlier project. The timber is larch and has been pressure treated (tannalised) with chemicals to resist fungal and insect attack.

We cut mortice and tenon joints for the frame of the gate and added bracing, so it is quite light but strong. Its dimensions are 90 x 60 cm. We've given the finished unit a couple of coats of ranch paint to improve the water proofing and weather resistance. No screws were used in its construction (except for the hinges), as the mortice/tenon joints are quite accurate.  The cost of the gate, excluding the hinges, was about £4. When we looked around at suppliers the minimum price was £45 for a ready made unit.

Small gate on river bank in the orchard.
Riverside gate on the Ecclesbourne

We'll be installing the gate today, the next stage will be to build some steps down the steep bank to the river adjacent to the gate. There's no complicated gate latch, just a loop of fencing wire to hold it closed.