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.

Wednesday 8 June 2016

Return from holiday - unpleasant surprise

We returned from a short holiday to discover the chain locking the gate of the Turnditch Orchard had been cut again. Once again bolt croppers had been used to cut out a section of the chain locking the gate. Whoever did this had tried to hide their handiwork, but in effect the road gate had been left unlocked. We'd left the old chain in place, pending replacement of the road gate. The chain is relatively thin galvanised mild steel and fairly feeble from a security viewpoint.. We'd inherited that chain from the previous owners. We've now replaced the gate chain with a much stronger, thicker, hardened steel chain.  This an initial temporary measure until the new gates are installed.

This will be of concerned to the angling club who use our gate as their "daisy chain" lock has gone missing. It will doubtless worry the neighbouring farmer who clearly been doing some work with his sheep in the adjoining field over the past couple of days. Our gate is the only real locked barrier between the road and his herd of sheep. If gates were left open the sheep might stray and cause damage or be injured/lost/stolen.

As before the criminal activities will be reported to the police.

Wednesday 1 June 2016

Sam builds a ladder.

One of the volunteers working with basic tools in the orchard site, built a ladder from pieces of fencing timber. It is now installed on the river bank to allow safe access to the River Ecclesbourne. The ladder, which is about 8ft (2.4M) tall, is intended to help anyone working in the river to gain safe access.

Sam completes the ladder.
Sam adds the final bolts to attach the rungs.
The ladder stands on the river bed and is firmly attached to a riverside tree stump to prevent it from being washed away in the winter storms. The timber is pre-treated to resist rotting. Nearby a recently installed gate allows secure access  to the ladder through the riverside fence. The ladder is robust, needing two people to carry it.

Sam is the first person to test the ladder he built.

We've also installed a dog gate in the field gate to the adjoining fields. The simple wooden latch is designed to allow operation from both sides of the gate. Let's hope people remember to close it and latch it properly after letting their dog through.

Turnditch Orchard dog gate