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.