Tuesday 12 December 2017

Our gate grows legs.

We turned up on the orchard site in Turnditch to give our dogs a run and to collect some ivy, rose hips and branches to use for Christmas decoration.  As I arrived I noticed our old 12 foot steel gate was missing  from the inner gateway.  The roadside gate was still intact, but the old gate which weighs about 40 Kg was no longer in sight. 

A little searching around found the gate in a neighbouring field where "persons unknown" had chosen to relocate and repurpose the gate.  I promptly liberated the gate and returned it to its proper position in our orchard. Being a charitable sort of a guy I've presumed that some workers misunderstood the ownership of the land and its artefacts.

The old gate is now firmly chained to a steel post. This might help people understand that it is private property and not available for alternative purposes. If they need to contact us to discuss such desires they can use the phone number posted by our entrance gate.

Monday 13 November 2017

Preparing Machinery for Winter

We spent a few hours getting the petrol engined tools which we use in the orchard, ready for winter. I was quite surprised when I realised we now have six such tools. Most of the work was following the maintenance schedule such as oil changes and cleaning air filters. However one item was dealing with fuel (petrol) for the motors. I hadn't realised fuel from the forecourt can go off in as little as 30 days. Using stale fuel can damage a motor, particularly the small high revving 2-strokes.
The usual advice is to drain the fuel systems over Winter and to fill with fresh fuel in the Spring when you start to use the tools again. After some investigation we decided to empty the tanks and refuel them with fresh petrol treated with "Fuel Fit" petrol additive from Briggs and Stratton. This keeps fuel fresh for up to three years. An alternative would be to swap over to Aspen alkylated fuels, they contain fewer impurities and last for a couple of years. Aspen is about three times more expensive than forecourt petrol. Fuel Fit costs about £8 to treat 25 litres of fuel.

None of this equipment is stored on site.

Sunday 12 November 2017

Winching competition

Today saw the annual winching competition in the Turnditch Orchard. In the interest of fairness the teams are offered free choice of equipment and can select their winching tasks in the competition area.  This year the Management team were the clear winners of the event achieving six blackthorn stumps in the allotted time. 
Tirfor type winch

This year we tried out the Power Winch 2500. This pulls quite quickly, but the 2500 lbs pull was no match for the Blackthorn. We stalled the motor when attempting a straight pull of a stump and, in any event, we were worried the surface of the rope may melt on the winch capstan at full pull. We reverted to the tried and tested Tirfor type cable winch (1800Kg), which is slower but significantly greater pulling power.

We used a snatch block to double the pulling power of the winch. The other end of the cable was attached to a 130 mm post which had been driven into the ground, this in turn was backed up by our 16 Kg boat anchor. A new innovation was having the steel wheel rim to change the direction of pull chain to the tree stump. Instead of pulling horizontally, the wheel introduces an upward vector to help lift the root from the ground.

Steel wheel rim helps the pull
Our boat anchor helps the winching

Tuesday 7 November 2017

Anchors aweigh!

We've finally been able to get some free time to work in the Turnditch Orchard during the last weekend. There's an area of the plot which we'd partially cleared of blackthorn, but we made the mistake of not completing the task this year. Consequently the blackthorn has re-sprouted and more effort is needed to trim it and remove it from the ground. 

We did some tidying a few weeks ago when we were trying out our Makita long pole petrol hedge trimmer. We used this to cut back some of the undergrowth. Our field trimmer would have struggled with the thorn bush. 

During the past year we've purchased a portable petrol powered capstan winch, namely a PCW5000 to help us safely move some of the logs on the embankment. We were able to use this to easily pull out some of the thorn bush stumps.  Unfortunately we'd not bought enough rope on site, nor our manual winches, so after the first few easy pulls,  we found we were running out of suitable anchor points for the power winch. The blackthorn is quite stubborn when you winch it out. We found that the fence posts we'd hammered in the ground as anchors pulled out before the blackthorn moved. As a consequence we had to stop work.

The testing we'd done was quite fruitful, we've definitely improved our technique of removing the stumps. The whole process is a lot faster. We just need to sort out the anchoring method for the winch points. So this morning I ordered a heavy (16 Kg) steel boat anchor. This will act as a backstop to the fence post anchors we already use, the harder you pull on these anchors the deeper they dig into the ground.
In case anyone reading this article is thinking of visiting the site to acquire some new tools?  Don't bother we don't leave any equipment of value on site.

Monday 31 July 2017

Back to the routine

Now I've escaped the clutches of the medical profession and the demands of clients, I was able to get back to the routine of cutting the grass in the orchard. There's been a lot happening on site, such as the battle against Himalayan Balsam, the opening of  the Ecclesbourne Way, but the outstanding job list seems to keep growing.

We managed to cut most of the grass yesterday before it was time to leave. We'd let it grow way too long, so I'll need to get on-site with a rake to form some composting piles rather than leaving the cut grass to lay on the ground. The new hawthorn hedge is growing nicely, it will restore a 30 metre gap left by previous owners on the boundary hedge.I'd feared the worst for the fruit trees with the April frosts this year, but they seem to be flourishing in terms of foliage. We lost the cherries, we think to blackbirds while the fruit was still hard and green, but next year we'll have a anti-bird netting cage in place. I did notice a couple of apples on the Russet tree, and also a couple of pears.  One of the trees is struggling, I think it is a magnesium deficiency giving poor foliage, but that can be easily addressed.

Our small ginko sapling suffered some frost damage, but it is fighting back and has produced some reasonable foliage. On the river banks the willow spiling planted last winter appears to have become established. This will help to prevent soil erosion.

Friday 28 July 2017

Thank you Derbyshire Wildlife Trust and Environment Agency!

A big thank you to the Derbyshire Wildlife Trust and the Environment Agency for tackling the rampant and invasive Himalayan Balsam growing in the field adjacent to the orchard. They turned up this week with a team and equipment to mow down the weed. 

Over the past few years the Himalayan Balsam has been spreading further across the adjacent field. The seed is scattered up to 5 metres from the plant when the seed pods mature and dry out. When the weed grows it can grow up to two metres high and it crowds out native plants. This year we've have to regularly patrol the orchard's field side hedge dealing with invasions of this weed.

The invaders in the adjacent field

The Environment Agency mowing the weed
After their work

Thanks to Kath Stapley of the Derbyshire Wildlife Trust for organising this and providing the photographs.

Saturday 8 July 2017

Opening of the Ecclesbourne Way

The public footpath passing through our orchard forms part of the Ecclesbourne Way which is officially opened today (8th July 2017). We've taken part in the scheme to create this Way. One of the interpretation boards has been positioned on our river bank. 

Here's a BBC news article announcing the event. We've worked with people shown on the video and helped them in the installation of the interpretation board at the orchard.  We dug the post holes in preparation and provided materials to mount "our" sign. When the generator for their power tools failed on installation day, we lent their installation team our portable generator for the day.

Today, the gates of the orchard will be open to the people taking part in the inauguration walk. I'll travel by an Ecclebourne Valley Railway steam train from Wirksworth and alight at Shottle station.  From there at 11:30, the participants will take walk along the roadside footpath to our orchard before proceeding  along a section of the Ecclesbourne Way, then back to Shottle Station.

Edit: 9th July

Here's the local MP Rt Hon Sir Patrick McLoughlin  performing the opening ceremony.

Wednesday 28 June 2017

Ecclesbourne Way comes through the orchard.

On a very soggy Wednesday morning we installed the Ecclesbourne Way information panel on the bank of our stream in the Turnditch orchard. We'd previously given the Derbyshire Wildlife Trust to place a sign on our orchard site promoting this new walking route.

We'd dug the post holes a couple of days ago, so this morning there was not a lot of work to do other than assemble the components of the sign panel, then lower it into the post holes. It was quite heavy, requiring two people to lift it.  After some adjustment we were able to pour some Postcrete around the post bases then support it for 10 minutes to allow the concrete to harden.

Saturday 17 June 2017

June Fruit Drop

While we were building the fruit net cage for the cherry tree we noticed it has lost most of its fruit recently. The fruit are still hard and green. This syndrome is called June Fruit Drop. One of the causes can be poor weather at blossom time. 
This year we had a series of frosts just after the cherry had blossomed. Those frosts have affected most of the other fruit trees. However one compensation is the foliage of the trees is in very good condition this year. Hopefully, while we won't get any fruit, there will some healthy branch growth.

Sunday 11 June 2017

Building a fruit tree cage

Last weekend I'd scheduled work to build a fruit tree cage for the cherry tree on the orchard. Last year we lost all of the fruit overnight to birds. I'd taken delivery of a length of suitable fish net material - 19mm holes constructed from braided polypropylene twine in the previous week.  However when I measured the size of the tree last weekend, my dreams of it being a quick job evaporated,  To enclose the tree I need a cage 10ft x 10ft x 11ft high (3M x 3M x 3.3M). Fortunately I had ordered sufficient netting in advance from Collins Nets.

I calculated the timber need to build the cage. I had a bit of a shock when I realised how much was required, allowing for off-cut wastage. It was time to go to the local timber yard to buy some pressure treated two by one battens. The supplier is a lot less expensive than the major DIY chains, but it is cash only and prices are not marked on the shelves.  Five metres is the minimum length they sell in this thickness of wood (25 x 50 mm). I needed ten lengths to build the cage, each length weighing about four Kg. Fortunately I had invested in a roof rack for my Audi A6 and the car body is long enough to legally carry five metre lengths.

I'm busy with my business and other project work at the moment, but managed to find the time in my basement workshop to build the components of the frame. The work was complicated by the long length of the component struts. I had to move some of the machines around to cater for the lengths. I've designed it so there are push fit joints with galvanised coach bolts to secure the joints. It will have to be assembled and "netted" on site. I want something reasonably robust so we can move the (40 Kg) cage for grass mowing and fruit picking, but capable of disassembly at the end of season for storage.

I was ready to go to the orchard this morning to set it up, but we woke to a poorly dog with diarrhoea, so I can't come out to "play".  The Gods conspire. Ah well, I'll do the work during the week.

Sunday 4 June 2017

Money Tree in the Orchard

Today we are going to plant a Money Tree in the orchard. We'll need it, if Corbyn's marxist government is elected next week.  I'm wondering how much Land Tax will be charged on the site. If this happens it just means there's less money available to protect the wildlife and public access. I could just leave it to grow wild then sell the land for development when the rules are further relaxed in an attempt to provide extra housing.

Wednesday 10 May 2017

Launch of the Ecclesbourne Way

The Derbyshire Wildlife Trust will be launching the "Ecclesbourne Way" in a few weeks time. The route uses the public footpath which crosses our orchard. As part of that initiative we've allowed the DWLT to position an "Interpretation Board" on the river bank at our orchard in Turnditch.   The board will appear in the next few weeks.

Sir Patrick McLoughlin will officially open the walk on Saturday 8th July so we may get some visitors to the orchard on the day.

Sunday 30 April 2017

Grass cutting today

We had this year's first session of grass cutting at the Turnditch Orchard. Like my own hair it was definitely in need of a trim. So we wheeled out the trusty Hyundai Field Trimmer and set to work.  The two years of regular grass trimming is definitely reducing the number of major weeds as the grass can now dominate.

The machine earned its keep ploughing through the long grass and finishing plastered with grass cuttings.

Saturday 29 April 2017

A new sign on the gate

We've replaced the old sign on the gate post of the Turnditch orchard. The old one had a discontinued phone contact number and an old website name.

If you have a smart phone you may be able to find a secret hidden in the sign. (Hint: you won't be able to see it with your naked eye.)

Monday 24 April 2017

Fruit blossom arriving at the orchard

I was in the orchard today checking the trees (and the signal on my new phone). Everything is looking good except for the young tree whose roots had been disturbed by a fox. I gave that one a big drink of river water to get its roots used to the new soil I'd put in place.

There was some nice apple blossom today on the trees: 

If memory serves right it is an Egremont Russet. The cherry tree blossom is beginning to fade, but it looks like we'll have a good crop of cherries this year, provided we get some netting on the tree to keep blackbirds and pigeons away.

Sunday 23 April 2017

Checking the new hedge

I paid a quick visit to the orchard today armed with a pair of  long arm shears. The objective was to trim the weeds away from the base of the hedging shrubs I planted last month. It took about an hour to complete the work as this can only be performed by hand. There's eighty shrubs to tend. I'm pleased to say they all appear to have taken after their bare root planting. A good set of leaves is appearing at the top of these plants.

Less healthy is one of the bare root apple trees I planted last December. The small whip apple tree is proving slow to sprout leaves. It was probably not helped this week when a fox dug up the roots to get at the bone meal I used when planting.

Sunday 9 April 2017

Saw for sale

Following the recent success of a major wood working project I've gained confidence in my abilities. I'm upgrading our tools to add a Dewalt Sliding compound  mitre saw for some ambitious projects. This leaves our existing saw redundant. It is an Ebauer ERB608MSW double bevel mitre saw 230V with a 254mm blade. It's in good working order and lightly used since we bought it two years ago. It is a good robust saw which I like, but is not a "sliding" mitre saw.   We're selling it, as seen, for £50 (inc VAT), Buyer collects/inspects at our place in Belper. Call 01332 895130 if interested.

Update: The saw was sold and collected within 3 hours of posting on Facebook.

Wednesday 1 March 2017

Wild flower in the orchard

We've sown 30 square metres of wild flower seed in the orchard last month. The wild flower seed is a native woodland mix from Emorsgate Seeds EW1F mix - "Wild flower for woodland". We've sown in the areas of tree clearance on the embankment. The idea is to bring some natural plant variety back into the wilder areas of the orchard.

Tuesday 28 February 2017

Hedge restoration

The South boundary hedge of our orchard forms part of the parish boundary between Turnditch Parish and the Shottle and Postern Parish. Most of the hedge was restored by us when we took over the land. It was a neglected hedgerow which had been left to grow unchecked. We employed a professional hedger to re-lay the hedge a couple of years ago.  Where it has been restored it is a dense and healthy hedge comprising mainly of blackthorn, though there are other species such as holly, dog rose, and hazel growing.

However a section of the hedge, between the old large ash tree and the footpath, has long since vanished to be replaced by wire stock fencing. The section is about 30 metres long. I've no information as to why it was removed. However, this Spring (2017), we are planning to replant the hedge with the objective of letting it grow for a few years before having it laid in the traditional local fashion. We've chosen native hedging plants which match those already growing in the area. The hedging will be primarily Hawthorn with some Hazel, Ash and Dog Rose added in to the mix. There's already a couple of crab apple saplings from the orchard growing in that section

The plants will be protected by the existing wire fence and rabbit guard spirals. The greatest risk of damage is from sheep in the neighbouring field. We'll be dipping the roots of the plants in Rootgrow at the time of planting to help them develop good roots and have a good start in life.

Update: 10th March.   I've just returned from a planting session. We're about two thirds through the planting work having planted 75 bare root plants. The work has been slowed by the heavy clay which has, in the past ownership, been dumped on top of the top soil. There's also the odd block or two of concrete in the way. The young bushes/trees include: mostly Hawthorn, some Blackthorn, Field Maple, Hazel, Dog Rose, Bird Cherry.

Tuesday 14 February 2017

Yellow notice on the Lamp Post

Some of the eagle eyed residents of Turnditch will have noticed an official yellow notice affixed to the street light standard outside the gate of the orchard. I've even noticed people stop their car to get out and read the notice.

Don't worry folks we're not applying for permission to build refugee housing on the orchard site. No, the notice relates to permission for an advertising board. It's not advertising per se, but that's how the regulations go. We've given permission to the Derbyshire Wildlife Trust to place an Interpretation Board at the top of the river bank. It will give nature related information to walkers using the footpath. It should appear once the permission is granted by the Council.