Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Barn owls discovered in the area

Today, whilst walking the dogs I found exciting new evidence that there are barn owls around the orchards. This indicates that the chances of one finding my new owl box are pretty good.

There are several ancient hollow ash trees in the hedges around Goose Hill. Many years of repeated pollarding would have reduced the strain of large limbs on the trunk and allowed them to remain healthy for much longer. Trees like this are an undervalued wildlife resource and provide habitats similar to those provided by over-mature fruit trees. The exposed holes at the top of this one seem like an ideal potential barn owl roost.

This photo of the base of the hollow cavity of the tree clearly shows white feathers, the white splashes of droppings and (most characteristically) several fresh large black pellets.

A barn owl pellet from inside the tree. Small mammal populations can be estimated by analysing the proportions of bones from different species in these pellets. They are coughed up rather than excreted.

Herbie and Percy surveying the close proximity of this tree to the orchard containing my new barn owl box. Looks promising!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Barn owl box erected in the upper orchard in Charingworth.

Yesterday two friends helped me put a barn owl box up in a tree next to the upper orchard at Charingworth. The rough grassland supports large rodent populations and owls have been observed in the area. I believe that a lack of appropriate nesting sites is limiting the local population from reaching its potential.

The assembly team (from left to right): Angus, myself and Freddie and a host of tools (and skills!).

Siting the box appropriately is very important, otherwise it is unlikely to be used by a barn owl . I used information on the Barn Owl Trust website as a guide. The entrance hole needs to be high enough up, free from any overhanging vegetation and preferably facing away from the prevailing wind. Apparently barn owls are not the least interested in boxes, but are very interested in holes. I chose this ash tree as especially appropriate as the box can be positioned high up and facing along a green track bordered by the long rank grassland of the bottom end of the orchard.

1) Tie the ladder off to the tree at the top and drill a hole for the supporting screw (for this box design).
2) Screw in the screw, leaving neck exposed.
3) Slide box onto screw and tighten until secure.
4) Cut away any branches growing from below or hanging from above that may obstruct the flight path into the box.

Now we wait and see... Jackdaws are likely to be the most probable competitor and are problematic as they will build a huge nest to fill up the box. Since barn owls like to have an empty cavity other constructions should be sensitively removed (i.e. before any eggs are laid, and as long as they have not been built by an endangered species). Hopefully the entrance will be too exposed for other owl species and the box too large and deep for sparrowhawks, kestrels or pigeons. I have another box that I plan to site somewhere in the other orchard and hopefully soon the evening air will be hissing with ghostly beasts!

Monday, September 21, 2009

Apple weekend in Wiltshire

Last weekend I went to Wiltshire to meet up with seven friends and spend time in honour of the apple. We picked and pressed fruit from the orchard to make delicious juice. We were blessed with glorious autumn sunshine and I was all eyes and ears to learn as much as possible at my first ever juicing event.

A geographic mix (ie. all from the same area) of fruit was used, with Russets (a good cider apple) going in at quite a high proportion to ensure a tasty flavour.

Once picked the fruit was washed and roughly chopped prior to pulping. The roughly chopped fruit then goes into the scatter to be pulped before pressing.

We used a modern press which involved a perforated metal barrel that has a bladder inside that inflates with water from the tap, squeezing juice from the pulp at pressure. The residue from pressing is remarkably dry. A really clever machine for producing juice quickly and easily. The first tasting was superb- really sweet and exceptionally flavoursome, it put any supermarket juice to shame.

Bottling proved to be a really satisfying activity.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

A giant walnut tree in Wiltshire

This beautiful old Walnut tree is in the grounds of my friends home in Wiltshire. It is the largest I have ever seen and had a bees nest half way up it in one of the cavities. What a beauty.

Two centuries of the Bramley apple!

(Photo © Archie Miles, not to be downloaded or reproduced in any form without prior permission.)

2009 marks the 200th anniversary of the Bramley apple. The founding pip was planted in 1809 by a certain Mary Ann Brailsford in her garden in Southwell, Nottinghamshire. This is a photo of the original tree alongside it's long-time owner and curator, Nancy Harrison. Every tree in the Charingworth orchards is a direct descendant of this one. The Bramley industry is now worth £50 million per annum, but sadly very little of this money is generated by fruit from full size trees in traditional orchards.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Welcome Gloucestershire Orchard Group members!

I am hoping that after the little feature on the Charingworth Orchard Trust that Ann Smith included in the most recent Gloucestershire Orchard Group (GOG) bulletin, some GOG members may have recently encountered the blog. If so, fantastic and welcome. Feel free to email me if you have any questions, tips or further info. about my posts.

It has been a quiet August in the orchards at Charingworth but internet coverage should snowball as we enter the picking, and later the pruning seasons. For the moment, here are a few photos of really monstrous Bramley apple trees from Upwells near Wisbech. Michael Clarke of Tewin Orchard kindly sent me them. Perhaps in 20/30 years time a few of the Charingworth trees will be in this league. Or perhaps that's a bit of wishful thinking!

These trees at Upwell have been allowed to grow naturally. In contrast, many fruit trees are cut back at 'maiden' (1 year old) stage to produce an open crown.

Anna Clark of Tewin Orchard here showing the sense of scale of these huge fruit trees. I can't wait for the opportunity to go and see them myself...

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