Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Pruning party 2010

It was a question we had all been asking ourselves: what can a dozen people armed with saws do to an old orchard in a day? Will the outcome be disastrous? Can the ecological and horticultural aims be kept in balance? Will the cider kill the work ethic? Perhaps more than anything we were blessed by the weather on a day fine enough to inspire even the most dendrophobic Londoner into considering all those water shoots and congested crowns.

Teaching people about pruning is difficult, and especially so with the unusual situation at Charingworth. Here Bramley apple trees on vigorous rootstocks have been commercially managed for over 70 years. We are now attempting to ease them into a less intensive management regime, whilst at the same time preserving all the valuable types of habitat that orchards can accumulate over time.

I started my friends off on a couple of trees I had already half-pruned. This eased them into the basics of dealing with the water shoots without too many confusing or important decisions to make.

The basic message was: clear the crown and lower branches from water shoots and then thin the majority of the rest, choosing a few well positioned shoots to take the vigour. Remove anything crossing or pointing back in. Easy, breezy, beautiful.

I was lucky to have Harry and Tommy back from the pruning weekend last year. It looks like Harry is giving some advice to Luca in this photo - knowledge sharing for fruit bearing!

We brought a load of well seasoned wood into the orchard to try and create a fire ferocious enough to consume the piles of sappy offcuts that have been created. I think the only workable solution will be to hire a mobile chipper for a day once the pruning is finished.

A "Blitzkrieg" campaign on tree 31.

I picked up twenty litres of medium sweet Prior's Tipple cider to keep the mood buoyant. Alongside hot Cumberland sausages with mustard and onion marmalade, this made for an idyllic lunch amongst the trees.

By the end of the day we had pruned five trees (shown here in pink). This was more than I had hoped for and it was so thrilling that everyone seemed to really get into it. This takes the total up to 27, which is over half way!

More importantly it allowed a few people to experience the beauty of old orchards first-hand. There is nothing quite like sitting in the arms of a pruned apple tree with a glass of cider to allow communion with, in James Russell's words, that "man-made Eden".


  1. My God! Young people, cider, sharp implements. You'll have the Daily Mail down on you if they get word of this madness!

  2. i like the documentation. perfect. have put some photos up too.

    Harriet x


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