Sunday, February 28, 2010

38 trees pruned, 12 to go!

This sequence shows Isaac helping me tackle a tree that we thought was in danger of splitting down its trunk. It had become very spreading, with a large weight of wood a long way from the crown. The trunk appeared to have a clear weak point as well.

By bringing the arms in, the tree would be much less likely to split in two. Fortunately Issac is trained to undertake this kind of major surgery. It makes you think what would have been involved before the days of chainsaws!

On the right of this shot you can see the water shoots I have partially cut and bent down horizontally to grow out and eventually replace the branches we have removed. This technique seems rather brutal and may increase chances of infection at these wounds, but the trees are remarkably resilient and thus it is a risk worth taking.

Here is a tree we didn't get to in time to save. It is now supported by the ends of its spreading branches and will gradually decay. I plan to leave it in-situ as a habitat feature of these wood-pasture ecosystems.

The blue trees have been pruned by Issac and myself in the last few weeks. The five pink trees were pruned by my friends during the pruning party I hosted last weekend. The two yellow trees are standing dead or have split and will be left to decay gracefully.

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".

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

A professional pruner in the orchards

This week Isaac Nixon started working for me at Charingworth to help with the pruning. He is a professionally qualified tree surgeon with lots of experience pruning in commercial orchards.

That smaller chainsaw in the middle is designed for carving wood. It is good to use for pruning as there is less kick back than from a top handled tree surgeon's saw and this makes it safer to use up ladders around your face. Obviously, this kind of work can only be done by a trained professional.

This tree had tilted over and needed a bit more major shaping to even up the weight distribution. Apple trees can recover from toppling and this tree should respond by increased buttressing around the trunk and more root growth. It will gradually realign its canopy over the next few years.

Chainsaws aren't often associated with the sound of progress, but this case is an exception. In three days we have pruned nine trees, pushing the tally up to nineteen. At this rate we should have finished the 1920s orchard in a fortnight!

For the first time in years we are revealing vistas through this ancient orchard. An exciting time!

Monday, February 15, 2010

Victorian orchard masters

Oh what a joy to have been a gentleman fruit grower in Victorian England! My friend has been looking after this tome for her neighbour and let me have a look at it. 'The Fruit Growers Guide', written by John Wright to some three volumes and published in 1892. In time I will show you some of the fascinating details and superb eccentricities of this (very) comprehensive handbook, but first here's a quick peek at a few pages.

There are many of these beautiful painted plates by Miss May Rivers. I've also seen this website where they are selling these pages for £60 a go - but I fear they have been cut out of editions of this book. Antiques shmantiques! Perhaps this pear 'Bergamotte Esperen' in the 'Bergamy' perry pear I bought off Dave Kaspar?

It's full of these beautifully detailed pen and ink drawings of branch structures, grafting and pruning techniques. Such admirable commitment to detail.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Building a shelter for pruners

Today, Freddie (a regular helper for the Trust) and I constructed a temporary shelter in the upper orchard to harbour chilly pruners during lunch breaks and teas. We bought a 7m x 11m tarpaulin from Stow Agricultural Services in Stow-on-the-Wold and chose a south facing side to one of the more magnificent trees. One of the biggest challenges was ensuring we created more than just a huge apple sail!

Poking the fire - an age old tradition.

In sunny weather the sides can be rolled up for a more 'alfresco' feel.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Freecycle for less landfill.

My friend made me aware of this very cool website today. I can't work out if it is just catching on or if everyone has known about it for ages. A simple idea - it matches people who have things to give away with people that want those things, and in doing so results in less usable stuff being buried in the ground. There are lots of regional groups in the UK - Stratford-upon-Avon group here we come!

Monday, February 1, 2010

How to plant a fruit tree

Over the weekend I planted the 'Bergamy' perry pear maiden (1 year old) I bought at Day's Cottage last Thursday. It will take at least 15 years to get going fruitwise, but could live 350! 'Plant pears for your heirs', as the saying goes. Planting trees of any sort (even Laylandii?!) is very addictive, but there is much more to it than just digging a hole. A few things to remember with fruit trees:

1) Choose a site. Avoid anywhere that remains waterlogged for long periods or is really exposed.

2) Dig a big hole and fill it back up again with well rotted manure/good composted organic matter.

3) Don't plant the tree too deeply. As the soil settles the tree will sink leaving a bowl that may fill with water. If much of the trunk becomes buried the tree will struggle. It's best plant the tree quite shallowly and then mound the soil up to cover the roots.

4) Water in well.

5) Staking is important as it will prevent the tree from blowing over and give the roots a chance to establish. Recent thinking suggests that it is also beneficial to avoid securing the tree to firmly to a stake as some wobbling encourages the tree to establish a more sturdy root system at an earlier age. So basically, if you're on quite an exposed site then use a stake that's as big as your tree and attach it with a rubber tie quite high up on the tree. On less exposed sites (like mine) you can get away with a lower fastening.

6) Mulching is also a good idea to prevent weed competition. I used some cardboard pegged down that will slowly rot. Bark chips or breathable/biodegradable plastic are other alternatives.

7) Guards. Essential in some form for any new tree. Use a spiral or mesh guard for planting a tree in your garden to stop rabbits. If your field is going to be grazed then you need to think about something more substantial. For sheep you can probably get away with a 4ft metal mesh guard or similar. If you know there may be deer about this will need to be 6ft. For cattle or horses you need a mega post rail and wire construction that will look ridiculous compared to your stick like maiden but is very necessary.

8) Keep an eye on it! Most people make the mistake of planting the tree and thinking that's the job done. Aftercare is essential for success and the first year is when you are most likely to lose the tree. Lone trees in fields are also very tempting perching spots for raptors so it may be an idea to have a taller 'perching post' that will prevent unfortunate accidents!.
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