Tuesday, March 16, 2010

It's spring and the birds are moving in...

Two hours ago I took this photo of a red kite flying over the 1940s orchard! What a sign of how successful the Chilterns re-introduction program has been. Indeed, whilst I was getting a bus to Gatwick airport last week I saw over fifteen of them when we passed down through Buckinghamshire towards London. In medieval times they were common in towns and cities where they fed on carrion and waste in the streets, rather like vultures do in other countries.

My funding has stretched further than anticipated and so I was able to direct Issac into the 1940s orchard for a spare day. Here he just concentrated in doing the chainsaw work I can't do on my own, such as raising the crowns and removing any large diseased branches. I saw a few yellowhammer down by the pheasant feeder where they always seem to hang out. It's a red list species due to recent population declines that are almost certainly due to the intensification of farming methods.

We have finished pruning the 1920s orchard now and its looking pretty amazing. The main job left is getting rid of the immense volumes of prunings that we have created. The offcuts are all very green and sappy and I have been agonising over the most efficient way of dealing with them. A mobile chipper is one option, but the prunings are quite hard to handle and I think the best option may be to make several large bonfires and leave the wood to season for five months before burning it all.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Victorian orchard eccentricities

Here are a few more gems from "The Fruit Grower's Guide" (by John Wright F.R.H.S.), an utterly comprehensive three volume orcharding bible published in 1892. More specifically they are some of the more bizarre "illustrative diagrams" by Worthington G. Smith and George Shayler. Oh, to have a son and call him Worthington!

A diagram that forces all of us to reconsider how committed we really are to growing fruit. Imagine calling across from your young espalier in the walled garden - "Worthington, any idea where I may have left my Parisian?" And would you even feel worthy enough to wield a Wharncliffe, with it's ivory handle and three blades? They were in another league, those Victorian pruners.

Look at this. It takes my breath away. Was this his first knapsack pump design or do you think it may have been part of a range? Chelsea, Battenberg, Cob (a basic model)... What a man.

No words.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Planting vintage varieties

Yesterday I drove across to Drakes Broughton to visit Kevin at Walcot Organic Nursery and see if I could shark a few late trees to plant out. Finding fruit trees anywhere on proper standard rootstocks (i.e. M25) is quite difficult as more dwarfing forms tend to be preferred and are more convenient for a garden scale. Couple that with the fact that it's quite late in the year to be planting fruit trees and I was lucky they hadn't been completely cleaned out. I came away with an Ashmead's Kernel (Dave Kaspar's favourite) and the cider varieties Dabinett, Michelin and Tom Putt. I also got a crab apple as they are traditionally used to help improve pollination rates since they hold their blossom for a long time. I wanted to buy a few maidens to put in the ground this year and then by this time next year I will hopefully have fifty more trees of rare local varietes that I am grafting onto M25 next week. If you can't buy it, make it yourself.

The pruning is also going at a great pace - we now only have three trees to go before the 1920s orchard is completely pruned. (That's six years growth off fifty 90 year old Bramley apple trees.)

You can almost hear this old beast sucking in the fresh air!
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