Sunday, 7 August 2011

the hidden orchard

Work reclaiming the hidden orchard has progressed soo sloowly. It is hard work and we still haven't finished. We began at the end of April - over three months ago.

But we have now cleared all of the impenetrable suckers and saplings that prevented us even getting in to see if there were any apple trees in there. The only way of knowing that there were apple trees was by seeing the blossom from the Google Earth images!! The apple trees are clear of competition now and we can even see a few brave little apples way up in the branches or scattered, unripe, around the base of the trees.

So yesterday, more axe swinging, digging, pushing, dragging and lopping saw more of the ground cleared as we enter the area occupied by the large and seemingly barren cherries. Oak saplings have lateral roots that are fairly easy to cleave, destabilising the tree so that we then use the weight of the tree and its foliage as a lever to pull itself out of the ground. A final few hefty swipes at the tap root with the axe and it can be carried away.
Cherries have much more dense lateral roots but seemingly no tap root.The blunted axe takes some swinging to get through these roots.

Tiring work - I am used to creaking and finding it difficult to put on socks the following day!

Pictured is the progress so far. About a third of the orchard to go but the problem springing up behind as we progress comes from the dense and criss-crossing tangle of underground roots that send up perispcopes of green shoots as soon as our backs are turned. These must all be cleared from the ground. We have a masterplan for this but more on that at some later date. To tantalise you, when we showed our daughter Sarah the plan, she laughed until tears rolled down her face. Apparently, only we could think of this particular solution.

We will try and identify the apple varieties as fruit ripens and must then work over five years reducing the height of the trees. If too many limbs are removed too quickly, the tree produces lots of green shoots called 'water growth'. This is not wanted. The best way is to take one branch away per tree per year until the required height and shape is reached. Oh, for an instant solution. Delayed gratification comes in spadefuls with this project.

We will put our thinking caps on about which other apple varieties to grow. These will be on dwarf rooting stocks to make pruning and fruit collection easy.

I hope to sow a flower meadow mix to carpet the orchard floor ready for next spring. I would love to plant hundreds of crocus there too - beautiful and great for bees. The area around the base of each apple tree must be kept clear and mulched with compost or manure to nourish the trees. They certainly need nourishment in this impoverished soil that is little better than sand.

My plan is to clear away the the meadow grasses and flowers in late summer 2012 prior to picking our first apple crop!!

One last note: we have finally put our building plans before Gedling Borough Council. Fingers crossed!

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