One of the great strengths of Bulmers has always been the link between the Orcharding Department and the Growers. Thankfully this was maintained throughout the takeover by Scottish and Newcastle and now strengthened under Heineken. The old bush orchard that was planted by my parents 40 years ago was supervised by a strip of a lad who had just started at Bulmers - a certain Chris Fairs who is now about to retire and one feels we shall not see his like again. However, as well as Chris, one delightful link that continues is when a grower passes on to the Great Orchard in the sky, Bulmers donates a standard apple tree as a memorial. My dear mother Babs hung up her pruning saw and picking bucket in 2007 but one does not wish to rush into memorials with unseemly haste. Recently I hitched up our trailer and headed to the Bulmers’ Nursery at Kinnersley in North Herefordshire. I collected a standard cider tree plus stake, guard and tie and tag and Bab’s BroadLeaf Norman is now resplendent between our drive and the Goose pen. It is a great joy to be able to continue this tradition and to keep alive such fond memories.
When one manages an orchard there are many factors which need to be taken into consideration on a regular basis. There are seasonal tasks on an annual basis beginning with pruning and ending with the harvest. Routine mowing and spraying are other specific matters, as are hedge trimming and drainage including sub-soiling. Machinery needs to be serviced and maintained and even boxes and bins made ready for the following harvest. All these items are fairly obvious but the whole operation is literally underpinned by what is under our feet and the medium from which most of our income is derived - the soil. Here in Herefordshire in general and in what I am often fond of saying - Putley in Particular - as it is a most particular place - we are blessed with rich moisture retaining soils which are well suited to fruit production. They are not easy to work for arable production as there are shorter times when they can be tilled but for fruit this is less of a problem. We apply small amounts of nitrogen and potash on an annual basis as we know how much is taken out of the ground per tonne of fruit. However there are many other elements involved, so every three years we undertake a detailed soil analysis. This is done by taking samples using a small hand auger at a variety of places in the orchard and then bagging these up and sending them to the lab for analysis. This is our result for 2012 and overall it is good news. Our soil has held up well and just requires an application of two tonnes of lime per acre. We will need about 30 tonnes in total but our neighbour Nigel Rolinson will need 70 for his orchard and as there is a useful discount for 100 tonnes we will buy this jointly and can also share the cost of the spreading. As the present custodians of the orchard we are pleased to be ensuring its health and vitality and doing our bit to keep the land in good heart.
A Balancing Act
Fruit trees are mostly interested in reproduction. They only want to continue the species and so left to themselves will produce lots of small fruit one year, have a year off and then repeat the process. Fruit growers over the centuries have learnt how to persuade them to be more co-operative by selective breeding, judicious planting, control of pests and diseases and talking to them on a regular basis. One of the key techniques is pruning which by cutting pieces off the tree makes it think it is under attack and so stimulates growth and vigour. The old boys and, apart from my mother, it was mostly males working in orchards, always used to suck their teeth and mutter that “wood follows the knife”. A dark warning that taking out too much will over stimulate the tree and produce more wood, not necessarily more fruit. The trick is to balance the root system with the framework and to keep it in balance and harmony - a sound principle for humans as well as trees. The balancing act is further enhanced by removing branches that are broken crossed or diseased and by ensuring that sufficient light and air can penetrate the canopy.
This year we have mechanically pruned the Brainge Patch which contains Browns’ Apple and Ellis Bitter and the contractors have given the rest of the cider a hard prune with chainsaws on poles and hand saws. It looked as though a quarter of the orchard was on the ground! Ken Treherne spent two days last week clearing and burning all the prunings. We are still tending the fire as it slowly subsides into a steadily shrinking heap of white ash. I have been speculating on diversification into carbon neutral funeral pyres but my idea has met with muted support so far.
Walk on the Wildside
There have been a few brushes with Nature in the orchard in recent weeks ...
Caught by the Cat
As reported in this month’s Putley Press “a live dormouse was found by a cat near Dragon Orchard last week and rescued and placed carefully in a dormouse box complete with nest as it appeared to be quite well after its ordeal”. The Days now have two young cats and one must have found the sleeping dormouse in the hedgerow and spent some time playing with it. Kate Wollen came to the rescue with a lovely wooden nest box and an old nest and we do hope the dormouse is resting quietly in its new abode.
Caught on Fire
Behind Dragon House is a line of trees, part of an old hedgeline that we kept when we built the house almost 20 years ago. As well as providing shelter, the trees are also a wonderful wildlife habitat and allow us a close up view of nature from the comfort of our bedroom and bathrooms at the back of the house. Recently we have been enjoying the antics of a very distinctive squirrel whose main characteristic is that it has no fur on its tail which looks more like that of a rat. We have been keeping an eye on ‘Rattail’ and sending reports of its progress to our son Hugh. The two of them had a close encounter when Hugh was lighting the wood burning stove. Hugh was actually keeping a eye on proceedings as a squirrel had fallen down the chimney and into the fire the previous week and been incinerated. He had just got the fire lit when, lo and behold, another intrepid explorer fell into the fire and was becoming rapidly blackened. Hugh managed to open the door and the singed and terrified animal jumped out into the sitting room. We then watched as the animal began a frantic wall of death run, bouncing off the walls, pictures, curtains, sofa and carpet leaving behind it a black sooty trail. It then hid under the desk and we managed to open a window as it took off again on its search for freedom. We were finally able to usher it onto the window sill, it smelt the fresh air and leapt out into the night.
We didn’t see it for a while after that and thought it might have been too badly injured to survive. Then we spotted it one day on the ground with its very distinctive rat tail. It has now progressed as its tail is growing to more adventurous activities back up in the trees.
Caught on camera
Simon has put some video footage on Youtube from a nest box in their garden at Orchard Croft. There is a blue tit that has taken up residence in the box which has a little camera in it and they are keeping an eye on progress as more and more eggs are being laid.
http://t.co/z8DsXOaV Blue-Tit update - eggs spotted!