Good Friday was when farm workers had a rare day off from their unrelenting physical toil. They would often keep a pig and grow their own vegetables as well as snaring the odd rabbit for the pot. The reason they were given Good Friday off was so they could spend time sowing their vegetable seeds and getting the potatoes in the ground. This Good Friday would have proved quite a challenge as it rained hard all day and the ground is saturated. The high winds of over 70mph in the week were strong enough to blow over a tree at the front of the house even though it has not yet come into leaf. Some of the ancient perry trees in the area have also suffered especially those that have a heavy infestation of mistletoe, which provides a huge amount of wind resistance.
However wild, windy and wet....Spring is sprung and the Mirabelle plums are in early blossom, the quince in bud and much stirring in bucolic places. The winter has been good with cold nights and dry clear days and not the endless rain we experienced last year. This has held back growth, lengthened dormancy, storing up that all-important vigour until the days become longer and the temperatures rise.
Pruning and Orchard Work
The mostly clement weather has allowed us to make good progress on the pruning and winter work in the orchard. The cider apple trees have had their most severe pruning of the last 40 years. They are still producing well and had been mechanically pruned last year, shaping up the sides. However the tops were becoming thick again and there was a reduction of light levels lower down the tree. We obtained the services of 5 strong young East Europeans who worked 10 hours a day taking out some major branches just with hand saws. The piles of prunings between the rows looked as though they had removed half the orchard. Luckily the ground was dry enough for all the prunings to be gathered onto two burning piles which made short work of the enormous amount of brash they had created and we are fairly tidy again now. Hugh and I have been gathering up the final bits and pieces with our small tractor and buckrake.
A soil analysis has been carried out and the required replenishment of lime to reduce the soil acidity has been applied. This is put on in slow release granular form using a tractor mounted spinner which gives an even spread underneath the trees.
We have just purchased for the new 2015 grass management season a 'new to us' Votex mower. You will be delighted to know that this model has overlapping, swinging blades so the aisles will look more neatly tended come the summer. We remember the excitement when we bought the previous mower, shortly after we started Cropsharers in 2001, as being the first major purchase we could afford from this extra source of income.
We are pleased to announce a fourth PhD student has joined our orchard entourage. My nephew Ben and his fiancée Helen have been housesitting for us while we were on holiday. They are due to be married at Dragon Orchard in mid May shortly after they have completed their doctorates in Zoology. Dr Jess Allen is working on her second PhD while living off-grid in her yurt and we have just made contact with Charlotte Selvey. Charlotte, along with Helen and Ben, is based at London Zoo but had no idea of their connection to Dragon Orchard. She is in her first year of a 4 Year study looking at the relationship between habitats in orchards and biodiversity. Once she is set up, we hope Charlotte will come and meet Cropsharers and discuss her work.
Walking with the Dragons
We are once again involved in the Herefordshire Walking Festival in June www.walkingfestival.com and shall be leading two walks from the orchard. The first on Sunday 14th June at 2pm is the Herefordshire Pomona around the local orchards of Putley. The second is on Tuesday 16th June at 9.45am, The Wonder of the Wonder.
Jess Allen is undertaking her week-long walking event culminating at Dragon Orchard on June 21st.