Abundance Manchester visit to Kenworthy Community Orchard
with Rod Everett of the Middle Wood Ecological Trust
Sun 28th Nov 2010
Rod Everett planted an orchard at Middle Wood Ecological Trust just outside Lancaster in 1980 and has run it on organic principles ever since. Particularly interested in using and preserving old NW varieties, he also runs the Lancashire Apple Project. We invited him to visit the orchard with us to help us assess its health and determine the priorities for its maintenance over the coming year.
There has been mention from the waterpark ecologist in the past that the soil may be waterlogged and that the site therefore needs a radical overhaul. Rod looked at the soil and found no evidence of this – it has a good structure & is peaty not clay-ey. No ‘panning’ is evident – this is when a clay layer forms that stops water from draining down. Plant life also shows no evidence of waterlogging – there would be plants like creeping buttercup and mosses if so. Good news!
The presence of peat means the soil could be fairly acidic. In spite of the good structure there are no obvious signs of earthworms which could also indicate acid soil. Rod recommends that we test the ph of the soil – we can buy a kit ourselves. PH should be between 6.2 – 7, if it’s more acidic (lower pH) than this we can put some limestone down to neutralise. We should also have the soil tested for nutrient content in case it’s deficient in anything – ask Elm Farm (www.organicresearchcentre.com) for a place that does this organically, because they’ll test the living soil rather than just the minerals. A separate soil sample should be taken from the north side of the site where trees have died
When applying nutrients to the soil, including limestone, these should be spread across the surface and allowed to leach in.
Some of the ‘weeds’ found on the site are actually beneficial to the trees for example lots of hogweed, dock and comfrey which have deep roots and bring up nutrients from deeper down in the soil. Might be a good idea to plant a comfrey ring around the tree’s base – comfrey can be propogated by taking just a small section of root and will develop roots 6 feet deep that bring up nutrients. Other plants that are good for this include mooli radish, and dandelions. Dandelions were used effectively to deal with drainage problems at the Penrith showfield. Clovers good for fixing nitrogen, but are not necessary around established trees. There is some debate whether it is beneficial around saplings, but may mean they aren’t as hardy as they don’t have to put down such deep roots.
Raspberries as well as daffodils and other bulbs are good for underplanting around apples. Bulbs heat up the ground as they develop, which can help nearby fruit trees to grow earlier in the year.
Crabapples are quite useful. Happy to be crowded, they flower over much longer period than other apple trees so are very good pollinators. The fruit is also nice pickled (then can also be made into sour toffee apples!).
Ragwort in bottom left corner needs pulling out.
Rabbit damage to about 40 trees. They strip lower bark leaving the trees very susceptible to disease. Rod recommends a breatheable, plastic, soft mesh guard. Posts aren’t necessary for established trees. We measured the trees and reckon we need an average of about 70cm each. Debbie will order. Rod thinks rabbit guards are a priority (December ideally). For new trees Rod recommends ‘Continental’ tree guard. Spiral plastic guards are not good because they trap moisture and encourage the growth and spread of disease. They aren’t particularly effective against the rabbits, either.
For the ‘wounds’ where bark has been removed Rod recommends an equal mixture of sheep or cow manure with clay, plus some dilute (15:1) comfrey or nettle tea. Should be paint consistency, and can also be applied to pruning scars. Alternatively, whey can be used. All scars should be treated before the rabbit guards are installed.
Rabbits prefer apple trees so these are most at risk, pears less so. Rabbits don’t seem to like cherry bark. Rabbit damage done in snow. Leave undiseased prunings around or in a pile nearby – rabbits will eat these first (also habitat piles).
Canker kiils the branches its on and badly affects the fruit. There is some canker but only on the apple trees & mostly just affecting particular varieties – Rod suspects James Grieve & Orleans Reinette (hard to identify the trees in winter but we can tell for definite when they fruit). It will be impossible to get rid of entirely from the orchard but can reduce dramatically. Those badly affected can be either removed or cut right back and then have new canker resistant varieties grafted on. This could be from a tree elsewhere or one that’s in the orchard already and seems resistant. The ones less badly affected can just be pruned back to below where the canker has got to (look out for black inside the wood).
Apple varieties we have that are resistant to canker: Discovery (fairly resistant), Phil Rainford, Laxton Superb, Reverend Wilkes, Grenadier, Harrowgate Wonder, Egremont Russet (with careful pruning), Lord Lamborne.
When we remove the trees with serious canker, any diseased wood should be burnt on site. Canker spores spread by air and in the soil. Once the main cankerous trees are removed there is no need to burn all further clippings. Horsetail tea spray helps to keep down fungus, including canker and scab. Non-diseased wood can be piled up to create habitat.
Scab would be evident in the fruit – black spots – look out for this next fruiting season. Fruit with scab doesn’t look great but is still useable. The brown lumpy growth on the fruit that we described to Rod was a mystery to him! It may be due to a mineral deficiency, which should be identified in the soil test.
Keep an eye out also for Codling moth – holes in fruit with small caterpillars. Not seen in fruit we found.
Some of the plum trees have broken branches as a result of over fruiting (too heavy). We should cut off the damaged bits and paint over damaged areas with clay and manure mixture mentioned above. Don’t really need branches thinning but in order to make them more harvest-able we could take off some of the height of the trees – they’re getting very tall. Some branches half broken off are now touching the ground and may eventually ‘layer’ – that is create new trees from the point they meet the soil. Keep an eye out! In future, fruit needs thinning in early summer (June) before it damages the trees. Could do this at same time as removing damaged branches – plums do not like to be messed with during the winter. Silverleaf is a disease that can kill the trees and they are particularly vulnerable if pruned in winter. In general with plums, do the minumum necessary. Prune when harvesting. Clear off old rotten fruit but not right away – butterflies like these. There are plum suckers (new trees extending from existing root system) in the redcurrant bed that need digging out.
There are 9 hazelnuts/cobnuts. They need vigorous pruning. There’s enough surplus material to make a yurt or other shelter! Vandalism issues though? They can also be used for the hedge laying.
For nut production, prune to tree shape. Keep 2-3 branched stems & cut away rest. Prune in winter, same time as hedge laying – use pruned stems as hedging sticks. Can propagate by layering, as with the plums: bend stem down to ground level, clear some bark where in contact with earth, peg and bury.
One of the cherry trees needs thinning in the spring. The cherries also have black plastic at their bases which contained the original rootball. This needs removing as much as possible without damaging roots. The oozing sap on some of the trees is a type of canker. Cherries with blackthorn along north fence may be possibly ornamental.
Pear can be grafted onto hawthorn!!
Some of ours are grafted onto quince, probably to dwarf them because they tend to grow very tall. Cut back quince root suckers where seen. Grafting onto hawthorn or seedling pear root stock is better – less susceptible to disease and cold than quince root stock.
Pear at bottom (North end) needs suckers cutting off
Couple of blackthorn by pear at the bottom – need digging up so could be used for hedge at the back.
Autumn raspberries should be cut back every year. Thin red currants taking out half of shoots, keeping younger (redder) ones. For the blackberries, wait until they fruit to identify the ones worth keeping (larger fruit) then cut out rest. Separate the branches onto horizontal wires by year of growth. Cut away growth after fruit. Sloe or bollace along the north fence.
Black currant bushes smell like black currants. :-)
To protect red currants from birds, hang a 1.5 foot buzzard cutout from aluminum sheet suspended on fishing line above the bushes during fruiting.
Woodland at South end of orchard
Woodlands border the orchard and here what was a hedge has also become full grown trees – putting this end of the orchard into shade for much of the time. The light would be much improved by restoring the hedge. There are blackthorns in other part of the site, for example around the pear trees and black currants, that could be pulled up and used to fill in any gaps, hazel prunings would also be useful as stakes. Staking is mainly to keep a hedge from being pulled apart by grazing animals – not a major concern for us, so not too many stakes are needed. We would like to invite BTCV to come and do a day of hedge laying on the site, possibly as a course. Need to talk to the wardens first of course. If permission granted we can invite BTCV.
Piles of branches, tiles, anything, for insects.
Lacewing hotels – teracotta plant pot hung upside down from a tree with straw tied inside.
Logs with lots of holes will provide habitat for solitary bees.
Laying the hedge would create more nesting sites – good varieties are holly, elder, blackthorn, hawthorn.
Feeding the trees
Feeding adult trees generally not necessary. Young trees need some help but not too much – they need to put down deep roots and over feeding prevents this.
Mown grass should be piled up around the bases of trees in a ring about 3” from base.
Top grafting – grafting onto an existing stump:
1 – Cut off low enough to ensure below any traces of canker (black streaks in trunk).
2 – Split across cut & widen with wedge.
3 – Cut scions 3-4 buds long from a suitable healthy tree, cut bottom end into a point.
4 – Insert scions into either end of split so that inner bark on scion aligns with inner bark on trunk.
5 – Coat cut with wax.
If successful can be back in fruit production within 2-3 years
Sprouting apple tree could be turned into a nursery for future apple root stock: bury by 6″-9″ and let develop. Most root stock in the orchard is likely to be MM106 – half standard.
Cut “water shoots” – new growth at centre of hard-pruned trees
Cooking oil applied to pruning cut protects and allows bark to grow back over.
Always prune with sharp tools and use separate tools for canker. Clean them with alcohol or vinegar.
Other issues/ jobs to do/things to be aware of
Blackthorn in blackcurrant bed needs removing.
The way the orchard has been planted in species groupings isn’t great – when we plant in the future we should mix them up.
When replanting to replace a tree that’s been removed, plant slightly away from original planting patch.
There are a lot of damson suckers around the damson trees – these are competing with the trees but can be dug up (with some roots left on either side) and replanted – they are true to the parent as are greengages – plums not so. Plums and damsons handle wet conditions better than apples and pears. Greengages take about 10 years before fruiting.
We need an accurate map of site (Anne Amanda doing) & the individual trees. This could be done in the future once we’ve identified them. Mary (Timperley) would be a good person to take fruit to to ID.
Lichen on fruit trees isn’t a problem
Labelling each tree, eventually.
Nice things to add to the orchard:
Sweet chestnuts, rhubarb, gooseberries, yew plum, sea buckthorn & eleagnus (both nitrogen fixers, as is tree lupin), Japanese Wineberry. Raspberries are good for underplanting. Also gelderose – a bright red berry used to make jelly,
Also considered apricots and quince, not worth it in this climate. Espaliers are too much work at this point
Plans for the year
We have enough money for 4 courses, and can also do several volunteer ‘workdays’. Based on Rod’s recommendations here’s a rough outlined of proposed activities for the next few months. Most fruit stuff happens in winter so we need to get cracking!
W: Rabbit guards – Dec 2010 (as soon as possible!)
C: Apple pruning – Jan/Feb 2011 (where most of the work is needed). Possibly also taking a few out & planting a few to replace them – Rod can bring from Middlewood. (Schedule February pruning course to tie in with Tree Wardens’ course?)
W: Apple pruning – Feb 2011 (only for people who’ve done a course? We’ll be good enough to do it but possibly not train others who have no experience)
C: Soft fruit – March
C: Hedge laying – ???? – would cut some hazel that day too to use in hedge need to check when Rod said hazel should be pruned
W: Later in the year some new beds dug for planting more soft fruit – gooseberries etc.
We already have some pruning equipment somewhere, but for a 10 person pruning day we’d need 10 x secateurs, 5 x stanley knives, 3 x pruning saws, a bowsaw, some vinegar and some veg oil.
Other equipment we need includes rabbit guards & ties or staples & stapler/hammer, spades, forks, stakes for young trees & a sledgehammer.
Pest & Disease Control in Orchards – Garden Organic
Upcoming booklet from Lancashire County Council on Lancashire orchards
Virtual walk around Middlewood on website
Plants for a future website (http://www.pfaf.org/user/default.aspx) for plants that will grow in Britain