Archives for posts with tag: apples

The first WWOOFers of the year are here and they planted some apple trees today. The two varieties are cider apples: Porter’s Perfection and Stoke Red. Our WWOOFers are American, so they call cider “hard cider” and apple juice “cider.”

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I was slightly pessimistic about getting a spade in the ground as we’ve had a couple of days of frost. We gave it a go and found the ground yielded pretty easily; the bracken blanket kept it at a workable temperature, I think. So off they went, into the orchard extension.

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We’ve grown out of the original west-facing slope and are now on a gentler south-facing slope towards the woodland planting. You can see a couple of the original tree tubes to the top-left of the photo above.

To protect the new plantings from the deer and allow me to form a low goblet shape, the WWOOFers erected wide chicken wire guards instead of using the narrow tree tubes. Once I’ve lopped off the leader I’m going to attempt some grafting. There is a rootstock planted just down the hill from these trees.

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When we moved here, we had a lovely big lawn interrupted by some shrubs and a long mixed border. We’ve written about our veg. patch and the stages we’ve gone through building it. The biggest concern we’ve had is, how do we grow vegetables if we’ve got only 15cm of turf to work with before hitting stones? Our answer is to build up and do raised beds, no-dig style (the annual vs. perennial vegetable discussion is for another day). With the caveat that this may be TLDR, I’ll go into the over-thinking I went into when considering the raised beds.

We looked at top soil: expensive and not in keeping with building the veg. patch from scratch, which posed a second question: what have we got to work with? Garden compost. Bracken. Seaweed.

We used the existing garden compost from the old compost heap and have grown some fine brassicas in it this year. We’ve built two new compost bins that will start supplying garden compost next year.

I realised that bracken was a possibility when I researched methods of bracken control as part of the field improvements. In doing so, I read a few pamphlets about bracken control:

The third one mentioned potential uses for bracken as a by-product of controlling it or even as a crop in itself. This was a revelation. The first use that jumped out at me was as a compost and mulch. Obvious now and a simple way to get organic matter into our veg patch.


After starting work on one area where we’re clearing the bracken for an orchard, it became apparent that bracken mulches and composts itself as a survival mechanism. Each year’s fronds die down and are flattened by the next year’s, offering a mulch to further exclude competition and as protection from the worst of the winter weather. As a result, there is a layer of excellent compost in the denser stands if you rake off the last two years’ worth of fronds. This means we have composted bracken and bracken fronds to use as soil improver and mulch respectively.

The photos of the bracken mulch show how much we are piling on in one session. It reduces an awful lot.


Our bracken management plan has now got two aspects.

  • One is using the bracken from areas that we’ve not go plans for yet (exposed slopes and the like). This harvesting allows frost to get in and boosts the under layer, weakening and containing the bracken. It should hopefully stop the spread in some areas. The bracken’s utility as a crop for the garden means we’d like to keep some of it in less useful areas. The photo shows one area that we harvested.


  • Removing the bracken from areas we want to use for something else. Here we strim three times a year (spring and summer). The other approach is using the pigs to dig up and destroy the rhizomes. This will severely weaken the bracken, though we may need to strim a bi to finish the job. Pigs aren’t eating the bracken (it’s unpalatable to livestock in the main).

In the second aspect, we have to have a replacement for the bracken, otherwise the soil will erode. So far we’ve planted an orchard with under-planting of raspberries, strawberries and wildflowers. Some grass is regenerating too. When the pigs are finished we’ll use more trees there to hold it together. You can see the current situation in the photo below. The slope was dense bracken like the patch on the right.

P1020857The final component is seaweed. Not long after we moved here, a lady suggested that we should take bags with us to the beach every time we went and then set the children to collecting seaweed for the garden. It’s a great idea and one we’ve done on and off as free hands have allowed. Below is some seaweed mulch.



Now the house is in a slightly more ordered state and spring is creeping around the corner, our thoughts are turning more to the land. Having planted the orchard at the weekend, Matt today registered it with the new National Orchard Inventory and has also been inspired to book a place on a grafting course taking place locally in March. We’re hoping to take cuttings of the established but struggling apple trees in the garden and be shown how to graft them to create new trees to plant.

We’ve also been in touch with The Woodland Trust to get their help to create a woodland in the field. We’ve had a phone conversation and provided them with a site map and an outline of what we hope to achieve. The next step will probably be a site visit to discuss our options. If it goes well we’ll come up with a planting plan and the Trust will provide all the trees, stakes and protectors we need, shouldering 60% of the cost – we just have to plant them.

We finished this flurry of administrative activity by finally registering as WWOOF hosts. This brilliant charity brings together those working land in an organic and sustainable way with those who fancy trying it out or sharing their skills while travelling. The basic premise is that we provide bed and board in exchange for a few hours’ labour a day working alongside us. This will be pretty essential for planting the woodland and there are all sorts of jobs we could do with a helping hand on – fixing some of the stone walls, gleaning and chopping wood, preparing the vegetable patch…

A Bloody Ploughman

A Bloody Ploughman

Most of the weekend has been dry and sunny, so in between painting the shower room we wanted to accomplish some outside jobs. Top of the list was planting the apple trees we received as a housewarming gift. Carefully selected for our climate, and sent to us as bare root stock, we’d had them soaking in a bucket in a sheltered spot until we had chance to plant them but first of all we had to choose the right spot.

The ideal location for an orchard is a south-west facing slope (for the sun) but out of the prevailing wind. As our prevailing wind, like most of the country, is south-westerly we had to slightly reconsider the site – north facing slopes are too shaded, eastern too prone to frost and the many dells and valleys on our land too prone to flooding. We also wanted a spot that was relatively accessible (our one sheltered southerly slope is very steep and would be difficult to harvest on and maintain).

We finally settled on a westerly slope, currently covered in bracken, old hawthorn and gorse branches and brambles next to the garden wall. Although quite steep there were signs of old paths here and the westerly position means the trees should get a reasonable amount of sun but they are also sheltered by another slope from the worst of the wind.

Our final consideration was avoiding the telephone and power lines that cross the field – the site we’ve chosen is close to these but large enough to avoid them.

And here are the five trees planted. The bracken has actually done us a favour, creating a really great, rich hummus to plant the trees in and breaking up some of the stones in the soil. it only took a couple of hours to plant the five trees (even with Kester on Matt’s back).

Apple varieties, from left to right - Bloody Ploughman, Galloway Pippin, Sunset, Tower of Glamis and Katy.

Apple varieties, from left to right – Bloody Ploughman, Galloway Pippin, Sunset, Tower of Glamis and Katy.

When new bracken growth appears in spring we’ll strim it off and keep doing so two or three times in the year. Theoretically this will leave the rhizomes exposed next winter and frost and snow will do the rest of the work for us in killing it off. We’ll edge the paths between the trees with some of the old branches we’ve gleaned as not all will be suitable for burning.

The weather has been kind, enabling us to take the opportunity of a full weekend at home to get to work in the garden.

Having dug up a lot of plants from our allotment in the rain last week, our main focus was getting them in the ground at Plunton. During the week, Matt had planted and staked the quince tree on the south west side of the lawn in line with the established apple trees. So we began on Saturday to prepare supports for our cordon apple trees and planted those first of all.
Once they were sunk and staked we decided to plant our rhubarb crowns in front of them, making the most of a deep existing bed in the corner of our protected veg patch. We made quick progress, not least because this area had been actively cultivated relatively recently so the soil was less stony. Finally we mulched everything with a good pile of the great compost we inherited with the house.

There was one impediment to our progress – a self-seeded blackthorn bush close the fence. We have been planning to construct a windbreak to protect our herb garden on the west side of the house, so I took long cuttings of the blackthorn before we dug up the remainder. After trimming each stick of thorns and leaves, I planted them and the main plant in a row about a foot apart on the top of the slope in front of the herb bed, creating a 20ft hedge for nothing.
A pretty good day was ended with a bit of bramble cutting in the field. Jo and Phil came by to help us tackle the worst patches for snaring their lambs and with about an hour’s cutting and gathering we had cleared the worst patches and discovered some wood piles and got to know our neighbours better in the process.
Sunday has been a glorious Autumn day without a cloud in the sky. We planted strawberries at the front of the rhubarb and apple bed and finally planted the spring bulbs Valla had bought as a house warming. Most of the bulbs were planted in the dell nearest the house with some planted on the bank in the front garden. I also planted tulip bulbs in the front border, in the pots and a row of tulips and aliums either side of the path leading to the veg patch gate. Planting in the dells meant an outing for Matt’s new strimmer, once we had assembled it and filled it with fuel.

The final job of the day was to build a frame and net another brassica bed. The kids had great fun playing all weekend and even got their bikes out today but the most fun was had playing on the swing!
It has been really satisfying getting so much done, especially as indoors I feel increasingly like everywhere my eyes land is another item for the to-do list. We also heard on Friday that the person we had booked to start the floor sanding this week is very I’ll and so can no longer do it. We had been waiting for the floors to be done before moving the last of our belongings into the house. We are now considering painting the floors ourselves…

On a final very happy note we had our first showers in the new shower this morning – bliss!