Regular readers may remember that we are establishing a traditional orchard at the Welsh Wildlife Centre. Natural England suggest that around 50% of our traditional orchards have disappeared since the 1950s, so orchards have been added to the list of priority habitats which need protection, because of their scarcity and high levels of natural biodiversity.
With a proposed planting date in January, we’ve been at work preparing the site. This has involved clearing scrub and removing large, low hanging limbs from surrounding woodland (to increase the amount of light reaching the orchard site). We’ve also plotted and marked out our planting pattern. We used bamboo canes and electrical insulation tape of various colours to identity each variety; such as red and white means yummy cherokee cherries! The rough plan is shown in the diagram below.
Planting the 1 year old trees (known as maidens) sufficiently far apart, yet close enough to another suitable pollinator, is essential in establishing an orchard. In traditional, extensively planned orchards, it is usual to plant trees at an interval of around 8 metres (6 metres for plum trees), with each row approximately 7 metres apart. This (of course) allows for the trees to grow to maturity, and also ease of access for fruit collecting. Most orchard trees require pollination from a different variety of the same fruit, so must be planted within a bee’s flight of a suitable partner. Perfect pollination partners must be carefully chosen to ensure they blossom at the same time…else, no bueno, it’s not going to work!
Having marked out the pattern, the next step is to use a suitable glyphosate based pesticide to kill all grass and vegetation within a metre of each proposed planting station. While this certainly doesn’t sound particularly wildlife friendly, the 1 year old trees would struggle to become established in competition with vigorous grasses. Glyphosate degrades upon soil contact, so planting can take place as little as a week after its application. The metre zone around each tree must remain grass free for at least 2-3 years after planting, and preferably for the lifetime of the tree, some job! We will be using woodchip derived from woodland management operations on the reserve as a mulch to help achieve this.
Once the grass is gone and mounds of mulch prepared, “all” that will remain to be done is to dig 30 holes for 30 fruitful maidens in early January (shortly before planting)…a super way to recover one’s svelte waistline after the Christmas gorging season. The trees will then be popped in their holes, with a little bonemeal to kick start their growth, supported and protected from deer and rabbit damage with a cane and guard.