Orchard update & adventures in agroecology

Leading a guided tour of the site at our Maker’s Market last month

With the Summer Solstice already behind us, and lots of growth at the nursery, it seems like a good time to update on what’s been happening.

We have just completed our stocktake of nursery trees for the coming winter season. This has involved carefully counting each variety, checking that the grafts have been successful, and the trees are strong, healthy and ready to be sold this winter. Our website will very soon be updated with rare, heritage varieties of cherry, plum, pear and apple from around Shropshire, Herefordshire, Gloucestershire, and the Welsh Marches all available to order online. In the meantime, we have a stocklist of what’s available, so get in touch if you’d like to know more.

Alongside the nursery trees, I’ve been busy establishing a new permanent orchard, with a double row of cordoned apple trees, planted at a 45 degree angle, supported by posts cleft from sustainably sourced sweet chestnut. There are plenty of trees coming along in the nursery to expand the orchard, with 80 of these different varieties of cherry. In a departure from the norm for me, the cherry orchard will planted in a modern, intensive commercial style. These trees will be pruned and managed to encourage maximum yields of fruit, a project which presents an intriguing challenge! It will be satisfying to have these permanent trees in place, and to watch them establish and (hopefully) thrive and produce a harvest, whilst all about them moves through the processes of planting, grafting, growth and finally being dug up and sold.

Nursery trees in the foreground, with the newly established cordoned orchard behind

The site is shaping up to be a diverse and holistically managed system, with varieties of willow, to provide ramial chipped wood when coppiced, the establishment of a wildflower strip at the North edge, the application of green manures for nitrogen fixing and soil improvement, and the involvement of other local growers on site, in a rotational, land sharing set up. Each grower will move to tend a different area each season, ensuring that the fruit trees are being grown in a rotation, to avoid the depletion of soil nutrients and the build up of disease, in a management system which echoes the methods farmers and growers traditionally relied upon before the advent of nitrogen fertilisers.

The nursery is now home to a sward of chamomile, grown for herbal infusions by The British Chamomile Company, a plot of colourful flowers, for bouquets and arrangements by Bloomin’ El, all manner of seasonal veg tended by market gardeners Bronygarth Orchard Garden, and a row of beehives, managed by The British Bee Company to provide pollination… and what looks to be an impressive honey harvest. There’s now also a perennial bed, with soft fruits including black and red currants, and strawberries which have surprised us all in their abundance in the first year of planting, and are providing a delicious reward after a hard days work!

At our Makers Market last month, I led visitors on a guided tour of the site to explain how, through growing organically, creating a diverse cropping system and caring for the soil, we’re striving for sustainable land management and exploring the endless potential of agroecology. This is a form of agriculture that sees each farm or growing site as an ecosystem of its own, working with ecological processes to nurture a healthy landscape that does not require chemical inputs. For example, we’re harnessing natural pest control through encouraging ladybird’s, lacewings and hoverfly’s on site, whose larvae are voracious predators of green and black fly. Agroecological landscapes can provide food, wood and timber, and all kinds of natural products, like flowers, tea, plant feed and honey in a sustainable way, and make for dynamic, resilient environments.

As we look to the fruit tree season ahead, I’ll be running two courses this winter: Winter Pruning and Winter Grafting. The courses are open to all levels of experience, include a light lunch, and in the case of the grafting course, three grafted trees to take home. Look out for information and course dates on the website soon or send me an email to register your interest.

But before that, there’ll be more on my upcoming visit to Swansea Orchard Project, and the Summer Pop-Up on Saturday 23rd July in the next blog post!