The nursery is now officially in conversion to organic status.
Here’s something I’ve written about plans for the new site. It’s unfinished but nearly there..
I run a one acre fruit tree nursery on the North Wales/North Shropshire border.
It is not registered organic but I closely follow organic standards, using no synthetic pesticides or fertilisers.
The trees are grown by myself and some volunteer labour in beds that are kept weed free by the use of a hoe or with a thick mulch of willow woodchip grown on site.
We use a fortnightly spraying regime of seaweed extract and garlic oil as a pest deterrent and a foliar feed.
Pest predators are attracted to the site by a range of flowering plants, such as lavender, ox eye daisy, poached egg plant, oregano, chives….
They are encouraged to overwinter onsite in the many bug refuges placed around the nursery.
I grow a wide range of heritage varieties and varieties that grow well organically (ie. showing disease resistance), and varieties that grow well in not so favourable conditions.
I have been working closely with the Marcher Apple Network and the Welsh Perry and Cider Society growing and rescuing many rare varieties from extinction.
In August 2018 we bought six acres of pasture land for a new nursery site.
In November 2018 we registered the land for organic status.
The field is 140m above sea level, with a very gentle south facing slope.
It abuts a mixed woodland to the north which provides shelter from the north winds, and mature garden trees provide a windbreak from the south.
I will work on continuing soil improvement throughout my time managing this field.
My techniques for soil improvement will be the continuous addition of
- compost made on site,
- green manures,
- ramial chipped wood (rcw)
This field hasn’t been ploughed for well over 20 years. I intend to keep it that way.
My technique for creating new nursery beds will be to sew a range of green manures. Some of these will be deep rooted and will serve to break up the soil, bringing up minerals from deep down and aerating the soil as they die off. These beds will then be heavily mulched with rcw to kill off the green manures prior to planting rootstocks. This method will create a good healthy soil structure with minimum amount of soil disturbance.
The rootstocks, which will be a range of apple, damson, cherry, pear, plum, quince and sweet chestnut, will be grown in 25m wide fields, in an alley cropping style using agroforestry techniques.
Separating each field will be a 10m wide strip of short rotation coppice (src).
This strip will serve many purposes. It will
- comprise mostly of A. glutinosa and Salix spp.
- Act as a windbreak
- Be under planted with bulbs to create a woodland habitat
- Act as a wildlife corridor
- Be coppiced on a regular basis to create rcw and biochar
These areas will run on a north/south axis. Willow and alder will form the main bulk of the species but they will also serve as areas with great biodiversity. (See appendix for range of plants)
The image above shows willow and alder in the middle of the strip, allowing for other useful shrubs and herbs/ground cover plants to be planted either side.
Such species will be selected to either have a direct economic benefit (hazel for bean poles, soft fruit, herbs etc) or will benefit the nursery ecosystem by
- Growing compost materials (comfrey, mint),
- attracting predators/pollinators (Senecio greyi, ox eye daisy…)
See appendix for list of possible species
There are no other tree nurseries like this one. There are other organic nurseries. There are other nurseries selling heritage/lost varieties. There are nurseries selling great tasting, disease resistant, well cropping varieties. But there are no others that make such a commitment to growing in a healthy, biodiverse environment where continuous soil improvement and carbon sequestration are at the heart of the growing system.
Why buy my trees?
Because I am possibly the only/one of few nurseries who grow in such a way as to have a positive impact on the environment.
I am constantly working on improving the soil through regular additions of home made compost, green manures, ramial chipped wood and biochar.
My growing system does not use plastic membrane in which to grow the trees through. My growing system does not use any artificial fertilisers and does not use any chemical herbicides, pesticides or fungicides.
Instead of growing through membrane or keeping the soil weed free with herbicides, I will grow my trees through a thick mulch of chipped willow and alder.
The willow and alder will be coppiced on a two year rotation, chipped and used as mulch on the growing beds adjacent to where they are grown.
The woodchip that arises from the small diameter trees is known as Ramial Chipped Wood.
This term refers to wood chipped from branches 7cm in diameter and smaller.
Wood this size if full of nutrients and has a high nitrogen to carbon ratio due to the fact that lignin hasn’t yet fully formed in the cells.
Ramial Chipped Wood is a great way to encourage that all important fungal duff that all trees need in order to thrive.
The use of the short rotation coppice (src) doesn’t stop there.
This wood will also be used to make biochar. This is used as a soil amendment, mitigating nutrient loss, improving soil structure, improving water holding capacity (reducing the need for irrigation), and also as a way of sequestering carbon into the soil.
The src will break up the nursery into different sections, adding biodiversity to what could easily be a monoculture. This system is known as ‘alley cropping’.
The trees root systems will act to hold the soil together and the mycorrhizal associations will also be of benefit to the orchard and nursery trees.
It will also act as an extra habitat and wildlife corridor, providing shelter for birds, early pollen for bees, and will provide a woodland floor habitat for spring bulbs, edible ferns and fungi. It will also serve as a windbreak, helping to improve the microclimate.
Biodiversity is the key to growing healthy trees and fruit.
The new nursery site currently has three trees, lots of grass and 50 sheep!
I have already begun the biodiversity enhancing process by over-sowing the sward with chicory, clovers, yarrow, birds foot trefoil and plantain.
Most of these plants have deep taproots that will work their way deep into the soil, bringing minerals to the top soil and breaking up compacted areas, enhancing aeration and permeability.
I have just finished making a batch of bird and bat boxes. The bird boxes are designed to attract blue tits which love to eat aphids.
The bat boxes will attract bats that predate on one of the most common apple pests, the Codling Moth.
Owl boxes and perches for raptors will help to keep down the numbers of voles. These cute little creatures have caused me some expensive losses to nursery stock in the past.
By creating a healthy, vibrant biodiverse flora and fauna, I am using nature and natures systems to carry out my pest control. The better this system is designed, the less work I need to do.
My nursery will be free from single use plastics.
The horticultural industry is rife with plastics. From sellotape like tree ties to plastic labels to ground cover.
All these things, once finished with, become landfill.
Instead of using plastic to tie our trees to canes in the nursery, we use both a natural jute string and a natural cordage from New Zealand Flax.
The tree labels are made from a durable paper.
We don’t grow through woven polypropylene membrane but through wood chip grown on site, which then breaks down and serves to feed and enrich the soil.
I have been working very closely with The Marcher Apple Network on authenticating the names of many heritage varieties using DNA fingerprinting.
Since the cost of DNA testing has massively reduced over the years, it has allowed us to be absolutely certain as to the names and synonyms of many varieties.
The testing has highlighted many mis-named varieties and allows us to put the correct name to the correct variety.
Before the testing became affordable, identification of old and ‘lost’ varieties was extremely difficult.
I will be selling authenticated varieties from a known mother source with their own DNA fingerprint certificates to ensure the correct name of each variety.
I will be using pioneering techniques in my growing system.
The nursery has joined forces with Innovative Farmers in setting up a field lab looking into the use of willow woodchip as a scab prevention.
As mentioned earlier, this willow will be grown on site. I am working towards a closed loop system where all my fertilisers and soil amendments are grown on site. All my pest control needs will be met by attracting the right kind of predators. All pollination needs will be met by attracting pollinators and keeping them onsite via the use of overwintering shelters.
My disease control/prevention will be met by creating healthy soils, using willow wood chip, selection of cultivars that show disease resistance and by making my own bio fertilisers.
Bio fertilisers are a pro biotic approach to agriculture/horticulture
Shrub species to plant either side of src
Shade tolerance levels are marked as
Sh – will grow in shade
Su – will grow in full sun
Ms – will grow in moderate shade
Ls – will grow in light shade
Ds – will grow in deep shade
Elder – sh, su
Hazel – su, ls
Plum Yew – sh
Elaeagnus spp. – su, sh
Rosa rugosa – ?
Mahonia – su, sh
Berberis, aggreta, buccaneer, georgii – su, sh
Senecio greyii – ?
New Zealand flax
Mushrooms growing in shaded areas/woodchip
Comfrey – ms
Fennel – ls
Chives – ls
Marjoram – ls
Strawberry – ms
Valerian – ls
Ox eye daisy – ls
Wood avens – ds
Lady’s mantle – ls
Wood anenome – ds
Horseradish – ms
Chicory – ls
Creeping Jenny – ms
Lungwort – ls, ds
Salad Burnett – ds
Clovers – ls
Wood sorrel – ds
Perennial vegetables – needs research
Ostrich fern – ds
Nettles – ds?
Dead nettles – ls,ds
Mallow – ls
Bugle – ds
Foxglove – ?
Plantain – ls
Self heal – ms
Violet – ls
Mints – ls
Lemon balm – ls
St. John’s wart – ls
Solomons seal – ds
Aquilegia – ls