Posts in Orchards
The Summer Drought and its impact on the orchards
 
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It’s ten o’clock on another hot summer night and I have finally found the perfect temperature on what, for us, has been the hottest day of the year. The catch is that I am sat on the back step rather than in bed, sharing the moment with a few mosquitos.

On the plus side the orchards and wildflower meadow run right up to the door and with them comes the wildlife, right now that includes the hedgehog family. I can’t quite work out how many, at least one adult (mum presumably) and four youngsters I think, prickly cricket balls with a surprising turn of speed. They seem oblivious to my presence actually trundling under my legs while snuffling through the leaves. We have been putting water out for them which may explain their regular visits during the heatwave. Their snuffling, snorting and rummaging through the bushes around the house has  been the soundtrack to the summer nights drifting through the open windows.

On the farm water, or lack thereof, will be the overriding memory for this June and July. It has been drier here than ’76 and we are grateful for our investment in winter-fill reservoirs over the years. We have enough water until mid-August and given this month is often the wettest of the summer we should be ok, fingers crossed.

The wage bill however will be inflated, thanks to the irrigation team working 24-7 week after week. So too the electricity bill - two irrigation pumps running full bore and vacuum coolers & coldstores working hard meant our record electricity bill for June. Hopefully the solar PV will have performed well and we have the consolation all our supply is renewable supplied by www.goodenergy.co.uk.

While we have kept current crops alive, growth in most veg grinds to a halt about 25°C so supply has been tight. The apples and pears this autumn will be small as a result of the temperatures and restricted water. Of greater concern is the poor emergence of seeds drilled for the winter, the heat and dry reducing germination. While the media is busy discussing stock piling food for Brexit next year, the reality is that UK veg supplies this winter will be reduced so imports will have to increase sooner.

Funnily enough the heatwave has broken before publishing this blog, the final few days of July seeing more rain than May, June and July put together. Either the advent of school holidays or agreeing to buy a neighbouring farmers reservoir must have seen to that. At least it gives us farmers something different to moan about, and the hedgehogs aren’t keeping me awake at night

Pruning the Cotchel Apple & Pear Trees
 
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Pruning the apple and pear trees is a huge task every winter. We aim to have the pear trees done before Christmas and do the apple trees in the New Year. We're behind schedule this year. Bright, mild, dry days like today make a difference.  Unfortunately for our pruning team they have been out there every day for the past two months, in bitter cold, wind, rain, and sleet.

The cold always gets through no matter how well wrapped you are and at the very least you end up with cold feet, especially at Wrabness where the wind comes straight off the river. We use electric pruners powered by a battery back-pack, which save us from RSI to our hands and wrists, but you always feel like you've done a hard day's work!

Modern pruning techniques

We use modern pruning techniques that are so different from traditional methods, that we prefer not to use people who are used to the old approach because it's too easy for them to revert to old habits!

The finished rows of pruned pear trees are a perfect example of the Dutch art of click pruning. Growth is carefully controlled and managed to defeat biennial bearing. Branches are clicked, tied, and removed or split to guarantee fruit for this year, wood for next year and, above all, light in abundance throughout the tree. 

Wildlife in the orchards

The Braeburn and Opal orchards are home to flocks of fieldfares, starlings and clouds of finches and other smaller birds. Footprints on the ground giving away night-time visits by fox, badger and deer. The Muntjac seem to pop out from amongst the trees on every visit.

We've not yet started work in these orchards but the pruning is different again from the pears.  The Braeburns are turning 10 years old (grown up in apple tree years) and demand one approach while we are still feeling our way with Opal, younger trees with different growth habits meaning you can’t slip into auto-pilot – which is probably a good thing when using secateurs.

It may still feel like winter, despite today’s blue skies, but the fat fruit buds on the trees can’t help but give a little promise to warmer, more fruitful times ahead.

 

Apples, Orchards, PearsPolly Robinson
Apple Day
 
Braeburn Apple Harvest
 

It’s no coincidence that Apple Day falls just as we end our apple harvest. Nor that we have chosen Apple Day to launch our new website which we hope is good introduction to Cotchel and our ambition to give a new lease of live to unloved fruit. This is our first blog and we’ll be adding more on a monthly basis as well as starting a regular email newsletter which you can sign up for below.

 
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Apple Day was created by Common Ground in 1990 with the ambition of celebrating our the apples grown in Britain but also to raise awareness of the provenance and traceability of apples. Over the last 17 years, Apple Day has evolved and is celebrated in cities, towns and villages across the country, with many organisations like the Wild Life Trusts, the National Trusts, the WI, schools, farm shops and restaurants all celebrating the richness and diversity of apples grown in Britain.

To us Apple Day is a harvest home celebration as we’ve finally brought in all our apples this week. After months of caring for the trees, hoping for the rain at the right time, sun at at the right time, the trees can rest over winter. However we aren’t so lucky this year, the trees now need a good feed to help them recover from producing such a bountiful crop. Once they are fed and watered to set some nice fruit bud for next year we will wait for them to settle into winter dormancy before the long, skilled job of pruning can begin.

 
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