Our Certificate in Community Orcharding (CICO) is the UK’s first and only accredited course in community orchards. One of our committed students, Tamasin, has kindly shared her CICO journey with us below. If you’re considering signing up to the course (info here), her reflections on a year in the life of a CICO student are a must-read.
Preparing for the course
Not long to go until CICO begins! I’m very excited about to start of the course, and have found my ears pricking up at the words ‘apple’, ‘orchard‘ or ‘cider‘ over the last few weeks. It has also reignited my excitement about the community orchard I am hoping to start next to my daughter’s school. Although I have an interest in Plum varieties because our site was historically a plum orchard, I am blown away by the endless variety of apples you can grow.
Here are some of the audiobooks I’ve been listening to in preparation:
I’ve also been watching the apple trees in my garden more attentively, seeing the blossom and fruit and thinking about it very differently this year. I’m determined not to waste any and so trying my hand at making apple chutney and cider apple vinegar, after some emergency pruning meant rather more windfall than I expected.
Day 1 – Valentines Park, Redbridge
Valentines Park is well worth a visit. The walled kitchen garden is stunning and we were lucky with a lovely day to explore. There is a great range of fruit trees to study and it was exciting to meet the rest of the group and discover their passions and reasons for studying.
The introduction to pruning by Stephanie and Jo was fascinating; it gave us the confidence to do our own practice at home. We then had a session on tree identification with Jo which involved lots of nibbling! – from crab apples to mulberries (and leaves).
We left with the course handbook, which looks to be a treasure trove of information! It maps out the whole course and homework schedule. I’m already looking forward to day 2!
Day 2 – Report writing and plant physiognomy
This day was online (due to the pandemic) and broken down into different workshops. The early sessions looked at document layout and transfer of images. For the final session we looked at terminology and plant physiognomy with the Training Manager, Jo; – wow, microscopes let you see incredible detail, even via zoom!
It was a great refresher of the terms we learnt last month and an examination of the internal structure of stems. Fascinating to think about all the processes taking place inside the leaves and stems… Hmm, I may have to invest in a microscope, as I’m sure my kids would find it intriguing too.
Day 3 – Hainault Lodge – Veteran trees and tree ID
Hainault Lodge was a great space to explore and was really satisfying to feel we had done some useful clearance. Our tutor, Stephanie, provided a one-woman Gardeners Question Time session on orchards, which was brilliant. – What an expert! Great to see trees of different ages in the same space. We covered reducing guards, winter pruning and talked about varieties, pollination, planning and specialist pruning for veteran trees. then one of the group spotted a Quince in an overgrown area; by the end of the day we had unearthed three trees! The rose-like smell of the quince was amazing.
A solo mission to Brogdale Collections, The National Fruit Collection
Brogdale Collections is home to the UK’s National Fruit Collection in Kent. It is the largest collection of temperate fruit in one place in the world! Inspired by CICO, I went to visit for their Heritage Orchard Day. Amazing, – will definitely be back (read more about Brogdales and why you should visit, here).
Day 4 – Soil structure
Due to lockdown this was online, but our tutor, Lewis, sent us a kit list and instructions in advance, so that we could do the experiments at home.
The section on the soil food web and life of fungi was extraordinary. I am now much more aware of what’s going on under my feet! Then we took our jars, tins, jugs and spades outside and got muddy. From counting earthworms to watching water run away whilst timing it, it was both fascinating and very revealing as regards the soil structure of our gardens.
We had to be rather more patient for the results of the jam jar test which need 24-48 hrs for the sediment to fully settle. Then we could clearly see the different layers. I went home and did this test in my gardens, as well as for the orchard space I am working on. Very interesting to see the difference.
“The section on soil and the life of fungi was extraordinary. I am now much more aware of what’s going on under my feet!”
Day 5 – Forest Farm Peace Garden – Grafting/Pruning
After lockdown, it was so lovely to see everyone again, despite the cold wet day. I found it really satisfying to plant the trees and see them take a place in the garden. It was also good to get our hands dirty and clear some spaces. Planting trees certainly warms you up!
The afternoon grafting session was also fascinating. I was a little nervous of this task, but it is actually quite addictive. Lewis made it so much clearer than anything I’ve seen online, and despite our numb, clumsy fingers we got there in the end. Taping up the grafts was like wrapping a present! – Can’t wait to see if it’s successful.
Session 6 – Forest Farm Peace Garden – Maintenance pruning
Today we were checking up on our planted trees with Stephanie and Jo. It was great to see the shoots that had appeared in just a couple of weeks. It’s been really interesting to look at formative pruning on real trees with and learn about the ‘Nick and Nock’ technique – one we will all remember. Hearing others’ thoughts on how to shape and balance the tree was helpful too, I enjoyed the teamwork. There were lots of great ideas on ways to support wildlife species that help the trees too.
“Taping up the grafts was like wrapping a present! – I can’t wait to see if it’s successful.”
Session 7 – Forest Farm Peace Garden – Resilient orchards
Today we explored the bigger picture: climate change. This is so important and I was pleased to see it on the curriculum. We considered the effect of extreme weather changes on fruit growing and all the many interconnected issues. There was a wealth of information, but it really helped to connect a lot of the ideas we had been looking at.
Session 8 – Hainault Lodge – Surveying
By the end of the day, we were starting to be able to identify ‘indicator plants’, and even have a little more confidence about our tree ID abilities. We tiptoed round a pheasants nest that we discovered amongst the trees, leapt up and down to keep warm and turned a measuring activity into a fun relay race. Everyone was full of ideas for the orchard design homework by the time we left.
“I am so grateful for the opportunity to study in beautiful places with such knowledgeable and generous people.”
Session 9 – Calthorpe Community Garden – Design
Calthorpe was a jam-packed venue, and yet another one that I really want to return to! It was a fabulous space to consider orchard design and how visitors might use the space. As we worked out the design using tiny model trees, gusts of wind snatched them from our plans, but we kept warm chasing them! Understanding the intent behind the designs was really inspiring.
Session 10 – Pests and diseases and Taxonomy
This was both fascinating and revolting! But also incredibly useful. We covered how insects are named (which had never made sense to me before), indicators for disease and what to do about them. Expert on orchard biodiversity, Russel, led us on a hunt to spot bees, wasps, moths and more around the orchard, accompanied by a stream of interesting detail.
Group work day with Ella
By now, we are all quite comfortable with the techniques, but needed to think about how to engage community volunteers with our orchards and greenspaces. We tried different forms of mediation and negotiation which was eye-opening. Then the visioning session opened up the floor to everyone’s ideas for future projects.
Our Final Day!
After a great session on chip bud grafting, the course was rounded up with a chance to reflect on what we had discovered and learnt; – plus a last chance to show tutor Jo that we had been paying attention! I am so grateful for the opportunity to study in beautiful places with some knowledgeable and generous people, and to meet such a brilliant group of students. I’m very much hoping to stay in touch as this a really inspiring bunch! Thanks to The Orchard Project and everyone involved.