I thought I’d share some exciting happenings from my community orchard wonderings in Hackney. May is a time where it’s all going off orchard-wise, with plenty going on and much to observe.
After a long winter our apples have been blossoming far and wide, here is a lovely example of a Reverend R. Wilks at City Academy in Homerton. I’ve been working with this school on the Fruit-full Schools programme for over 3 years now, and it’s lovely to see these trees flourishing. They have over 20 trees, both free-standing and cordons.
Literally just over the wall is the Jack Dunning estate community orchard. Earlier this year we underplanted some trees with Bocking 14 from starts I’d brought back with me from Ragman’s Lane farm (see last post). Two thirds of them have taken and I was pleased to see their young shoots rising out of the mulch. This year they’ll be left to grow and establish to ensure strong plants. Next year they can be ‘chop & dropped’; their abundant foliage cut and added to the mulch where the nutrients they’ve accumulated from their deep tap roots will be made available to our tree’s feeder roots. This can be repeated several times during a growing season due to their vigorous, abundant growth.
Pears are looking promising this year – every pear I’ve seen recently has shown good fruit set, and some of the earlier apples have started to swell too. After last year our trees will have had a rest, with plenty of nutrients stored up in bud tissue for this year’s growth, and a long winter has provided plenty of chill hours for fruit bud….finger’s crossed!
And, drum roll please…we’re delighted to share our first ever apricot! This was found on one of two trees planted at the Beckers. Both are the variety Tomcot, known to be a successful variety for warmer parts of the UK. Here we took advantage of the microclimate provided by a SW facing white wall and the trees are looking extremely healthy with abundant leaf of superb quality. Let’s hope this is the first of more to come. CCTV has been installed, along with laser trip wires and heat sensors to prevent the potential squirrel squandering of this precious gem.
I’ve also been practising a little guerilla grafting. Here is a scion from an edible cultivar grafted onto my neighbours unfruitful pear tree, Shhhhhh…..
Having visited the Hackney Downs orchard, planted in 2008 by the Tree Muskateers, and noting the resourceful and effective use of used bicycle innertubes to sheaf the sharp edges of the cut wire to prevent branch damage, I thought this could be the answer we’ve been looking for. Our guards are very effective at their aim: they keep the trees safe and protected during their vulnerable estblishment phase. Vandalism of trees is an urban reality, as is the occasional tree theft (generally around the time of Mother’s Day). And then there are the city version of bark-stripping deer; Staffordshire Bull Terriors. A sturdy guard is essential for successfull establishment. The compromise is that our ideal tree shape of an open centre and wide-angled, load bearing branches can be tricky to achieve. Recently, we’ve sought to begin reducing the guard height year on year and thread good angled branches through the mesh where possible, cutting larger holes for them if need be. But this can result in rubbing, leaving a welcome sign to air borne fungal spores and woolly aphid, both of which can lead to the dreaded canker. Using old inner tubes can help solve this…but the revelation here is the idea can be extended to safe guard the weeding hatches we cut into the guards. We propose all groups do the same on their guards as soon as possible, so that no weeding leads to bleeding! May 16th saw our first gathering of orchard leaders, with attendees from our community orchards across London; North, South, East and West. This was a space for groups to find out about other community orchard groups in their area, to share ideas and stories, and explore ways in which they could work together and share resources in the future. It was also to discuss how LOP can best support its growing number of partner orchard groups. The evening was a huge success, taking place at the impressive City Hall, near tower Bridge, and will be repeated so that more groups can participate. Thank you to all those who came and to the GLA for kindly letting us use the hall. There’ll be more about this in next month’s blog, along with some suggestions of tree tasks for you to be getting on with in. But in the meantime, the LOP team are off to Sunrise festival to spread the community orchard word. We’re very excited to be sharing an area with the likes of Mark Boyle & Just For the Love of It, Patrick Whitefield, Shift Bristol and Ecologist & Resurgence magazine! Until next time…keep up the watering! Lewis