It’s been a busy couple of months for the Celebration of Orchards restoration team in London, as winter is the time for pruning apple and pear trees, between leaf fall in late autumn and bud burst in spring. This winter Ella and I worked with 12 orchards between us, rejuvenating the trees and teaching over 150 people tree care skills.
Reaching the top
Each orchard presents its own challenges. At Lady Gilbert in Stanmore the 90 year old veteran fruit trees have grown up to 10 metres tall, having had to compete for light with oaks, chestnuts and hornbeams. These gangly old trees are at risk of toppling over, so we had to remove weight from the very top. That meant standing on top of ladders with 4m pole saws on full extension, and arms at full stretch — using muscles that we had forgotten we had!
Having the right tools makes a difficult task a bit easier. Along with the adjustable tripod ladders and sharp new saws, one of the most useful tools is a hook we put on the end of our extendable poles: it can be used to hold a branch steady while someone else saws it, and to remove the pruned branch from the canopy where it inevitably gets stuck..
Lean on me
As these old trees cling to life, they provide habitat and food for many other wildlife species such as fungus, beetles and other insects. We found the larvae of a predatory wasp in a bracket fungus at Lady Gilbert, and this candle snuff fungus at Dick Turpin.
We are working with quite an unusual orchard in Mill Hill, which was planted in the 1970s and managed like a commercial orchard: apple trees on very dwarfing rootstock planted close together in rows, pruned in the spindle shape, with the grass below treated with herbicide. After years of neglect these trees have grown out of shape, getting top heavy, putting a strain on the small root system. Our priority here has been to reduce the centre of gravity to make them more stable. Luckily the trees are mostly head height…but there are around 200 of them!
Lucky with the weather
Working in winter obviously presents challenges with the weather. Because our workshops involve a lot of planning we usually go ahead whatever the weather (unless there are high winds which could be dangerous if there are tall old trees at risk of falling over). But zero temperatures, rain, and even a flurry of snow present no obstacle for our hardy volunteers!
And it hasn’t all been working on ladders with polesaws — at Chalkhill orchard we did some bramble and ivy lopping, a good job for shorter arms…