Soil Science

Seven Guidelines to Good Compost Making

Seven Guidelines to Good Compost Making


In a previous life, before helping to host and produce this website, your webmaster was fortunate enough to have been able to study horticulture at a leading horticultural college.

One of the core subjects taught was Soil Science. To be honest, this was a somewhat dry subject, famously taught in one of the darkest and dingiest classrooms at the whole establishment. So dim, in fact that the accommodation felt quite burrow-like, an almost underground experience. 

Whether that was deliberate or not, I'm afraid I never actually discovered...

There's no denying the importance of having good soil, and doing everything possible to retain and improve it. This is true for our orchards, our meadows, our gardens and our allotment plots.

One of the allotmenteers, who shares our Colwall Village Garden site on one of the sixty allotment plots there, is an award-winning compost maker. Last year he won first prize in the Compost-making category at the Wyche and Colwall Horticultural Society annual show.

Sworn to anonymity - he has asked to simply be known as Colwall Compost Man - so his hot tips for making fantastic compost to help to improve the soil now follow...

Seven Guidelines to Good Compost Making

Seven Guidelines to Good Compost Making

Seven Guidelines to Good Compost Making



My seven key guidelines to good compost making:

1) Layering your compostable materials.

Don’t just pile compostable materials in one large dump into your bin. Try to layer what you have so a good mixture of the following is built up:

· Vegetable peelings but not meat or cooked food waste. Egg shells can be added but wash them and break up into small pieces. Cut up large sizes of melon shells or vegetables past their usable state into smaller pieces. Have a bucket with a firm lid outside you back door to store them until you can put them on your compost pile.

· Weeds from gardening but break up large clumps of grass and avoid caked on earth

· Green leaves from cuttings, flowers, leaf based hedge trimmings (not pine or similar type needle type leaves), leaves from vegetables such as cabbage, beetroots, parsnips, or courgette plants. Cut up large leaves and stems into smaller sizes as necessary to hasten rotting

· Grass cuttings but avoid dumping large quantities. In the autumn when leaves are on lawns a combination of grass and brown leaves from the mower cuttings box is a good combination

· Brown leaves of the smaller size. Avoid large maple or similar large brown leaves as they take a long time to decompose. 

· Any spare earth or general sweeping of debris from garden paths etc.

2) Keep your brown leaves from the autumn/winter leaf sweeping up period.

If you have a lot of leaves over the autumn / winter then rake them up when still wet and put them into used empty fertiliser or black bags. Tie up the ends and then jab holes into the sides of the bag with a garden fork. Leave some bags near your compost bins over winter and in the spring draw on the contents of these bags to add a layer to your compost. They should have decomposed partly and will add enriching mulch to your compost bin.

3) Regular turning over of the contents to your compost bin(s).

Don’t just leave the contents of your compost in the bin and do nothing with it. From time to time get a fork and dig down into the depths of it and mix the lower contents with the higher contents. It gets the air in, mixes up differing levels of composting materials and gives the worms etc some new delicious treats! 

4) Water you compost pile.

You might get some peculiar looks from your family, friends and neighbours but in dry and hot weather periods get a watering can with a spray head and water your compost bin.  It lets moisture in and permeates down the depth of the compost bin.

5) Have more than one compost bin.

It takes a year for a compost pile to break down into lovely enriching compost based soil so have at least two bins. One for current use and the other left to decompose. Two bins will just about do it such that each spring you should be able to clear one bin out if you have followed these guidance notes over an annual cycle.

6) Watch for furry friends making a desirable residence in winter.

Sometimes furry friends are attracted by the warm comfort of a compost pile and you can usually see this from a pile of sifted earth like a small molehill. Just turn the area over with a fork but stand back as you might get a surprise!

7) Be patient.

Good enriching compost takes time to produce so be patient. As the phrase goes ‘good things come to all who wait’ and that is certainly true when it comes to compost making.

Colwall Compost Man



Spring Visitors

 We have visitors at Lugg's Mill Orchard. Beautiful Llanwenog ewes with the black face and the fabulous sheep that look like a giant puff balls are a cross of Leicester Longwool and Texel. 

Grazing with sheep can form an important part of management of the grass sward between the large-sized, standard orchard trees. The sheep keep the grass cut and in doing so help to return  nutrients to the soil with their dung. 

Sheep cut the grass very short with their teeth in contrast to cattle who tear it off with their tongues and leave the sward longer. Sheep will eat most plants found in the sward including thistles, buttercups and docks so they are useful at controlling unwanted and invasive weed species. They however, don't usually eat nettles.

Traditionally orchards were often found on the periphery of villages and adjoining farmsteads. Fruit is a heavy crop so it made sense to have the orchards near to dwellings and to buildings where the fruit could be stored and processed. 

The shade from the large trees in traditional orchards made a good place for sick animals or for horses or cows giving birth since they were more readily accessible from nearby dwellings.

Aesthetically the sheep certainly bring something to the landscape and it's good to manage our orchards in the traditional, environmentally friendly manner.

MAY 2020 -...NUTS IN MAY

Here we go gathering nuts in May...

...where on earth can you find nuts in May...???

...where on earth can you find nuts in May...???



Nuts in May

Here we go gathering nuts in May,
Nuts in May, nuts in May,
Here we go gathering nuts in May,
On a cold and frosty morning.

Who will you have for nuts in May,
Nuts in May, nuts in May,
Who will you have for nuts in May,
On a cold and frosty morning.

We'll have [name] for nuts in May,
Nuts in May, nuts in May,
We'll have [name] for nuts in May,
On a cold and frosty morning.

Who will you have to fetch him/her away,
Fetch him/her away, fetch him/her away,
Who will you have to fetch him/her away,
On a cold and frosty morning.

We'll have [name] to fetch him/her away,
Fetch him/her away, fetch him/her away,
We'll have [name] to fetch him/her away,
On a cold and frosty morning.

...where on earth can you find nuts in May...???

...where on earth can you find nuts in May...???

...where on earth can you find nuts in May...???


Confusing isn't it? We have some nut trees in our orchard at Colwall Village Garden and it's quite clear and obvious that the nuts won't be ready for eating until the autumn... 

So what's this well-known, old-fashioned nursery rhyme referring to?

Well, like many things in life, you have a couple of choices as to whom you believe.


The origins of the rhyme seem to date back to the 1880s as a singing game aimed at pairing up a boy and a girl from two teams, divided by the sexes. The reference to nuts in May could possibly be a derivation of the term knots of May. The knot referring to a bunch, and May being the common name of  the hawthorn tree which commonly blooms in May (pictured above the nursery rhyme). Therefore, this could be a bunch, or posy, of hawthorn blossom.

However, sticking to the edible theme there is another alternative. Conopodium majus  known as pignut - but also with some wonderful alternative common names including kippernut, jarnut, and earth chestnut - is a small perennial herb. Its underground bulb resembles a chestnut (pictured above), and is edible and ready for eating in May. The plant is a well-spread throughout much of Europe and North Africa. Here in Colwall, we have some at our Lugg's Mill orchard site and it's a good indicator species of long-established grassland.

Much-loved by wild foragers and pigs alike its eating qualities are widely praised - with a taste apparently similar to a chestnut. In the past country children would have recognised this plant and possibly dug up the bulbs and eaten them on the way to and from school.

This is a plant to enjoy looking at rather than eating, and care should always be taken with any wild foraging to avoid removing protected or poisonous species. Any plants that you come across should always only be dug up with the landowner's permission.


As promised, Wendy was up with the lark (or at least a blackbird and some members of the tit family) to record the Dawn Chorus in our back garden to celebrate International Dawn Chorus Day. Watch a brief video clip here...

Perhaps you did similar? Get in touch via social media and let us know.


MAY 2020 - Dawn CHORUS

International Dawn Chorus Day

We were so disappointed to have to cancel our annual Dawn Chorus Walk - a wonderful adventure walking through the paths and orchards around Colwall listening out for birdsong - with our super handy birdsong identifier Tim Dixon on hand!  Followed by a delicious and well-earned breakfast of a hot sausage (vegan option available!) sandwich.

But all is not lost.  Tomorrow morning, Sunday 3rd May, is International Dawn Chorus Day … and we’re inviting you to join in!

Why not get up early tomorrow morning (5am), open your windows, step outside and enjoy your morning coffee listening to birdsong.  

See how many birds you can identify, and let us know how you get on so we can post your stories on our website and, if you’re brave enough, a couple of pictures too!  Pyjamas and dressing gowns quite permissible!

More details are available on the RSPB website - there’s even a fabulous audio to help you to identify the birds.  

And if that’s too much for such an early start, then just kick back and enjoy the birdsong - knowing we’re all doing it together.

We’ll be following them on Facebook and Twitter - and joining in with you all tomorrow morning.

Find out more about International Dawn Chorus Day

The link below will take you you the RSPB website where you can find out more about the Dawn Chorus, learn how to identify birds from their song, and play a 10 minute video with audio of bird song from RSPB reserves.



Common Cuckoo (Cuculus canorous)

It's always with some excitement that we hear the first cuckoo song of the year and today was the first time that we've heard the distinctive sound of a cuckoo calling out across our orchards in Colwall.

This visitor to the UK usually arrives in late March or early April and stays with us during the summer months with adults leaving in July or August, and their young a few weeks later. Their winter destinations are the forests of The Congo, in Africa.

According to the RSPB website there about 15,000 breeding pairs in the UK, so this is becoming quite a rare bird, and it appears on the Red List due to recent population decline.


Cuckooflower (Cardamine pratensis)

This is Cuckooflower, also known as Lady's Smock. It's a common plant of damp ground and can be found in some of the wetter areas of our community orchards at both Colwall Village Garden and Lugg's Mill.

It has an uncanny habit of flowering at almost the exact time that the first cuckoo birds can be heard calling in the countryside - so hence the common name of Cuckooflower.

It's a food plant of the caterpillars of both the orange-tip and green-veined white butterfly, and is another welcome sign of springtime in our orchards.



Bountiful Blossom

Traditionally in May we are treated to a wonderful show of spring blossom in our fruit orchards in Colwall in Herefordshire, but this year we have enjoyed a fantastic display in late April.

Whilst the blossom of cherry trees is much revered around the world, especially in Japan, we feel that the flowers of apple trees are similarly beautiful. That should come as no surprise since commercial apple trees - Malus domestica - like other apples, pears, plums and cherries, are all members of the Rose family - Rosaceae.

You may have noticed that apples grow in clusters which duplicates the blossom arrangement. Buds appear along a side branch or longer shoot with the four buds surrounding a single, central larger one. The central bud is the 'king blossom' and should, if viable become the 'king fruit' - the largest fruit of the cluster. The other four buds open in succession which potentially provides a longer period of pollination providing the greatest opportunity for some or all of the fruit cluster to ultimately develop.

Apple blossom flowers have five petals which start out as pink and white, slowly fading to white. When the flowers first open the stamens are heavily laden with moist, cream-coloured pollen. The pollen quickly dries out and the fragrant flowers attract pollinating insects, with bees and hoverflies being especially important.

This is a critical time for the development of the fruit with low temperatures, and in particular air frosts, threatening subsequent development of the apple crop.

So why has this year's blossom come so early? The early flowering of apples seems to be following the trends associated with climate change with milder and wetter winters inducing early spring growth. This year's exceptionally wet winter has been followed by a recent long period of warm, dry weather perfect for fruit trees to start growing following winter dormancy.

So that's the scientific theory. However, one of our members did recently point out that we did have an exceptionally good Wassail in January this year - so perhaps that helped too...!


COG Business Plan 2019-2024

It's not only practical activities outdoors that Colwall Orchard Group volunteers get involved with. 

COG trustees have been hard at work putting together a business plan to cover the next five years of our charity activity. 

This document summarises our plans and ambitions over the short to medium term. It helps us to prioritise our work and is also intended to inform a wider audience about our activities. 

The process of producing the Plan has improved our awareness of the complexity of all of the activities that we cover, and has proved to be a very timely reminder of the role and importance of our volunteers, members and partners who support us, and without whom we simply couldn't function as a successful organisation.

The document is available to download below in PDF format. 

If you have any comments, queries or suggestions we would welcome your feedback via email at .

Download PDF

APRIL 2020


The best-laid plans...

There has probably never been such a time in many of our lifetimes when the best of plans have gone quite so wrong. Covid-19 has caused total social and economic upheaval, bringing uncertainty, inconvenience and tragedy to our community, together with many others.

Similarly, in our efforts to encourage nature, things don't always go strictly according to plan. At our Lugg's Mill orchard site in Old Church Road, Colwall, we have installed the barn owl box pictured above. This is no ordinary bird box, but instead is a beautifully crafted piece of woodwork - a Rolls-Royce of ornitholigical objects. Our minds have been racing with anticipation of balmy summer evenings spent at Lugg's Mill - binoculars at the ready - to trace the stealthy flight of a hunting barn owl as it swoops effortlessly to retrieve bountiful prey from within the flourishing wildflower meadow.... 

Or so we hoped!

However, we were reliably informed the other day that the said barn owl box does now have Spring residents, albeit not quite of the type that we wanted. A brief inspection from the ground did indeed show signs of habitation. The occupiers are apparently a family of jackdaws who are obviously very appreciative of some top-notch new accommodation in a highly desirable location.  

To quote Robert Burns - so much for 'the best-laid plans of mice and men...'  

Not perhaps what we had intended, but looking on the bright side that's a few less jackdaws to nest in the chimney pots and to accidently fall down the chimneys at our house - as they tend to do once or twice a year....!


Tree Planting at St. James The Great Church, Colwall

Another Friday and another tree planting session in Colwall...

Working in partnership with Colwall Parish Council once again, we have planted two trees in the memorial garden at Colwall, St. James The Great Church. The brief was to provide apple trees in memory of those from Colwall who lost their lives in active service with the armed forces during the Great War. 

We sourced two Ashmead's Kernel trees on dwarfing rootstock, since this is a local (Gloucestershire) dessert apple variety that might have been familiar to the young men of that time, and whose origins date back to circa 1700.

Initially the plan was to plant these trees with the help of the Colwall Scouts Group but sadly the current coronavirus restrictions, combined with the urgency of needing to get bare root trees into the ground, meant that we had to work on this independently.

We hope that these trees flourish to provide an attractive, fitting and long-lasting tribute and have provided suitable tree protection to guard against the deer and rabbits that frequent the memorial garden.

April 2020 - UNFAMILIAR TIMES...


...and an unusual plant to be found at Lugg's Mill

There's no doubt that we are currently experiencing unfamiliar and very uncertain times. 

Whilst snatching our opportunity to take much-needed outdoor exercise the temptation in early Spring is to look upwards - to enjoy the wonderful emerging blossom on the pear trees in the orchards and the blackthorn adorning our hedgerows with billowing frothiness. But don't forget to also look down at the ground...

Spotted near to the stream at Lugg's Mill is this unusual plant. This is Purple Toothwort (Lathraea clandestina) a parasitic plant which grows on the roots of alder, poplar and willow. It has no chlorophyll, so cannot photosynthesise, and obtains nutrients from the host plant. It is also able to trap and digest insects. Predominantly living underground, with no leaves, the purple structures are the above-ground flowers.

This is one of over seventy species of plants that we have current knowledge of at our Lugg's Mill orchard site in Old Church Road, Colwall. 

Hopefully there will be more later this summer as part of our pilot Orchard Meadows project so keep your eyes open for further interesting plants over the coming months...



Does life get any better than this?

Late Winter / early Spring is a good time to prune apple and pear trees whose growth has got a little congested.

A fantastically warm and sunny Monday morning in mid March found a few of us at a wonderful private property and orchard at the nearby village of Cradley. This is part of the fruit tree pruning services that we offer to fruit tree owners.

Our brief - to review the twenty five or so trees in the orchard and to bring the trees gently back into a tidier shape for promotion of fruiting and ease of picking. 

In doing so we worked upon the 3 'D's of fruit tree pruning - dealing with branches that are dead, diseased or disorderly (growing in the wrong place or crossing).

What a wonderfully rewarding and enjoyable way of spending a Spring morning.


Spot the refreshments!

Amongst the discarded tools and growing pile of brash those with excellent eyesight will note the tray and cups that characterise the majority of our outdoor work sessions. 

Any evidence of the previously provided chocolate brownies had long since gone... 

With grateful thanks to our host Clare for keeping us fed, hydrated and suitably motivated!


Getting back into shape...

Both the tree...and the pruner!

We worked our way methodically through the orchard re-shaping individual trees as necessary. 

We were fortunate since the previous owner had the foresight to identify individual tree varieties with durable metal labels. 

An invaluable guide for future maintenance and something that we always recommend that you should provide in your orchard.

MARCH 2020


New footpath being created

...and here are some of the people who are helping with the footpath creation

New footpath being created

In common with many rural areas in England Colwall is amazingly well-served by an extensive, veteran public footpath network that dates back many many years.

But it's highly unusual for a new footpath to be added in open countryside.

With the generous support of our neighbours and fellow Colwall Orchard Group members - Lindsay and Jane (pictured above) - have granted access across their property to join our Lugg's Mill site with another section of the public footpath network


Work in progress

...and here are some of the people who are helping with the footpath creation

New footpath being created

Once again this is a significant partnering exercise with pooled funding from Lindsay and Jane, from Colwall Orchard Group, from the Malvern Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and from Colwall Parish Council.

The new length of footpath will link the Lugg's Mill site, which is already crossed by public footpath CW24A, to public footpath CW30A and will enable public access to Lugg's Mill from Colwall C.E. Primary School in Mill Lane to Lugg's Mill directly via the footpath network.


...and here are some of the people who are helping with the footpath creation

...and here are some of the people who are helping with the footpath creation

...and here are some of the people who are helping with the footpath creation

Another great effort from our Friday morning volunteers.

Work so far has included - levelling out poached ground, moving small trees, clearing brash, preparing a new metal disabled access kissing gate and chestnut fencing fence posts for installation, and digging out brambles.

A fantastically rewarding volunteer work session with especial thanks to Lindsay and Jane for all of their planning, support and practical work to make this happen on the ground.

Work continues, and we will let you know when the footpath is ready for use.

MARCH 2020

Hedgeplanting at Lugg's Mill

Hedgeplanting at Lugg's Mill

Hedgeplanting at Lugg's Mill


Q. How many volunteers does it take to plant a hedge?

A. As many as possible!

Proving that many hands make light work - a bumper turnout of volunteers - spurred on by the promise of Spring in the form of bright sunny weather, and fuelled by Krysia and Jane's wonderful cakes - helped plant a length of new hedgerow totalling some 100m overall.

Hedges are wonderful for nature and wildlife and this new boundary will also provide our next door neighbours with more privacy, so a real win-win situation.

Hedgeplanting at Lugg's Mill

Hedgeplanting at Lugg's Mill


This is part of the continuing improvement of our Lugg's Mill site in Old Church Road.

We've planted two new orchards there, have done tree coppicing work, are piloting a new orchard wildflower meadow and have introduced native daffodils to the streamside banks.

The next phase of changes, which will continue apace over the coming months, include improving access both by providing a new link from this site to the existing public footpath network and providing a second crossing over the stream that bisects the site in order to facilitate a circular walking route through the orchards.


Spring is coming...

Signs of Spring are in the air...

Some of our fruit trees at Colwall Village Garden are already beginning to blossom; frogs are busy at work in our pond with a good amount of frogspawn already present at the same site, and native daffodils are flowering on the stream banks at Lugg's Mill.

The photograph above, whilst probably not that dramatic to most people, is nevertheless very significant to us!

This is the first sign of germination of Yellow Rattle (Rhinathus minor) and was recently photographed at Lugg's Mill, but is also to be found at Colwall Village Garden. This is an important plant on our orchard wildflower meadow pilot plots at both sites, covering two acres overall. The presence of Yellow Rattle, where none was to be found previously, proves that the wildflower seed that we introduced to the pilot plots last autumn was viable and has now survived the winter wet. It is a plant to be welcomed since it will help to reduce the vigour of competing grass species providing an opportunity for more preferable wildflowers to become established.

We are excited!!!

Watch this space for further  sightings of other wildflower plants  in our orchards.


Winter Storm Damage

Anyone following the news nationally will be aware that here in Herefordshire we've had some of the worst cumulative effects of both storm Ciara and storm Dennis and as this article takes shape the wind is still howling outside.

Strong gales and the exceptionally wet soil are perfect conditions to accelerate the demise of veteran fruit trees. This one, pictured in a local traditional orchard, already in a dead but standing state, has sadly finally succumbed to the recent taxing storms.

Yet, even such a sad condition these fallen fruit trees still have a considerable wildlife value, and dead wood provides an important habitat to many invertebrates.

Elsewhere in the same orchard some other trees have similarly collapsed but occasionally, where some roots are still viable, the fallen trees continue to grow on, even managing to produce fruit, despite their predominantly horizontal posture.

Such is the strength and tenacity of these wonderful old apple trees. 


Coffee Time by Aunt Alice...

Coffee Time by Aunt Alice...

Coffee Time by Aunt Alice...


As part of our continued drive to get new fruit trees out into the wider community we have been planting trees by the Aunt Alice clock tower at Walywn Meadow by Colwall Library.

Once again this is a partnering exercise, with Colwall Parish Council kindly purchasing trees from us and Colwall Orchard Group contributing the tree protection and tree planting services.

Our Tree Planting Team

Coffee Time by Aunt Alice...

Coffee Time by Aunt Alice...


And here's the team that did the planting. 

Pictured (left to right ) are Lindsay, Deb, and Wendy together with Gwyneth Rees from Colwall Parish Council who kindly turned up to support us on the day.

The trees planted were all apple trees to include Spartan, Herefordshire Russet and Limelight all on semi dwarfing (M26) rootstocks.



Love them or loathe them?

Love them or loathe them?

Love them or loathe them?

We have a bit of a love - hate relationship with these clear plastic spiral tree guards. 

We use them extensively during initial planting of trees and hedges to help protect the young bark of plants from damage from voles or rabbits.

They have their merits but they are plastic, they degrade and eventually break and become unsightly.


East Boundary

Love them or loathe them?

Love them or loathe them?

This is our East Boundary with a hedge planted about over six years ago, photographed in 2016.

The young mixed native hedgerow plants were growing away nicely protected by the spiral guards.


End of the road

Love them or loathe them?

End of the road

After 5 or six years the spiral tree guards reach the end of their useful life...

We've spent the morning removing the remaining plastic from the East boundary hedge and this has tidied up the look of the hedge and has helped remove moss , grass and vegetation from getting compacted against the bark.

The spent plastic spirals are not wasted - we've found a local company that can recycle them so they'll find an alternative future use in another product.



Trio of trees for Colwall C Of E Primary School

Trio of trees for Colwall C Of E Primary School

Trio of trees for Colwall C Of E Primary School

An elite team of our volunteers spent a productive morning planting three apple trees at Colwall C Of E Primary School in the hedge line between the staff car park and the adjoining farmland.

This is the start  of providing a few trees to help with the school's landscaping ambitions. These three at the front of the school, with more to follow at the rear - near the forest school area.


Apple Additions

Trio of trees for Colwall C Of E Primary School

Trio of trees for Colwall C Of E Primary School

The trees that have gone in are a James Grieve, a Worcester Pearmain and a Bosbury Pippin. 

All are on M25 (vigorous) rootstocks so should grow to be big trees in due course.

 It's a great opportunity to help combat climate change by getting more trees in the ground together with helping to positively develop and improve the school environment. 


Partnership with the Malvern Hills AONB.

Trio of trees for Colwall C Of E Primary School

Partnership with the Malvern Hills AONB.

This is a partnering project between Colwall C Of E Primary School, the Malvern Hills AONB and Colwall Orchard Group.

Colwall C Of E Primary School is providing us with the opportunity to plant trees in a new location, the Malvern Hills AONB is generously funding the cost of the trees, and Colwall Orchard Group is supplying the tree protection and volunteer labour to do the planting.

January 2020- NEW FLOOR

New Floor For Orchard Room

Hot on the heels of the Colwall Wassail event we have just replaced the floor to the Orchard Room within our Apple Packing Shed building. ...And how smart it looks!

The old carpet flooring was past its' best, and quite frankly wasn't the most appropriate choice in the first place.

The new vinyl plank finish looks smarter and should be more able to cope with our orchard-related activities.

The Orchard Room is the hub of our work at Colwall Village Garden and provides much-needed social, refreshment and meeting space.

It's available to hire at very reasonable rates so please get in touch with us if you wish to host an event.