Andy was on top of the world this week. Ok, in reality, just a ladder...!
Nevertheless this week was something a bit special for us with an invitation, via Malvern Hills AONB, to help the National Trust (NT) with picking a bumper fruit harvest at The Firs (Edward Elgar's birthplace), near Worcester.
Dawne Middleton, the National Trust's gardener for the site, introduced us to some lovely fruit trees, originally planted circa 2000, and now fruiting well under her expert care.
We enjoyed a very quiet couple of hours in lovely surroundings, (the property is currently closed due to the Covid-19 pandemic), and picked 16 bale arm crates worth of fruit.
The apples will be used by Colwall Orchard Group to produce fruit juice for sale to help us with our work to restore, promote and celebrate traditional orchards, and any surplus will be donated to local Food Banks.
So this has been a very mutually beneficial visit and it's great to see such a fantastic top fruit crop this year.
Okay, so for the purists amongst you we concede that these aren't apples but are instead a representative selection of potatoes all grown by one plotholder on his allotment plot at Colwall Village Garden this year. It's been a superb growing year for our allotments generally and despite the challenges of the weather we've had some bumper crops.
We had suggested to John earlier in the year that it might be worth growing potatoes to help clear the ground of weeds on his newly acquired plot. He took our advice on board and his allotment has simply been characterised by a plethora of potatoes, and is a joy to behold!
We are used to some fantastic names for apples but it has been an education to us that potatoes have such a rich culture of naming too.
Pictured above are a selection of varieties including Yetholm Gypsy, Red Emmalie, Kerr's Pink, Shetland Black and Arran Victory.
We are delighted to report the sighting of a Kingfisher at our Lugg's Mill Orchard on a bright, sunny day at the end of August. A jewel-like flash of blue flying low above the stream in a South-North direction initially brought the bird to our attention. Then the Kingfisher perched on a fence to watch the water just near the site entrance onto Old Church Road before it continued flying over the road. A rare treat indeed!
We have always thought that this quiet orchard site, with a deeply incised stream with good tree cover of alder, ash and field maple, is ideal Kingfisher territory so this is a welcome and exciting occasion.
Have you also seen this bird at Lugg's Mill Orchard? We'd love to hear of other sightings so please contact us at email@example.com
Work on the new footbridge over the stream at our Lugg's Mill Orchard continues apace with Deb and the mini-digger arriving on site to create a graded approach to the bridge from the West side.
In the foreground Bob and Kath are hard at it with some hands-on manual labour, whilst in the background Andy and Alan look pensively on, clearly wondering where they'd left their spades (which they usually use to lean on...).
Webmaster note - A big THANK YOU to everyone who has contributed to our crowd funding appeal for money for this bridge. We've already had a fantastic response, but would still welcome further donations. Please see www.colwallorchardgroup.org/support-us
Taking advantage of some unseasonably wet weather we've been busy getting some Ragged Robin plug plants in the ground at Colwall Village Garden.
We've already had very good success in year one of our pilot orchard wildflower meadow project at this site, but we're keen to do more, so we are introducing plug plants of a few additional species. Pictured are volunteers Ron and Bella busy at work a few minutes before yet another showery deluge ended play for the day...
We are exceptionally fortunate in having volunteer members of the Orchard Group who seem to be able to turn their hand to absolutely anything!
Here you can see the large quantity of very healthy looking Ragged Robin plug plants lovingly tended by Carol over the previous few months. We also planted Cowslips that she has similarly nurtured, and we will be sowing seed of other choice meadow plants soon with a view to eventually growing them on as plug plants for planting out in the orchard next Spring.
Are we jinxed? Sometimes it seems so!
Just an hour or so into works to locate, expose and fix some of the buried water irrigation pipework at Colwall Village Garden disaster struck with our hired mechanical mini-digger developing an electrical fault on the oil pump.
Fired up and raring to go, we couldn't stop Deb from going straight to alternative equipment in the form of her own plan 'B', as a very patient and helpful man from the hire company completed repairs on the 'real thing' in the background...
We are pleased to be able to report that the mini-digger was successfully repaired and that we are making progress with the irrigation system, and hope to soon be moving on to use the equipment at Lugg's Mill Orchard where we also have some groundworks to complete.
Work has started on our new footbridge across the stream at Lugg's Mill Orchard. This will provide better access across the site to connect to the public footpath network and will provide an attractive circular route within the apple and cherry tree orchards currently divided by the stream.
The bridge has scaffold pole support piles, dwarf blockwork walls to retain soil on the stream banks, and will have a main timber structure. The design has been devised by Deb, one of our trustees, and the intention is that the bridge will be accessible by wheelchair.
Construction is being carried out by our volunteers, and as ever, we are delighted and amazed at the range of talented, hard-working and enthusiastic people from within our membership.Funding has been from a variety of sources including COG itself and generous donations from our members and supporters. A crowd- funding appeal is still in operation and donations can be made via this website at https://colwallorchardgroup.org/support-us
We've had three days working on this to date, all of them exceptionally hot, so Deb and Alan are to be excused for taking a well-earned break from work on the retaining walls!
We look forward to the project developing over the coming weeks and hope to see the bridge in place by the end of September.
Working out when apples are ready for picking is a tricky decision for most of us. Commercial growers will use a variety of visual and physical indicators, their experience, and possibly even the use of science in the form of a Starch Iodine test to determine the state of maturity of their fruit and when to harvest it.
For those of us growing fruit on a less intensive scale there are a few rules and indicators that can give us a good idea when to pick fruit. A distinction also needs to be made between the right time to harvest fruit and the time to eat it - which can be quite different.
Detailed below are a few helpful tips and rules that may assist you with decision making before you start to take precious fruit from your favourite apple tree...
Know your apple variety - It's exceptionally helpful to know what you are growing. Perhaps the best introductory book on apple growing is 'The Apple Book' by Rosie Sanders. This beautifully illustrated book contains invaluable information on around 150 commonly found apple varieties and when they are ready to harvest, store and eat.
Use a general rule of thumb - Most apples varieties will need to be harvested sometime between early August and late October. If they are to be used for human consumption they should be gathered before the first winter frosts.
Let the tree guide you - When fruit is ripe it will fall from the tree.That's a common perception. Whilst that's sometimes true there are many exceptions to this including those varieties that resolutely continue to have apples hang on trees well after ripening; the 'June drop' when trees naturally shed excess fruit in early summer in order to give the remaining fruit the chance to mature; premature shedding due to environmental factors such as high winds or drought; shedding due to the presence of pests such as codling moth larvae which feed within the apples.
Palming - If you take a fruit gently in the palm of your hand and lift it slowly upwards with a slight twist it may snap readily where the stalk joins the branch. That's generally a good indicator that the fruit is ready to pick. If there's resistance and force is needed to detach the fruit then it's still not ready for harvesting.
Colour - Apples often take on a brighter external colour as they ripen. This will be especially true with exposure to the sun so apples should not all be picked at once from the same tree but instead picking should usually be undertaken over several weeks.
Pips - If you cut an apple open the pips are another good colour indicator of readiness and they will change from white to brown as the fruit ripens. If an apple is shaken and the pips rattle then the fruit is also likely to be ripe.
The time for picking can often be different from the time for storage or eating.When fruit is picked it is not killed but instead the cells are alive and will continue to develop dependent upon the air temperature surrounding the fruit. That leads us neatly onto different subjects of storage and when fruit is ready to be eaten at the 'peak of perfection' - which are suitable subjects for further articles of which more to follow...
A recent article within the Herefordshire Green Network weekly email bulletin reminded us of the Marcher Apple Network (MAN) and the excellent work that they do providing authoritative guidance on identifying rare heritage apple and pear varieties locally and managing their own orchards to ensure that this gene pool continues to thrive.
Colwall Orchard Group (COG) has long-standing connections with this partnering organisation which we are keen to maintain and develop. We would highly recommend this is an organisation that the orchard aficionado should consider joining. In common with COG their annual membership fee is exceptionally good value, for which MAN charges £10.00.
MAN has also just had a refresh of their website which is well worth a visit at www.marcherapple.net . There is a wealth of good orchard-related content available presented in an easily accessible style.
Their website was given a makeover with financial assistance from yet another excellent partnering organisation - The Three Counties Traditional Orchard Project (sadly no longer in existence). There's strength in numbers, and partnering is a fantastic way to share resources and get things done so we look forward to working more closely with MAN in the future.
An opportunity has arisen for anyone who’d like to be involved in a meadow / orchard restoration project in a spectacular location at Breinton Common to the west of Hereford in the Wye Valley.
Partner funders are invited to join a small consortium to buy a remnant traditional orchard with flower rich pasture overlooking the River Wye and the Black Mountains. See https://www.sunderlands.co.uk/farms-land/property/breinton-common-hereford-6002
The auction is on July 29th 2020 with a guide price of £90,000. There are already four shareholders committed to 13 of the total 25 shares and they are setting up a company with a simple structure to manage the land for the following objectives:-
Shares are available from £5,000. Anyone who is interested please phone or email for more information -
Dr Patricia Ronan firstname.lastname@example.org 07903054699
or Caroline Hanks (from Herefordshire Meadows) 07779 080940.
On a pleasant Saturday evening we were pleased to finally be able to celebrate the opening of a short new stretch of footpath making our Lugg's Mill Orchard site even more readily accessible from the existing public footpath network.
Due to the vision and generosity of Lindsay and Jane Williams (pictured above, right; with Colwall Orchard Trust's Chair - Andrew Spray, left) Lugg's Mill Orchard can now be reached via a linking path from public footpath CW29 (Old Church Road to Walwyn Road).
The path crosses their property - Brookmead - with contributions to the costs of the path coming from Colwall Orchard Group, Colwall Parish Council, Malvern Hills AONB and Lindsay and Jane themselves. We are also indebted to practical input from Colwall Orchard Group's volunteers who assisted with some of the preparatory work.
Upon entering Lugg's Mill Orchard the path then crosses the newly planted cherry orchard on the South East side of the site to connect to public footpath CW24a (Old Church Road to Mill Lane).
As part of the plan for developing Lugg's Mill Orchard in future months the next stage is to create a new footbridge over the stream in order to give walkers the opportunity to cross the site in an East-West direction to further improve accessibility.
Part of the Colwall Orchard Group ethos is work within our immediate environment and to keep things local wherever possible.
We were delighted to recently have been given a set of fabulous hand-crafted pottery mugs made by one of our volunteers and supporters - Les Rucinski.
The clay for the mugs came from the Colwall Village Garden site and was excavated during preparations for planting a group of cordon apple trees earlier this year. Les then did his magic with a potters wheel and kiln at his home workshop in Colwall.
Both Les, and his wife Gabrielle, are skilled potters and they occasionally run pottery courses, or can take commissions for bespoke new work.
For more details please contact Les at email@example.com
Working alongside our partners, the Malvern Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, we are delighted to be able to report the launch of the Traditional Orchards for the Future Initiative (TOFI). Pictured above are David Armitage from Malvern Hills AONB and Wendy Thompson our Secretary at the scheme launch.
We have written to landowners in Colwall who we think own a local traditional orchard (defined as 'groups of at least five fruit and nut trees planted on vigorous rootstocks at low densities in permanent grassland and managed in a low intensity way').
Recognising the value that traditional orchards bring to both people and nature the initiative provides the opportunity for landowners to acquire new trees and tree protection, obtain free advice and free help to plant trees. In return landowners will be responsible for providing a suitable planting location, selecting the fruit trees and taking care of them after planting.
The aim is to provide new trees to extend or to gap up existing traditional orchards in order that they continue to exist and thrive.
Initial expressions of interest need to be received by 31st July 2020 and it's envisaged that the trees will be planted this winter with completion due early in 2021.
For more information please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or phone Wendy on 07544 530017.
Those of you who are regular visitors to the News page of this website will be aware that we are nearing the end of the first year of a ten year project to create two one acre orchard wildflower meadows at our sites at Colwall Village Garden and Lugg's Mill.
The work so far has involved preparing the two one acre receptor pilot plots, harvesting seed from a local donor wildflower meadow, preparing the seed for broadcasting, sowing the seed and managing the plots afterwards.
At the start of the process we undertook wildflower and bumblebee surveys to establish baseline data on quantities and types of species present. Now, a year later, we have just repeated the process and are able to report upon the progress so far.
We are delighted to be able to say that we've had some fantastic results.
At Colwall Village Garden we started with very few different plant species in our one acre pilot plot. The baseline survey indicated the presence of lots of rye grass with a handful of undesirable weed species including hogweed, nettle and creeping thistle. Whilst those species are still present their numbers have not increased significantly and also now growing there are significant quantities of yellow rattle and meadow buttercup; together with common mouse ear, ribwort plantain and red clover. All told the presence of desirable species has risen dramatically from an average of 0.3 desirable species / m2 in 2019 to 3.6 species / m2 in 2020.
The story at the other pilot plot at Lugg's Mill was very similar but with better quantities of plants like common mouse ear together with common sorrel and white clover. At Lugg's Mill, again there's not been a significant increase in undesirable weed species and the desirable plant species have risen from an average of 1.0 / m2 in 2019 to 4.2 / m2 in 2020.
The bumblebee surveys were less impressive, but from casual observation earlier in the year they were present earlier in the season, just not so later on when the official survey took place.
All in all, these are very credible results and we are enthused and greatly encouraged. This has been a very positive start to what is a long-term piece of work
With thanks to Lindsay from our team who led on this; to our wonderful supporters and hard-working volunteers; to Susan the owner of the donor wildflower meadow for letting us collect seed; and to our funders, partners and helpers with this project from the Prince of Wales Charitable Fund, Plantlife, Herefordshire Meadows and the Herefordshire Wildlife Trust.
The work continues, and we hope to soon be able to harvest more wildflower seed which will be used to further improve both pilot sites over the coming months and years.
A visit to both sites is recommended where you are welcome to view what's been achieved so far.
As part of our regular management regime at Lugg's Mill Orchard we have recently commissioned a tree surgeon to undertake a tree safety inspection of the veteran trees that surround the site, and which are found on the banks of the stream.
Acting upon his recommendations we will be doing tree safety works there on 1st, 2nd, 6th and 7th of July. The works will include French pollarding an oak, and pollarding three large ash trees. The ash trees have all been pollarded in the past so we will be following a traditional form of tree management previously carried out at Lugg's Mill Orchard.
The works will not only ensure safety for users of the site but will also let more light to enter the newly planted apple and cherry tree orchards that were created in 2017.
We will be chipping the brash which will be removed and used as a mulch elsewhere, and the logs will be corded and stacked as a wildlife habitat.
If you have any questions or concerns then please contact us at email@example.com
With all of our regular events currently on hold due to Covid-19 we've been selling fewer of our small bottles of apple juice this year (although the larger size continue to sell well in Provisions of Colwall). Having reviewed our stocks we recently made the decision to donate some of our surplus to Ledbury Food Bank.
This is another local charity and it has the aim of providing food to those who are suffering financial hardship. With the uncertain times caused by the current health pandemic it's good to help those who are in immediate need, especially since we understand that demand for Ledbury Food Bank's services has increased significantly over the past few months.
More information on Ledbury Food Bank is available at http://www.ledburyfoodbank.org/
With thanks to Peter from our team for getting this organised.
Lockdown certainly gave us all an opportunity to discover the delights of the countryside and celebrate living in a rural community. Even as lockdown eases the benefits of enjoying a simpler life will remain with us – we hope for a very long time!
Walking has proven to be a most beneficial and enjoyable pastime, and if you’re looking for a structured walk around Colwall, why not get yourself a copy of our self-guided Colwall Orchard Heritage Trail leaflet?
The leaflet contains a colourful map and tells the story of how orchards became important to Colwall. There was a thriving factory processing fruit and a bustling railway station taking products to markets in the cities of Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool and Cardiff. Local cherries were supplied to Cadbury's for their special chocolates!
Whether you're looking for a home educational activity, or just a leisurely stroll with a few snippets of information to entertain you as you walk this could be just what you need! As you stroll you'll also read about the wildlife you can find in our orchards and about why orchards are so good for the environment.
The 2.8 mile route starts and ends at Colwall Railway Station and includes a visit to Colwall Village Garden where you'll find a newly planted community orchard as well as allotment plots and a place to sit and enjoy the surroundings. Picnic tables and benches are spaced for socially distanced picnics and snack stops. You'll also visit Lugg's Mill Community Orchard with the babbling stream meandering through the cherry and apple trees.
You can purchase the leaflet from our website for £3.00 including postage, or for just £2 from Colwall Post Office.
It will also be available at Tourist Information Centres in Malvern and Ledbury, Colwall Library and various coffee shops when they open.
Use the link below to go to the web page that provides more detail and allows you to buy the leaflet online.
The current Covid-19 pandemic is making us take stock of life from a different perspective...
...and so to this photograph, which is something new to us. Our Chair, Andrew Spray, was fortunate enough to get offered the opportunity for a trip out in a light aircraft last year.
He took this photograph which provides a very different insight into not only the Colwall Village Garden site (middle centre), but also our Lugg's Mill Orchard site (towards top right).
It's amazing how neat and tidy everything looks from this high up. It's also striking to see the wonderful array of fine established trees and burgeoning field boundaries in the wider landscape, which our fledgling orchard trees and young hedgerows will soon rival.
In the absence of anything more readily available this suitably colourful graphic seems appropriate that 'many hands make light work'.
We are delighted to be able to report that with the slight relaxation of the Covid-19 lockdown restrictions we have re-commenced volunteer work parties in a limited way on Friday mornings.
Over the last two weeks we have piloted a return to outdoor working - initially just with a few Board members and volunteers from our Estates committee.
Last week we worked at Lugg's Mill on fencing works, clearing the culvert to the stream, strimming vegetation and building a log pile.
This week we have concentrated upon preparatory work for new fencing provision and existing fence repairs at both Colwall Village Garden and Lugg's Mill, and positioned chestnut posts and strainers in readiness for work by a contractor and a lead volunteer due to take place next week. We also continued with much-needed watering of fruit trees.
Both sessions were productive and successful and we feel that we are developing Safe Ways of Working in keeping with current government guidance. It was lovely to get back to some degree of normality and experience the friendliness, shared sense of purpose, and banter that's typical of these work parties.
Over the coming weeks we will review our work parties and hope to soon be in a position whereby we can invite more of our usual regular volunteers to re-join us.
As ever, WATCH THIS SPACE!