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) desert 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.
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...
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.
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!
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Following months of planning we held the annual Colwall Wassail at Colwall Village Garden on Saturday 18th January. And what a night!
The evening was clear and chilly with the most beautiful sunset, and mercifully without rain.
A sellout crowd in great spirits and in good voice. Young and old, an enthusiastic throng filled the site.
We had a fantastic crew of volunteers to run the event, and a cast of Wassail characters in orchard themed costumes. Additional entertainment was provided with music by Old Meg and friends; along with Jimmy Juggle, fire eater and juggler, at the perimeter of a blazing bonfire.
A Pig Roast by Hilltop Farm along with samosas, soup and rolls and delicious cakes kept us well fed. Copious amounts of mulled apple juice and cider were drunk - real favourites on cold nights like this.
We took directions from the 'Porter', lit flaming brands and torches, and led by the 'Mistletoe Man' we processed snake-like through the dark and atmospheric orchard. Deeper into the dark we went - strong chants of "Waes hael" filling the starlit sky.
Arriving at the lantern-lit Wassail tree we were addressed by the mysterious 'Butler' as the Wassail ritual began. A message of the tradition of orchards and the importance of the environment preceded the blessing of the tree. 'Tom Tit' and 'Jenny Wren' joined in the ceremony circling the tree as it was blessed with cider and toast.
Returning to the Apple Packing Shed we were led in hearty singing of Wassail songs by our flash mob choir, and were amused by the Colwall Wassail 2020 poem by our very own local poet, Adrian Mealing, which concluded a successful, memorable and fun evening.
A wonderful mix of people all united in a single event.
We had visitors from far and wide - a couple from Leicestershire having found us via the COG website, arriving in Colwall by train, staying in the Colwall Park Hotel (with a chance upgrade to occupancy of the bridal suite), attending the Wassail and making a weekend of it.
Now there's a model that you may wish to emulate next year....
Gently through this orchard tread, tiptoe with your toasted bread
‘tis not a night for going to bed, gorra lorra wassailing to do, instead
And fondly in the darkness feel, the apple spirit, that’s enough
Like Colwall folks - gentil and some quite rough
Be whole - good health
Cox’s, pile them high in boxes, Pippins, jeans with rippins
Spartan, I’ll take a carton, eat enough Gala, they make you go Lady ga-ga
Early Windsor? Not in my wheelie-binsor,
Pearman, have no fear, man, of the year to come
Egremont, Lord Lambourne, Bismarck & Blenheim
These are hard to grow, a bit like a potato
Be whole - good health
The primary school now down Mill Lane
The kids are cheerful, that’s quite plain
But the Thai Rama crossing, no time for a cuddle
And boy when it rains, look out for that puddle
See the sheep, see the horses, see the cats a’mousing
Yes, we’d really really love, some affordable housing
The Crown Inn’s for pool, the Legion’s for snooker
The Chase is for chat, Colwall Park is for hugga
where WINGS meet and talk a hundred percenty
where there’s an 80’s disco with leg-warmers aplenty
A peal of bells on Brexit Day would be the height of shoddy
bells ring out on Brexit Day, over our dead body
Trump and China disarray; alignment, that’s gone wrong
but Leavers chill, go off for a smoke, get high on Big Ben’s Bong
Colwall looks grand from high on the ridge
now we’ve got used to one-lane of a bridge
Provisions & Peter’s, the butchers, the post
Café Morso, the chemists, for the pills we love most
and right on the hairpin, the words you can’t miss
you’re welcome to Colwall, come and get some of this
Quietly through this orchard tread
See the farmers, what was it said?
That farmers feel it in their bones
This ancient earth, no telephones
No Facebook, Twitter, Google, Instagram here
this place called home, long may it bear
such fruit as this
(X3) Be whole - good health
...and finally a few quotes from attendees...
"What a great occasion. Well done to all the team. So happy, so connected, the full age range. Beautiful."
Huge thanks to you and this year’s crew & heaving choir of wassailing workers and weavers of magic and lighters of lanterns and purveyors of music and switchers on of tripped power sources and mulled cider wizards.
It was another dream in Colwall’s night time life."
"A great thanks to you and the organisation team for doing such a great job making it fun, fresh, and safe."
"Big congrats on masterminding an excellent event. Great organisation made it slick and seamless.
Mother Nature granted us a perfect night with no wind or rain........ She's obviously a keen wassailer too."
"Thanks to everyone in the group for a fantastic wassail.
It was well worth the journey from Whitwick in Leicestershire."
"My first wassail ! And what an event ! Thank you for all the hard work that went into making it a very successful evening."
"It was a fabulous evening. Thank you for all your hard work. Could hardly speak this morning after all that shouting Wassail! "
" It was such a fun night. Thank you! "
"Really enjoyed the evening! Well done to you and all the organisers. Impressive!"
Please see below (a) both the words and music for the Colwall Wassail Song and (b) the song sheet covering the three Wassail songs that we sing at the Colwall Wassail
Looking something like the props team from a Game Of Thrones production our Friday morning volunteers have been busy making the flaming brands that form a part of the theatre and drama that is Colwall Wassail.
The flaming brands are made out of sycamore staves with the tops covered in hessian and will be used during the Wassail procession and ceremony through the community orchard area of the Colwall Village Garden site on Saturday 18th January at 5.30pm onwards.
With thanks to The Malvern Hills Trust who kindly granted us permission to harvest sycamore from the Malvern Hills.
Never believe what you are told about how easy it is to propagate willow!
We thought it was as easy as plunging pencil thickness stems into the soil and they would root and grow without fail.
Sadly we were wrong, and our horticultural pride was sorely dented when version #1 of our Willow Worm, planted a year ago at Colwall Village Garden, failed to grow.
Being hardy country- types we had immediately blamed the weather - a dry spell after planting was (without doubt) the culprit...obviously nothing to do with the previous workmanship!
Now, we are nothing if not a tenacious bunch (some might say stubborn), so a re-match was always going to be on the cards...
Undeterred, and buoyed by fresh pollarded willow supplies once again purloined from Rita's garden, and with renewed leadership from Martin, version #2 of the Willow Worm grew phoenix-like from the site of our previous disaster during a regular Friday morning volunteer session.
In terms of form and colour it's undoubtedly a gem.
Version #2 of the Willow Worm boasts not only the tunnel structure replicated from before, but also now has the 'destination' of an igloo structure at the far end.
As a play location for local children it's the must go place to be!
However, with regard to the key question - Whether it will grow? - only time will tell!
Thanks to Rita for materials, to Martin for instruction and imparted wisdom, to our volunteers for their patience and humour, to Les for photography, and to Dottie the dog for ongoing Trufflehound services.
The third Sunday of the month sees our hardy volunteers working at Colwall Village Garden in a three hour regular morning session.
Here Paul braves the cold and showery weather to cut up logs which we have used to make log piles for wildlife.
Elsewhere on the site Sue helps keep that pesky grass cut short.
This is part of our maintenance regime in order to ensure that our newly seeded wildflower meadow areas within the main community orchard have a chance to germinate and thrive.
No, not the famous singer, but John, another stalwart volunteer, managing to look remarkably fit and happy after sterling work transporting logs round the site.
We hope that the log piles will provide a good winter habitat for mammals, amphibians and insects.
In preparation for this Saturday's Colwall Mistletoe Fair we've been busy and creative.
Forget Santa's little helpers - our own wreathmaking wizzards have been hard at work.
Well Done for the collective efforts of Wendy, Mhari, Jacques, Maria, Martin, Rita, Philippa, and Julie.
We've made about twenty wreaths which will be ready for sale on Saturday 7th December outside Provisions of Colwall, Walwyn Road, Colwall - 9am to 1pm.
These will sit alongside our other local merchandise to include jams, jellies, chutneys, fruit juice and honey.
Not to mention lots of lovely bunches of mistletoe to add that festive fun!
Whether your house is modern or traditional we've tried to cater for all styles so visit us, browse, buy and get those perfect Christmas decorations.
We hope to see you there!
OK, so we'd confess that sadly this isn't an image of our orchards, just yet...but we are working on it.
A drab November day sees us reflecting upon the past few months and thinking positively towards the future with regard to our orchard meadows creation project...
Colwall Orchard Group is piloting the creation of orchard meadows at the two community orchard sites that we own in Colwall.
At each site we are attempting to create orchard meadows in an area of one acre with the intention that the meadows are established inbetween juvenile orchards which will eventually be filled with large, standard fruit trees on vigorous rootstocks.
We are starting from a very low baseline - the existing swards are exceptionally low in diversity and our bumble bee surveys yielded no sightings.
We are also very new to this... but learning fast! So what are the salient lessons so far?
Lesson 1 - Get the right people involved. We are indebted to Herefordshire Meadows, to Plantlife, and to the countless other people involved in this project who have generously shared their time, enthusiasm and knowledge. We've learnt an enormous amount about soil, about plants and wildlife. From an internal organisational perspective we are indebted to Lindsay Williams from Colwall Orchard Group who has run the project and committed a substantial amount of personal time and resource into making this happen for us. That leads us to lesson 2...
Lesson 2 - This all takes time! Perhaps more than we'd originally envisaged... Collecting the seed from our donor meadow; doing soil, plant and bumble bee surveys; preparing the receptor meadow sites; broadcasting the seed; post seed sowing sward maintenance. There's alot to do. But hopefully worth it!
Lesson 3 - The practicalities. Good machinery certainly helps. We were fortunate enough to be given permission to collect seed from a local flower rich meadow. Also Herefordshire Wildlife Trust kindly donated the use of their mechanical seed collector. A fabulous piece of kit and economical when compared with the alternative of buying-in a meadow seed mix from a supplier. Our attempts at spring tine harrowing were a dismal failure. The dry ground and our existing thickly matted grass sward was totally impervious to this method. The hire of a petrol powered lawn scarifier imaginatively dealt with the issue but it was exceptionally hard physical work, and we were fortunate that the ground at both sites is relatively flat to enable this approach to be used.
Lesson 4 - It's been fun. We are a community group, totally run by volunteers. The project has brought people together, they've been enthused, engaged and it's added an extra dimension to our usual orchard work. Our volunteers now have an understanding of meadows as a feature and a habitat, where most did not before, so as an educational process it's also been excellent and people have been inspired to think about meadow creation on their own land and gardens.
Lesson 5 - Will it work? Who knows? Only time will tell...From listening to others with more meadows experience there's a real issue about managing peoples' expectations. We have been careful to tell people that in year one the results may be limited but that we hope that over time, with the correct management, our meadows will slowly evolve and improve and that they will bring a new dimension to our orchards both for people and for nature. Watch this space!