February is a month of change from winter to spring. It brings an energy to the orchard with new sights, sounds and smells. It also adds to the sense of urgency to complete all the jobs you started in December and which didn’t finish themselves in January! We don’t have any planting to do this winter (roll on 2020/21 when we have 50 Tremletts bitter trees and 50 Porters Perfection to plant bring more tannin and acidity to the cider blends). But there is a lot of pruning. It’s a pleasure to be outside in the orchard when it’s a bit warmer with the first signs of spring emerging, like the ‘squeaky wheel’ call of the Great Tit (even if it’s a bit wet).
The ‘Artists Studio’ orchard is stilldry underfoot despite the torrential rain over the winter. There are about 700 trees in this orchard and varieties including Harry Masters Jersey, Yarlington Mill, Laxton Supurb, Kingston Black and Somerset Redstreak. The sandy / chalky loam soils over chalk are free draining, and summer drought ismore of a risk than waterlogging. Happily the trees are now well established and, being on vigorous root stocks,willbe drought resilient. Even so, water is the best fertiliser and the trees here have not grown as quickly as the other orchards so this year’s pruning has been a hard cut to stimulate summer growth.
In the ‘Nook’ we’ve also been taking out lower branches from the Dabinett and Harry Masters Jersey trees so tractor and mower can easily pass. Unlike most commercial orchards we don’t spray the rows with herbicide, but have grown a grass cover through the whole orchard. This needs mowing between trees in early spring and again before harvest. This type of pruning means using saw as well as secateursto cut out large branches that I know would otherwise bear fruit in the summer; this goes against all my instincts, even though I know it’s the right thing to do! This orchard is on heavier soils that retain moisture, so the trees have grown vigorously, and 7 years since planting its getting to its prime for apple yields. We’re hoping for a big apple harvest this years so looking forward to see lots of late spring blossom….