Seasons in the orchard
Even though early spring – pruning! – and autumn – harvesting! – are the busiest times in the orchard, there is plenty going on at other times of the year. Flora and fauna provide constant movement and surprises: you can catch glimpses of healthy looking foxes, owls can be heard and seen and buzzards with their distinctive cries are circling overhead. Young squirrels have found convenient homes in tree trunks with holes, honey bees are buzzing. In early spring, the Early Spotted Orchid (Orchis mascula) appears alongside bluebells, to be followed by the Common Spotted Orchid (Dactylorhiza fuchsii) in June. Throughout the year, the grass all over the orchard is like an everchanging carpet with a succession of wild flowers. As it has not been treated with chemicals, the orchard floor plant community is species rich. Many of the trees have lichens growing on their branches – lichens are very sensitive to air pollution so their presence signals an undisturbed environment where the air is of good quality.
Pruning, tidying and planting
Spring is one of the busiest times of the year – pruning the hundreds of trees in the orchard is a massive undertaking, resulting in giant mounds of cut branches. It is also a good time to plant new trees – as one year old maidens or two year old bushes or older trees. And of course the apple and cherry blossom, once it arrives, is breathtaking to behold. Pink blossom against lichen-covered branches is a perfect picture painted by nature. We pray that frost does not spoil the coming year’s harvest.
Summer brings an explosion of greenery – it is a challenge to keep the grass mown and the thistles and brambles at bay. Strimming is necessary around the base of the trees as the tractor can’t get that close in. In a dry summer, newly planted trees need to be kept watered – another challenge as there is no water on tap. But the orchard rewards the volunteers with wonderful bucolic views and the promise of a great harvest.
Harvest and the fun of Apple Day
There usually is an abundance of fruit on the trees – sadly, it is impossible to pick all the apples. On a designated day in October, everyone is invited to pick as much as they like free of charge. Apple Day is a feast – usually with the apple press in action, a group of volunteers singing traditional ‘wassailing’ songs, a BBQ by the farmer whose sheep graze the orchard, and honey from the orchard for sale. It is fun for young and old.
Time for maintenance
There is a stillness about the orchard in winter, a kind of stark beauty. Some apples are still hanging on the branches, partly eaten by the birds. Now without leaves, the trees show off their wonderful shapes. For the volunteers it is a time to inspect fences and gates, check the stakes and protection around young trees, and to make sure that ditches are in working order so that fields are not flooded and become impassable.