Checking out the patch with an “I Spy Wildflower” book

DofE Black DabinetI found this book in the Avon Valley Country Park gift shop and it ended up being a handy resource to set our Duke of Edinburgh’s award volunteers a task of beginning to log our wildflower species.  I think the following come almost exclusively from experiment number 1 sown in April 2014.  Back in March, our volunteers sketched and identified the plants that caught their eyes.

Rib Wort Plantain

Meadow Crane’s Bill Spread out leaves

Field Marrow Close together leaves, thick & slightly hairy stem.

Gerrymander Speedwell Purple vines/smooth stem, small smooth leaves.

Wildflower experiment part 3

As the wildflower meadow challenge progresses it’s going to be more and more difficult to find interesting things to say about grass or seeds and the right time to sow them, so I will try and stick to the facts and leave the mellifluousness to the flowers come the spring.  Well at least it’s flowers we are hoping for and lots of them.  Talking to John, our resident ecologist (modelling below) I was rather alarmed to discover that it wasn’t going to be a case of plant a meadow bang done.  This would be a continuing battle with the dominating grass and rich soils… the grass will fight back and the soil has years of nutrition  (remember wildflowers like poor soils) not to mention horse manure  to encourage the status quo.

This time we covered the ground in mypex, a woven ground cover, to suppress the growth of the grass as a ‘quick fix’ method to clear an area ready to broadcast the seed.  We lifted the mypex back in November and spent an couple of hours dragging a rake to clear the debris, preventing this from rotting back down into the soil.  We then scarified the earth a little and liberally sowed the seed and soaked it in.  The recent frosts where just what the doctor ordered  – the chill should help germination come the spring.  We’ll keep a record of how things get on.  It’s unlikely that all flowers will appear in year 1, some will take another year to establish but with any luck we’ll have some results in 2015.  Should the grass threaten to fight back quicker than expected our next weapon is Yellow Rattle which has a parasitic tendency and restricts the grass, allowing other species to establish.  I think we are secretly hoping that this method is more effective than the potato planting or turf stripping – although it takes a bit of planning, it’s certainly a lot easier.   We finished off with a meadow experiment 3.1; this was similar save the mypex, we just attacked a patch with the mower then the strimmer to bring it to a similar state and moved in with the rake.

Fingers crossed for the spring!

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National Trust Apple Pressing tour – a great day!

Despite the definite transition to Autumn last weekend and the abundance of moisture in the air which dampened down the morning but definitely not our plans.  That said, our youngest member Dan did wonder at 8am if we’d all take the day off because it was raining… he’ll learn.  The rain, of course, didn’t last long. After a quick demo on how to scrag the apples to a pulp then stack the ‘cheeses’ and operate press we were off.  We welcomed some friendly faces from the neighbourhood and some new visitors as well as keen apple tree owners wishing to get rid of their excess supplies. It was great to taste the differences between the batches of apples, some sweet some a little dry but all fresh and delicious provided mainly remixed everything together however every batch was different. Of course the end results you could not beat for taste and we all duly followed the instruction to keep the fresh juice refrigerated for 24 hours or so and to pasteurise any access for longer storage even up to a year.  Well, save for one bottle which is my bottle and ballon hooch experiment… more on that another time. See our Facebook page for more images from the day.

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Wildflower Experiments continued…

The next idea on the list was to try and make an effort to nutrient strip the soil.  We came up with the Potato Plan.  The idea here was to cut back the grass, cultivate the soil and plant a load of potatoes to make a dent in the soil nutrient levels – converting them into fat spuds.

The prep for this was similar to the first method, but due to the area we needed to cover we got mechanised!  Well we borrowed one beast of a rotorvator and it was broken… so we borrowed a less beasty one and swore a lot.  Again this was labour intensive back breaking work… we got there in the end and now we have lots of spuds to show for it.  However my hope now is method number 3 will be the best!  With the 2nd and 3rd methods we will be broadcasting the seed this autumn so they get a good chill over the winter to aid germination.

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Wildflower experiments

This year our main focus has been how we go about establishing as many wildflowers as possible.  The plan is, in between the trees we will begin to diversify the dominant grass and introduce a rich mix of native flowers.  Now the grass down there is dominant, it’s not just one species either, there’s loads of the stuff growing in clumps and tussocks and generally being green and annoying.  Getting wildflower to grow is not a straight forward as sprinkling a few seeds and praying for rain, it’s a full on war with the grass!

First you need seeds.  Luckily for us the good people at Friends of the Earth are promoting  the The Bee Cause and are providing native wildflower seeds free of charge to folk like us to help the ever threatened bees find some all important pollen to collect and more crucially for us (that’s us as a human race) pollinate the plants as they go.  Also important for us (at the orchard) is pollinators to pollinate our trees in the spring.  So bees are a big win.  Hopefully our friends at the Rock allotments will also benefit as they plan to keep bees down there, we’ll be a waggle dance for their new colonies!

Back to growing wildflower.  The theory is, the less nutrients in the soil the better.  We have devised a few plans of attack to see which works best, let’s look at the first:

Test bed 1 –  Lift off the turf, dig it over and sow some wildflower mix.  This is a nice straight forward approach.  We shifted the turf to create a ‘bug bank’ to encourage, well bugs.  The major downside is that it takes ages.  All that digging and shifting is laborious and to get anywhere near the 300m2 of coverage would be a job for a team of 50.  Even then it would be hard work!

Nonetheless since the seeds were sown in April the results have been promising, at least we know the seeds have set and we have been able to enjoy our first wildflower space.


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More about the next tests later


The Big Tree Plant

Andy in a hat

June 2012, a summer for hats

Winter is tree planting season.  I think we are coming to the end of this years window as the wind is dying down, being replaced by the rattle of woodpeckers here in Nightingale Valley.  Please lets not have another June like in 2012 (see pic) when I plodded round in a hat…  But now in this wonderful pre-emptive time of year, lets look back at our winter planting.

In late November we were excited to get a set of trees in the post, 56 to be precise… All courtesy of The Big Tree Plant provided through environmental charity The Conservation Volunteers.

We were keen to add some more species towards the borders on site, we hope to increase the bio-diversiry in any way that we can so this project looked like the perfect fit… and… that it was!  They provided everything to give the trees the best chance in life; stakes, guards and plenty of helpful advice.

We are working on this site to provide a full plan of all out trees on site, I will include these trees on the list!  An big benefit were the inclusion of more Crab apples – essential pollinators!  We had a great day, despite the cold and will be all we can to help the new trees off to a good start in life.

Here are some images from the day, coming soon… a potato experiment, wildflowers, Sort Fruit supports with coppicing wood donated by the Friends of Brislington Brook and some summer fun!

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Been a busy year

A lot has been happening at Woodcroft Community Orchard, copious strawberries were harvested along with gooseberries, blackcurrants, raspberries and a handful of sour cherries.  We made jam and shared it with the local residents and a couple of batches of ice cream and a pie.  Though I admit, I ate all the pie.

The hot weather meant a whole lot of watering had to happen, the trees are all mulched with cardboard, straw and chippings which helps trap moisture, but the dry spell spanned enough days to warrant watering each one a couple of times.  The UK weather is reliably wet enough for this not to be a regular concern and if anything, during the winter the ground is closer to ‘water-logged’ than anything else.

The grass has continued to be an issue, we have persevered with the scythe and occasionally a strimmer and were able to get it reasonably under control by the beginning of August though this seems to be our most labour and time intensive activity.  Feedback from local residents is that they would prefer to see the grass kept tidy so it’s always a priority.  Nightingale valley as a whole suffers with Himalayan Balsam an invasive species that successfully spreads itself far and wide out competing native species.  We plucked out most of what we could and will continue to monitor.

The summer has been good to us this year and it had been encouraging to see some of the wildlife that we share the space with, frogs, toads and slow worms all help us keep the slug population in check and the shrews mice and voles make a tasty meal for the Tawny Owls that live in the valley.  I will get together a gallery for some images, we will record the species on site to monitor our impact on biodiversity.  So far empirical comparisons with last year indicate that the range of bugs and beasties is already on the up!

The extension to the very end of the summer allowed us enough time to prune the stone fruit we have on site (plum, gage, damson, cherry, cherry plum) as these varieties are susceptible to disease if pruned in cold wet weather.

Next = winter pruning for the apples and pears and a tree plant thanks to the Woodland Trust & The Big Tree Plant and of course more grass cutting.