Patch 2014 Panorama

So far the year has been fantastic. The hay is almost ready to get in – we just need one more day of no rain and we’ll be bagging it up tomorrow. Fingers crossed we miss the showers! The air smells damp, but I’m optimistic…

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June Update


What can I say?! The weather has been absolutely fantastic! Mostly sun, the odd shower here and there, then back to sun. Everything is growing as it should be – no late frost to nobble the early starters, no waterlogging, no drought. To be honest, it’s getting a bit scary.

So, to firmly plant the goodness that has been the last month, here’s a quick update on just how well everything’s growing.


Family Day in the Patch

2014 Allotment Quarter Layout Update

Updated 2014 patch plan with final planting distances. Grid size is 1 foot.

Every year the weekends surrounding the last frost date (about mid-May for us) are one of the busiest. And every year Suz’s parents pop on down to help out with weeding, digging, hoeing and sowing. This year is no exception, with the exception that the weather has been glorious and everything has got off to a good start. We had a minor hiccup a few days ago with a slight frost, which seems to have nobbled the peas and the newer leaves on the orchard trees, but the potatoes survived it and it’s going to be a good harvest at this rate.

The potatoes were mounded up, lovely and regimented. The french climbing beans (Sultana) and runner beans (Enorma) were sown at the bottom of the wigwam canes – 8 or 10 canes, two per cane, and we’ll thin the weaker plant out later in the year. A few additional Scorpio and De Monica broad beans were sown to fill the gaps, and more Onward peas were sown as they were hit pretty hard by what I can only assume was the frost. They never germinated, but we have them netted and slug-pelleted (organic pellets) so it’s the only conclusion I can draw.

2014 Root CropsThe onion patch was de-weeded – a painstaking process – but so worth it when you see the neat lines of onions and shallots. The carrots were thinned to 1-1.5″ spacing, and will be thinned again in a few weeks. The beetroot were thinned to 4″ and will stay at that, and the parsnip weren’t touched as they didn’t seem big enough yet. Then went in some corgette (Nero di Milano zucchino), two per station, straight in the ground after it had been 2014 Squash Patchrotovated nicely. Cloche protection over those – to be safe, and then under the mini poly tunnels we planted out the pumpkins which had been growing on nicely in the dining room for a month or so.

Talking of which – alongside the pumpkins, inside we also had:

  • Tomatoes (Roma VF plums, Marmande beef and Shirley)
  • Cucumbers (Telegraph Improved)
  • Sweetcorn (Incredible F1)
  • Sweet peppers (Antohi Romanian, Golden Bell and Friggitello)
  • Hot peppers (Jalapeno, Hungarian Hot Wax and Red Cherry)
  • Aubergine (Black Beauty)
  • Butternut squash (Butternut Rugosa)
  • Leek
  • Basil (Italiano Classico)

Onwards with the outdoor work – the sweetcorn mentioned above were planted out and watered in, and the flower bed was coming along nicely, having been sown a fortnight ago with sunflowers, marigolds and nasturtiums. Unfortunately, we hadn’t realised the tenacity of sunflower and nasturtium seeds in particular. The sunflowers that were planted this year were obvious to make out, as were the unintended sunflowers that were the result of dropped seeds from last year! It was quite painful to hoe them out, but they would drown out everything else, and we really did need to weed the flower bed. A couple of rows of nasturtiums were also equally easy to define, but the no-mans’ land that stretched between the sunflower and nasturtium bed was awash with everything that nature, and we, had allowed to grow there in the past; sunflowers, nasturtiums, chickweed, wild pansies, shepherds purse – all the favourites plus those I couldn’t identify. So with heavy heart I hoed the land there and will wait a few days before re-sowing the marigolds. Lesson learned – next year the marigolds will be sown in plug trays and potted out in their final positions.

On to the soft fruit – all were looking great with the exception of one black currant bush and one gooseberry bush, which had succumbed to greenfly on their newer growth. I have some organic spray which I used sparingly on both, but I have noticed the ladybird population looks quite healthy, so dropped a few on to the infected plants to munch their way through the green nasties. No sense spending money on a spray when nature will do the work for you.

The fruit trees are all looking decent – again, some greenfly here and there but nothing too onerous yet. I counted approximately 300-400 apples on one small cider tree! I know the June-drop will see many lost, but it’s a sign of how decent the weather has been so far.

2014 Small Orchard QuarterOh, and we lost the colony of bees Christian had brought around a few months ago. At the time he was unsure whether there was a queen at home, and it turns out there wasn’t. But on Friday he brought a new colony around. Again, not a large colony and maybe without a queen, but it’s a second attempt. Whilst I was planting the sweetcorn out, I heard  a buzz nearby, and looked around for the culprit. Nothing, and yet it was getting louder and louder. I had my wide-brimmed hat on, and couldn’t see past the horizon, which was my mistake. I looked up and around six feet above my head was a swarm of bees – stretching about twelve feet in diameter! Needless to say – a couple of expletives passed my lips, the hapless sweetcorn I was holding was cast aside and I legged it to the first gate. The last time I was pestered by a bee I made the mistake of thinking I had run far enough, only to be hit on the head by it at this very gate, and then the next, and only lost it after running 200 yards back to the house. This time I just opened the gate and ran, only stopping to check behind me half way to the next gate. I needn’t have run – the swarm wasn’t interested in me – it was still hovering over the sweetcorn, possibly mildly interested in the adjacent strawberry flowers, but then it just moved off at a fair whack, heading south over the vegetable patch, then the hay quarter (much to the consternation of the geese) and into the rape seed field. What an experience! I have never witnessed a swarm before, and I have to admit I was quite nervous of it, but you just can not help but be in awe at the scale of it! Worried that it may have been our new colony, I went back to check on the hive, but they were still happily plodding in and out of the entrance. Only the day before Christian has said he’d been inundated with swarms this year, due to the clement weather, and was physically shattered.

As the day waned, into the greenhouse to tend those plants already in position – the Roma VF, Marmande and Shirly tomatoes, plus duplicates of those inside the house (the cucumbers etc). I edged my bets and placed half of everything from the house into the greenhouse a couple of weeks ago, to see how they fare. So far not bad at all, though the indoor plants have really taken off in the last few days, and will need potting on very soon.


More Trees

The replacement of the lost cherry trees continues apace – today, with the weather being far more seasonable, I snuck off to plant several MM106 rootstock apple trees.

The first was a Newton Wonder, one of those I grafted last winter and raised in the rhubarb/gooseberry bed. I have to say I’m ecstatic with the results – the roots on it are so large and healthy in comparison to any we’ve bought over the internet that something must have gone right. Along with that we also put in the other trees I grafted last winter – the Breunsdorf and Pendragon red-fleshed apples, and another Newton Wonder that was potted. The difference in size between those kept in pots and the Newton Wonder lifted from the rhubarb patch is quite amazing – the potted is half the size. Unfortunately, the labels wore away on the three potted varieties, so we’ll have to identify them by blossom colour (the Newton Wonder is white, the red-fleshed varieties are both pink). Once we know which the two red-fleshed trees are, we can only tell them apart from the fruit themselves – the Breunsdorf has a paler pink tint to the flesh, whereas the Pendragon is a lot reddier inside. No rush though.

Tree Planting & the End of an Apple Era

It has been another abominable winter so far – the water is not as high as last year in the fields around us, but the paddock to the rear of us and our land has been water-logged for a while. Despite this, possibly foolishly, I decided to plant the trees that arrived a few days ago. I had little option other than finding someone higher up on the hill who didn’t mind me heeling them in there for a while, but instead I chose to mound up the planting holes by around six inches, to buy some height.

We stripped out all but one (the Morello) of the smaller Gisela 9 rootstock cherry trees, after the disastrous winter last year that set canker going in all of them. I had decided to give them another go, but coming into this winter some had only one remaining branch, and rather than flogging a dead horse I figured if the apples are liking it so far, we may as well put more in.

I’d ordered a Lamb’s Seedling on MM106 rootstock, another Derbyshire variety, which means we have all of them I think, unless there are others unknown to me. Then, in the large orchard (the half-standards) we plumped for all Scottish varieties – hardy northern trees that can stand the wind and wet and cold we tend to get here. These, all on MM111 rootstock, included:

  • Oslin
  • Roxbury Russet
  • Coul Blush
  • White Melrose
  • Lady of Wemyss

These replaced the cherries we pulled out, and the Beeley Pippin the geese ring-barked. Concerning the last, we had tracked down a Beeley Pippin local to us, to take scion wood from. However, our tree, despite having had its bark removed totally for a good six inch height, had scions that still looked nice and green. In the end I grafted five of these on to MM106 rootstock, so hopefully we can save the tree and have a few more to boot.

Then, to replace the plums we lost in the large orchard, we planted Oullins Gage and Czar – both on St Julien A rootstock.

I suspect I’d thought of pulling up the very last cherry tree in the large orchard, but in the end decided to let it have one more year to see if it could pull through. As it was I had a spare Orkney apple tree on MM111, so that went in to the small chicken paddock to the back of No.2 – which is gradually filling up with fruit trees! Room for a couple more I think, but no rush, something will come along that needs planting!

Old Merrybower Apple TreeOn that note, it was a sad day on Sunday (9th). Farmer John called to say that they’d had to cut up the big old apple tree that has kept us all at Merrybower (and beyond) in cooking apples, for well over fifty years. I suspect it was nearer 100 years old as it’s in the area shown as a farm orchard in the old OS maps. The ground has been so wet over the last year, and this winter especially, that the gales over the week had managed to topple it, roots and all, into the barn to its north. Luckily it only clipped the corner and the barn was saved, but the poor tree had had it. It must have stood around forty or fifty feet – we had to pick apples whislt standing in the tractor bucket, and even then we only managed to get half-way up it!

Still – to try and salvage some good from the disaster, I’m going to grab some scion wood tomorrow and order some more MM106 rootstock, to graft as many as I can and save the apple type. No one here knows what it is – but it’s a beautiful cooker.

Beeley Pippin Grafting

Beeley Pippin GraftingRather than buy another Beeley Pippin to replace that which the geese decided to ring bark (jolly fellows that they are), I managed to save some scions from the dying tree and today grafted five on to new MM106 rootstock. Hopefully at least one will take, and we’ll leave a space for it in the little orchard. Any others we can find homes for I’m sure!

New Trees Update

We’ve tracked down a local Beeley Pippin from which we’ve been kindly allowed to take a scion from this winter. To that end we’ll graft two or three on to MM106 rootstock and replace the rather ill cherry trees in the small orchard. So in the old cherry line, we’ll have the surviving Morello cherry, and then we can squeeze in another six new MM106 apple trees. These will be:

  • Beeley Pippin
  • Lamb’s Seedling
  • Pendragon
  • Breunsdorfer
  • 2 x Newton Wonder (from last year’s self-grafting session).

This leaves us with eight Newton Wonder to find homes for – I suspect we’ll be giving away some apple trees this year!

The Beeley Pippin the geese ate this year is looking quite dead now, so we’ll replace it with a Roxbury Russet – the oldest USA variety, dating back to the 1600s. It’s not the prettiest of apples, but apparently makes quite delicious juice and cider, so a useful apple.

New Fruit Trees Ordered

After the untimely demise of many of the cherry trees over the last year, we suspect down to the unprecedented and prolonged water-logging of last winter’s soil, we have ordered replacement fruit trees, but have gone for apple trees instead, as those are doing well in our soil. The two plum trees we lost are being replaced by more plums, maybe a daft thing but I do like plums.

The varieties we are going for are all to be in the large orchard quarter (‘large’ as they are all half-standard trees that can be grazed by sheep and/or geese beneath), and are as follows:

Plums (St Julien A rootstock)

Czar – Eater/cooker, dark sweet fruits, great for cooking with when young but a lovely late eater if left on the tree to ripen. An excellent attractant and nectar source for bees, according to the RHS.
Oullins Gage – An eater/cooker that is winter hardy and self-fertile (not that that matters here).

Apples (M111 rootstock)

Coul Blush – Possible Britain’s most northerly apple, from Coul in Ross-shire – a good sauce maker due to its creamy soft flesh.
Lady of Wemyss – a cooker – that’s all I really know!
Orkney – another dark horse – it’s a cooker, some say it’s sweet, it’s a triploid. Hopefully we’ll know more in three year’s time!
Oslin – A dessert apple at least 200 years old, but rumoured to have connections to the monks at Arbroath Abbey (its synonym is Arbroath Pippin). – it may even have come from France earlier than that. Crisp, creamy flesh with a sweet, rich aromatic flavour and a hint of aniseed – I’m looking forward to this one! Other synonyms include Original Apple and Original Pippin, due to its alleged ability to root from cuttings.
White Melrose – Raised by the monks of Melrose Abbey in Roxburgh, at least as far back as 1831. Very large and can be used for eating or cooking. Unusual in that it has no pips!

The apples are all Scottish varieties, so should in theory be able to cope with our often cold and frosty springs.

Own-Grafted Apple Trees

We also have apple trees to replace the lost cherry trees in the small orchard, all on MM106 rootstock. These will mostly be our local Newton Wonder variety, of which we grafted 10 last winter. But we will also have two unusual red-fleshed apples from Nigel Deacon, one of the most impressive apple experts I have ever met – a true walking knowledge base. One of these trees is Pendragon, from Cornwall, discovered by James Evans around 1982. The second, a Breunsdorfer, has an interesting story attached to it. It’s an East German variety, almost lost when the orchards it was being grown within were bulldozed to make way for an open-cast mine. Before the bulldozers moved in, a lady visiting the location took an apple home and planted the seeds. Only one seedling produced apples true to type, the lady contacted Nigel Deacon who put her in touch with a friend in Germany who grafted some scions from her tree. The tree was re-grafted and there are now several trees in existence, one of which is at Merrybower in Derbyshire. It’s a seriously nice thought that it’s being given a second chance to survive.

Another addition to the small orchard will be:

Lamb’s Seedling – an old Derbyshire dual-purpose variety.

Update – New Merrybower Plan Drawing

Acre Field 2013-10As things get a bit busier here, with more animals having arrived, winter setting  in, and a bit more land being given over to the growing of things, it was time to make a new acre field layout. On it there are some indications of future events (bees, raised herb garden, paths), but for me the most important is the movement of the various animals throughout the year. Next year will hopefully see us begin the task of breeding our Pilgrim Geese, large Light Sussex pure breed and bantam Light Sussex pure breed. This means clean ground, and careful rotation of animals. There are also the three call ducks to fit in somewhere!

To this end we are removing some fencing, adding more poultry-proof fencing (note: bantams and ducks laugh in the face of sheep-netting, just before they pop right on through it) and adding some smaller gates to make it easier to move to the acre field when the ground is wet. There is also the plan for a new path to the main patch, though unfortunately this won’t happen until the new year, so one more year of mud is forecast. Then there is the need to bring the animals as close to the cottage as possible, making feeding and watering an easier chore, but also making it easier to keep an eye on them. I think we may have cracked the barebones of a plan, but no doubt there will be tweaking. In theory we will have enough space to breed two pairs of geese, the large and bantam flocks, and keep most of them near in winter. Plus the various pieces of ground will get a break between grazing.

We also keep a record sheet of the trees planted in the orchard, and I’m going to now publish this on the website, to make it easier for me when I’m down the patch and can’t remember which is which! To have a look at both of these documents, visit the new page on the website – you can see the link at the top of the page, or click here!

Tree Leaf Study – Possible Pests & Diseases

With some very helpful advice from Nathan Packwood of Orchard Tree Care ( I am now on a plan of studying each tree for possible problems. It’s time to get organised with these fruit sticks, and I am only just now realising how much there is to learn, rectify, and mess up. This is a mess of photographs showing possible problems, and hopefully I can get some advice on what to do if I come across a tree with this problem. As anyone reading this no doubt knows, we grow our veg with no chemicals, following a strict 5 year rotation and trying all ways to prevent problems – both of the animal kind (you know who you are, pigeons, rats, mice, voles, spugs, slugs, sawfly etc) and the microbial kind.

However, trees are proving to be very different, in that you can’t very easily rotate a tree-crop. We’re doing our best, keeping the ground around them grass free, grazing a few chickens under (though we are currently under-stocked until the light sussex pull their feathery fingers out and get broody). It seems, through not cleaning my pruning shears, I may have inadvertently spread Bacterial Canker from one cherry tree to others. The original felon has been dug up and thrown in the brown bin, the rest are now on the radar for pruning. Dead wood needs to be pruned off, down to the first healthy tissue, once the blossom has dropped. For some this is drastic, others might escape with a less-drastic hair cut. Nathan recommended a scale of 0-5 for the severity of any diseased tree, where 0 is a healthy tree full of vim and vigour, and 5 is, well, an ex-tree. The remaining trees are mostly ones and twos apparently – with my pesimistic goggles on I was envisaging pyres a mile high, burning all and sundry. Still, I need to be realistic – we all suffer from stuff, and any tree that does not like the location to the extent it commits hari kari is was possibly the wrong tree for that location. Of course, that’s not totally fair if it’s the fault of the numpty who didn’t clean his pruning shears, but then life isn’t fair, and said numpty has to live with the fact he wasted a few years of his life waiting for that tree to finally succumb to his numptiness.

On with the show – the following photographs are in the semi-random order I walked the orchard. They are grouped by tree type (apple, pear, cherry and plum) to some extent, though I walked both bush (little) and half-standard (big) orchards separately, so there are possibly two groupings of each type. I am starting a spreadsheet, showing each tree and its details, including survey dates and findings, so I can keep track of any possible issues. I’ll add this to the website at some stage.