Welcome to our wild flower experiment, a trial looking to introduce wild flowers to the orchard. There are several reasons for this – one is to encourage pollinators to the orchard, and another is to cut down on the amount of grass cutting needed.
When we sowed grass, before the orchard was started, we thought we might graze it with sheep or geese. Local advice was to use a permanent rye grass lay, essentially a mix of rye grass, timothy grass and white clover. As many know, and we have come to learn, rye grass grows quickly. Really quickly. Which is great if you have animals that like eating a lot of it. As we primarily run chickens under the orchard trees, for their ability to eat a lot of ground-living grubs and bugs and their manure, grass is a secondary food for them. The geese are much better at it, but they’re next to useless as bug control. The result is that we end up mowing grass, which is a waste of resources and time.
It’s been an idea for a while to add more flowers to the acre, and after much deliberation we’ve decided to run a small wild flower experiment, adding a 3m wide ribbon of wild flowers that the orchard trees will sit inside. The immediate base of each trunk will be kept clear naturally by the chickens, it seems to be a favourite hangout for them which they then scratch around in. The first stage is to test the theory on just one row of trees in the half standard quarter acre orchard (or, as we call it, the ‘big’ orchard, because the trees are larger than those in the bush quarter acre orchard (the ‘little’ orchard).
We’ve bought wild flower mixes before from Charles Flower, of Charles Flower Wildflowers. He very kindly has given us some advice after chatting through our plan, and advised us that rye grass is awfully hard to get rid of once you have it. The initial idea was to rotovate to a shallow depth continually over the growing season, but with the space to rotovate, we’ve decided to lay weed suppressant fabric where we will eventually sow the wild flower seed. We’ve used two layers of 100gsm fabric, to hopefully cut the majority of light out. I know one layer will do it as we used it last year over the space of two months to gain more room to grow vegetables. Hopefully three months of two layers will do much the same, only better, and still leave us August in which to rotovate and hopefully nobble as much new seedlings as possible before sowing in September. So far we only have enough fabric to the cover the area you see here, but more is ordered, actually enough to cover two tree rows, but I’ll have to see if we can resist the temptation to do that before knowing if it works.
Hopefully the end result will be more nectar for the insects needing it, and a more interesting habitat for the chickens. As far as wildlife is concerned, it could be a haven for the voles we have here (and therefore the various owls), and the longer vegetation will hopefully keep the soil moist for longer, encouraging insects that the resident hedgehogs will also happily feast upon.