I wrote this two weeks ago but forgot to publish it! Anyway, here's a little bit of orchard management for you.
It could be a beauty parlour. Hydrogen peroxide, essential oils, castile soap, rapeseed oil, bicarbonate of soda...
Well, maybe the last two ingredients give away that I am not actually branching out into beauty therapy.
Rather I have been winter washing my fruit trees. Growing fruit is a steep learning curve for me. I put lots of trees in when we first moved in and this year the investment started to pay off with what resembled an actual crop. Not everything went well, as it was a tough year with long periods of hot, dry weather interspersed with some decidedly soggy and cold periods. All this played havoc with the apples and all the leaves on one of the plum trees shrivelled at one point. However, we got medlars, almonds, our first cobnuts, quite a few plums and damsons and some rather delicious pears.
But now that our trees are in their fruiting phase, I need to get my head around looking after them more carefully and protecting them from all the nasty pests and diseases. From most of my previous reading, I've probably totally wrecked all my trees with bad pruning and I need to instigate a strict regime of spraying nasty chemicals if I am to end up with any fruit. It'll end up costing me a fortune and the fruit won't be any different to what I can buy in the shops.
Of course, this is not what is going to be happening!
For the pruning, I read and read, then read some more. I think I sort of know what I'm doing, at least enough to not totally wreck the trees. I still have to look it up every time though, but in time I'll become an expert.
As for the spraying, I figured there must be an alternative so started researching. During the winter it is a good idea to apply a dormant tree wash. I found a tin of tar oil in the shed - no idea when I bought it. However, this is one of the substances which has now been banned. I rather suspect it's more to do with protecting the sprayer than anything else, but I decided not to use it anyway.
The idea of a dormant wash is that it effectively seals in small bugs and suffocates them. As such, it really consists solely of oil, soap and water. The soap should not contain detergents though. I purchased some castile soap, enough to go a long way. The oil can be any vegetable oil. Rape oil is one of the best, but sunflower oil will do fine. A soap spray is a pretty effective pesticide all around the garden and the oil helps it stick to the plants and not wash straight off.
Back to the orchard trees. They ideally need spraying a couple of times during the winter. I read somewhere about an alternative to the oil and soap solution which included hydrogen peroxide and baking soda. These have a different effect on the small bugs which overwinter in the nooks and crannies of the trees' bark. It basically attacks their coating and leaves them open to the elements. The hydrogen peroxide and bicarb of soda have a fungicidal effect too, which is the reason why I chose to use this spray mix for the first spray of the winter. I'll use the other for the second. If one doesn't get 'em, the other will!
Now, hydrogen peroxide sounds a bit nasty doesn't it? I looked into it though and it's actually very safe. It's just water with some extra oxygen attached and is a very organic way of dealing with things.
I pruned the trees (not the stone fruits, which need pruning later in the winter, when the sap is rising) and the plan was to spray soon after. However, every day the forecast said strong breezes. Every day, these failed to materialise until late afternoon. Eventually I got fed up with this and mixed up my concoction anyway. There was a beautiful, winter blue sky. When the breeze did pick up, I just stopped for a while and enjoyed where I was. The spraying didn't take too long and it was easier than I thought to cover every surface of the branches. I felt like a proper fruit grower! Except that I knew that what I was spraying would only harm what I wanted it to.
Next up should be grease bands.However, I've looked into them and they seem an awful faff, and a reasonable expense. They are designed to stop critter, particularly wingless moths which overwinter in the soil beneath the tree, crawling up into the tree. However, they don't stop the codling oths, the ones responsible for most maggots, as these can fly. So instead, I've opted for encouraging the chickens to peck about in the orchard. I reckon there won't be many flightless moths or their larvae left in the soil after they've been at it all winter.
So for the moment, that's my orchard management taken care of. The next job will be the second winter spray and pruning the plums and cherries.
Let's hope it works and we will be overflowing with delicious fruits next year. If all else fails, we'll just have to go scrumping in Don's orchard over the fence. He doesn't mind at all. Our geese and chickens have already found his windfalls to their liking, as do the winter thrush flocks which are so abundant this year.