And on the first day…

We have the true delight and luck to have an entire week off work with no plans other than making the most of spending time on the allotment!

Today’s project focused on the mini-orchard. Since I planted the dwarf trees, this area of the allotment has seen little attention. One of the two apple varieties sadly didn’t establish well and was lost in the summer’s heatwave. I am waiting for the spring to trigger the other four trees into life and have my fingers crossed they will do well this year. Later this week I will mulch them well to give them a boost for the new season.

When I took this plot on at the end of last February (yes, The Cutty Garden is very nearly one year old!) the site of the mini-orchard was underneath a large ‘burial-mound’ of soil, weeds and rubbish which was quite a challenge to shift. The rear boundary a few feet away was also in a state of disrepair and it was hard to tell where woodland was creeping in and the allotment ended. I dug out the mound and resurrected the boundary by creating a bank complete with wildlife attracting plants. (See archive post here: https://oakbytherifepatch.wordpress.com/2016/03/18/what-a-difference-a-week-makes/). The wildlife bank is designed to draw in beneficial creatures such as frogs and toads, and both pollinating or predatory insects, as well as being a good way of utilising that narrow strip of land along the edge of the plot that is impractical for growing much else.

I have left the bank undisturbed over the winter months to allow space for hibernating and overwintering wildlife. Dead plant stems, leaf litter and ‘messy’ areas are ideal for invertebrates and amphibians to shelter in the colder months. Now we have reached mid-February, the weather is turning milder and it is the time that toads and frogs will begin to emerge in order to head towards their breeding ponds. I have cut back the dead growth and lightly ‘tidied’ the bank, retaining the cuttings and cleared material and depositing this in piles nearby in our current compost area to rot down slowly. The robin made the most of my activity, picking at any morsels revealed under the leaf litter.

Snowdrops are pushing through on the bank now, ideal for providing nectar for early emerging insects. I hope to boost this vital early season nectar availability by planting some open flowered hellebores and yellow winter aconites at some stage soon.

The path along in front of the wildlife bank needed weeding, levelling and covering with weed suppressant membrane, whilst we wanted to edge and define the orchard itself to stop this end of the allotment merging together and becoming vague and confused. I had developed a plan to use the spaces between the fruit trees to house some large containers.

Here are some photos of the result!

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The wildlife bank is looking tired after the winter, but when inspected closely there are snowdrops and exciting signs of new growth.
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The mini-orchard and bank area before the main bulk of work; weedy and undefined

img_0110 Levelling and compacting the path before laying down membrane…img_0117

…and after the membrane was laid. A tough membrane was used for the path strips as this will take most wear, whilst a lightweight thinner membrane was put down on the orchard sections simply to help keep on top of the weeding.

 

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The final result! (Just awaiting mulching and re-staking of the dwarf fruit trees.)
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The pots in the foreground contain spring bulbs for cut flowers, whilst the others will be planted with varieties of mint to add foliage interest to bunches of blooms.

 

By the time we finished for the day and headed home it was 4pm, and judging by the darkening sky and cold needles of sleet, definitely time for a well earned cup of tea!

We have a lot more plans for the rest of the week, including planting roses, yet more digging & mulching/composting, planting rhubarb (mmm, crumble & custard!), and possibly the beginnings of a compost bin construction project!

 

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