The orchard is probably the largest contingent of Merrybower, and hopefully will become the focal point for both us and the wildlife we hope to encourage within it. The main orchard covers half an acre and consists of 76 fruit and nut trees – the vast majority of which are heritage varieties, many from the local area or areas of interest to us in particular. Others have just been planted for some use or reason we found agreeable. Around two sides of the square acre that makes up what we call ‘The Patch’, we have also planted an edible hedgerow, which includes damsons, crab apples, hazelnuts, cobnuts and rosehips. We denied the space to blackthorn and its sloes as we manage the hedge by hand and it’s particularly nasty when it comes to septicemia, and we have plenty around here anyway, as we do elderberries.
When planting up the orchard we knew we had one Little Owl in the old oak tree. Since the trees went in three years ago we now have a pair of Little Owls that have attempted to mate for the last two years, though we’ve yet to see baby owls. I have also seen a Barn Owl working its way up the new hedgeline, hovering around 3 feet above it and literally 10 feet from where I was standing – its wing beats were silent, amazing creature. Needless to say we get voles now that we have hedges, and I suspect these play an important role in the feeding of the various owls. We also get moles who love the new root systems which seem to attract earth worms and grubs. Mole earth is great to add to the raised beds or compost – catch the hills before they destroy the surrounding grass or are scratched away by chickens or flattened by geese. In the near future we will actively encourage tits, especially blue tits, into the orchard, to eat insects from the trees. We are already encouraging robins near the vegetable patch, and this summer will install a bat box on the oak tree, which overlooks the orchard. We know we get bats, so hopefully we can entice them into the orchard to help us with the moth population.
So already it is doing its job by way of bringing in biodiversity to The Patch, and it can only get better. To one side of the orchard we have sown a headland – 6 feet by 90 feet – of English meadow mix – a mix of wild flowers and grasses that is particularly inviting to bees. The white clover in our grass mix already encourages them to the area, but this headland should be a wonderful display of colour, and from there it’s a short hop to the fruit blossom and free pollination for us!
Then we also have the cottage orchard planted at the back of the house. Currently that has 9 fruit trees, and we will probably add another one or two to the mix to create some nice shade during the summer.