The orchard is probably the largest contingent of Merrybower, and is the focal point for both us and the wildlife we 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.
The old oak tree in the northern hedge is home to little owls, every spring we hear the hissing of the owlets. We 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 we were standing – its wing beats silent, amazing creature. Needless to say we get voles now that we have hedges, and we 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. We have a bat box installed on the oak tree, which overlooks the orchard. Every night we can see bats flitting around overhead.
The orchard is already doing its job by way of bringing in biodiversity to The Patch, and it can only get better.
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.