Encouraging nature in the orchard
An important thing to do when establishing a traditional orchard is to encourage biodiversity - a community that will support each other and hopefully keep the apple tree pests at bay. For me in my small orchard this means bird feeders, bug houses, log piles, short grass, long grass, rocks to hide under, bird houses, watery ditches etc. 1 When Byng Brook Orchard is more mature hopefully less effort will be required. Nooks and crannies will develop naturally and a balanced biodiverse ecosystem will reveal itself over time and hopefully with a bit of nurturing we will have bountiful harvests and provide a place of plenty for everything else too.
So, I decided to use some of my collection of bird feeders from home to encourage birds to eventually nest in the big hedge at the back of the orchard. I had several seed feeders and peanut feeders which needed a clean before they could be used again. Once i'd removed the old seeds, I used soapy hot water and a scrubbing brush to spruce them up. Following the advice on the RSPB website 2 I gave them a spray with disinfectant and a further rinse before leaving them to dry. I realised that I should try and attract a range of birds and therefore I should use a range of foods (not just seeds and peanuts which predominantly attracts small song birds). So, I decided to get some of those dried mealworms and spread them on the ground for bird feeders - blackbirds, robins, thrushes, dunnocks etc. I was also given some of the chaff from the last year's harvest which I spread around the ground. So all in all I hoped that I could attract a range of birds which will want to stay around.
The noise they make in the big hedge is incredible!
I have also made and hung on every tree in the orchard a bottle bug hotel. Primarily to attract earwigs.3 Earwigs are great nocturnal feasters and will eat codling moth eggs and larvae, a range of aphids, and other apple munching pests. They used to be considered a pest in the orchard as it was thought that they ate holes in the apples but it has been studied and apparently it is hard to tell whether it is the earwigs or other munching crawlers. I think I'll give them the benefit of the doubt.
Next week I'm hoping to begin planting my apple tree guilds which is a permaculture technique to encourage a range of beneficial creatures and discouraging others. I'll hopefully write about it in next week's blog.1. https://ptes.org/campaigns/traditional-orchard-project/orchard-biodiversity/orchard-biodiversity-tips/ ↩ 2. https://www.rspb.org.uk/birds-and-wildlife/advice/how-you-can-help-birds/feeding-birds/keep-your-bird-table-healthy/ ↩ 3. https://academic.oup.com/jipm/article/10/1/21/5514231 ↩