Mistletoe in May

Last week some of us took part in a small side project. We helped Ealing rangers spreading Mistletoe berries, to support Ealing’s biodiversity action plan. We have also started our tree tending evenings to keep up with the -now very fast growing- weeds and grasses.

Mistletoe (Viscum album) is a very scarce plant in Ealing and a priority species under the borough’s biodiversity action plan. It has a hemiparasitic life cycle, growing on trees from which it extracts water. In nature the seeds are spread by birds, notably Mistle Thrush. Last week we gave Ealing park rangers and nature a helping hand by spreading Mistletoe seed onto apple trees, a favoured host species.

The seeds are surrounded by a thick mucilaginous slime that literally glues them to the bark. In time we hope they will germinate and grow into mature plants which can then seed and spread naturally. We don’t know exactly why Mistletoe was almost lost to Ealing, but we aim to work to bring about the return of unique and remarkable species.

If the seeds germinate and grow into new plants, we will record them on this map (Mistletoe in Ealing)

In addition to the Mistletoe project we have started to document the old fruit trees in the area covered by our trail. Map (Veteran fruit trees in Ealing) Some of the old trees are already looked after by us. We take away dead and damaged wood and protect them against rabbit damage if we can.

Not all old trees are easily accessible, but some are part of our existing orchards and you can take some fruit from them if you wish. In the coming months we will add information about the old trees to the map, e.g. if the fruit is for cooking or can be eaten raw (dessert).

And last but not least……

We are very happy to have welcomed new volunteers in the last couple of weeks. If you want to help us keeping our orchards healthy, you’re welcome to join us anytime. Please register as a volunteer to get regular updates of when and where we work.

New additions to the trail…

The last couple of weeks have been busy for us as volunteers. We transformed a small piece of land along the canal into an orchard. Planted lots of whips and made a start with the planting of native black poplars.

Bernd’s Orchard

Along the canal, on the East-side of St Margaret’s field, we created a new, small orchard. With the help of one of the Ealing park rangers, we planted 5 trees -one Mulberry and 4 varieties of apple-. This orchard is very special to us, as we planted it to commemorate one of our founding members; Bernd Gauweiler.

Whips

For the last two years, we have been able to apply for free whips from The conservation volunteers . The whips received are a variety of native, fruit bearing, hedge whips, like dog-rose (rosa canina), blackthorn (prunus Spinoza) and hawthorn (crataegus) . This year we used most of the whips to fill up gaps in existing hedges in St. Margaret’s, The Piggeries and in Blackberry Corner.

Black poplar and buckthorn whips.

Special mention is deserved for a couple of other whips we planted along the orchard trail. First special mention is for the 4 black-poplars we planted. This tree is native to north-west Europe and a declining species in the UK. According to the Forestry Commission, black poplar is the most endangered native timber tree in Britain. It is the food plant for the caterpillars of many moths, including the hornet, wood leopard, poplar hawk and figure of eight. The catkins provide an early source of pollen and nectar for bees and other insects, and the seeds are eaten by birds. ‘Our’ whips have been propagated from cuttings from a poplar on Horsenden Hill. One of our volunteers has kindly cared for them for a year and a half. We will plant some more later in the year.

Second special mention is for some buckthorn whips that were gifted to us. Purging buckthorn is the main food plant of the brimstone butterfly, whose caterpillars eat the leaves. Its flowers provide a source of pollen and nectar for bees and other insects, while its dense growth makes it a valuable nesting site for birds. By adding these plants to our orchards we are hoping to give the brimstones, that are visiting from the Chilterns, a place to stay and breed.

Long time, no see.

After a long, cold winter we’re happy to be back with a Spring update on all things orchard.

We hope everyone is well and that you’ve been enjoying the orchard trail on your daily walks. (If you have not yet walked our trail, please download our walk brochure here.)

Our group activities have been very limited for the last couple of months, but that doesn’t mean we have been twiddling our thumbs. During winter our volunteers have been busy pruning the trees. Most of the trees are looking good and we can’t wait to see the first flower-buds arrive. A lot of time has gone into planning activities for the coming season and we are happy to announce that we’ve got some nice events ahead of us.

This Saturday we will be adding some shrubs to the fruit bearing hedges in three of our orchards. Unfortunately, due to current restrictions, this is a non-public event. Pictures will follow.

Next on our list is a remembrance orchard for Bernd Gauweiler. In collaboration with Ealing Park Rangers, we have found a space where we can plant all of Bernd’s favourite trees.

Again the planting day will be a non-public event, but hopefully we can officially open the new orchard in Summer, with more people present.

Remember the sheep (or what is left of them) in the Hanwell meadows? We took pity on them and, although not typical orchard work, decided to ‘do something’ about the sorry state they are in. We are happy to announce that we managed to secure a grant from freshwaterfoundation to replace the sheep with new chainsaw sculptures. Due to Covid restrictions and the very wet fields replacement might take a little longer than anyone likes, but we promise that some new inhabitants for the meadows will be coming this year.

Going Nuts Workshops!

Do you remember the plan for planting lots of new nutty trees in Elthorne Park?

Right behind our Elthorne Triangles orchard, 43 new trees including Hazel, Pecan, Sweet Chestnut, Walnut and Beech further up the slope will make a wonderful display and habitat in years to come.

Originally scheduled for April 4th, the big planting extravaganza was cancelled due to the ongoing pandemic along with everything else.

They are now back!

Trees for Cities organizes socially distanced tree planting workshops at Elthorne Park. These workshops are running for the next 2 weeks and are open for small groups (ideally household units) of up to 5 people to come and plant a tree.

You can register your interest and sign up for helping on their dedicated web site at www.treesforcities.org/elthornepark 

Dangerous Liaisons

It’s the ripening season!

Blackberries are still going strong, plums are juicy and sweet as we speak, apples and pears are ripening with early varieties ready in a week or two. But not just fruit is ripening…

We had a rare opportunity to observe adult Oak Processionary Moth emerging from the nests. While the moth itself is not dangerous to humans, it will of course lay eggs and start the next cycle.

Watch the spectacle if you like, but watch from a safely distant and upwind location. Please take care not to touch affected trees and do not disturb the nests.

The area and the air around the nest continues to be full of the caterpillar hairs. The hairs can trigger a mighty itch or a mild rash lasting days, and can even trigger severe asthma attacks in some individuals.

Each In Their Own Time

Cherries tend to be ripe for picking mid June to mid July. Damsons, plums, gages and Mulberries follow late July to August. Apples, pears and quinces are autumn fruit, generally ripe and ready for picking in September and October. Medlar is generally harvested in late autumn and left to mature indoors.

These dates vary with the variety, local growing conditions and the weather by a small number of weeks. When you are unsure, the simple test is to sample one single fruit:

It should look ripe and ready, with fully developed size and skin colouring.

It should come away easily. Ripe fruit does not need a forceful harvest.

It should smell and taste ripe. If it looks ripe, smells and tastes ripe, then it most likely is ripe.

Take only ripe fruit. Premature harvest is a waste of a good fruit, missing out on the final and full aroma, and is a waste of a good effort that went into growing it.

Take some fruit but leave the rest to others. It’s a community orchard after all. Fruit along the orchard trail is for everyone to pick and enjoy. It is not grown on a first-come first-served basis.

Unfortunately, this article is coming too late. Once again, many trees have been systematically stripped of all fruit, many weeks before it would have ripened. We wish those antisocial individuals strong belly cramps and a sense of their own idiocy to balance for the frustration we feel after having tended the plants for weeks and months.

Orchard Care Update

As you will know or have guessed, we cancelled all group activities at the beginning of lock-down to help keep everybody safe.

Individuals or volunteers sharing a household and small groups, subject to the more recently evolving rules and guidelines, kept up the good work: pruning trees, picking litter, controlling weeds and caring for orchards and meadows in many other ways. Over 100 work hours were volunteered since March 23rd, covering all 11 locations along the orchard trail.

Our huge THANK YOU to everyone who has helped so far.

We are now planning safe activities for the near future, hoping to engage with new volunteers and reconnect with old friends.

Please look out for related news online at this web site, our Facebook or Twitter, or through the volunteer email system.

Bring Me a Little Water

Orchard maintenance has continued thanks to a dedicated team of volunteers and activities performed by individuals or thouse who live together in the same household. Spring meadow cut, general clearance, weeding, weeding and more weeding, mulching and watering was carried out, all in all adding up to more than 60 hours since March 23rd, 2020.

That’s pretty cool!

We continue to monitor the public advise on lock-down rules and will call for more volunteer participation as soon as the law, health & safety and common sense permit.

Here’s how you can help right away:

Water a young and desperate tree next to you.

Make it part of your fitness regime to carry water to a newly planted tree next to you even to one a little further away foir extra fitness.

Ealing Council brought many new trees into the area, but the current situation leaves some trees desperate for water. While most of the HANGOT trees are doing fine, many trees recently planted in public spaces are desperate. Newly planted trees do not yet have the deep and far-reaching root system of a well-established tree and need a little help.

Even a small amount would be better than none in this dry season!

Abundance London calls for an emergency tree adoption scheme, Trees for Cities asks that you become a Tree Watering Champion. There are no prices to win except for a local environment rich in trees with healthy habitats for diverse fauna and flora. What’s not to like?

The Wee People

Many believe that nature is reclaiming the land in these strange times, quiet yet stressful all the same.

Swans were sighted in the canals of Venice, Dolphins near the port of Cagliari, Sardinia. Mountain goats in Llandudno, Wales, Mountain lions in Bolder, Colarado, Wild boars were sighted in Barcelona, Spain, and gangs of macaque monkeys overrun Lopburi, Thailand.

Did you know that the wee people have returned to Hanwell?

You just need to observe the proper distance to other people, look really careful and be quite quiet!

Have you found them yet?

Happy Easter

We wish you a very Happy Easter and, most importantly in this crazy spring, we wish you a very Healthy Easter.

May you stay safe and sane or, if the bug has gotten to you yet, may you recover soon and fully! Our heartfelt best wishes are with everyone, anywhere.

May you find time and sufficient isolation to walk along the Orchard Trail as part of your daily exercise regime! The trees are in full bloom and everything is lush and vibrant with fresh greens; it is nature at its best.

Stay safe, stay healthy, stay sane.