A Chilling Thought

daffThey forecast another cold spell for this weekend as I write these lines. After this past week’s balmy weather, this could spell trouble for early opening buds.

But did you know that cold is good, if done right, for fruit trees and biennial plants like cabbage, sugar beet, celery or carrot? These plants all need to reach deep sleep through a cold period before they can blossom. Much like we rest through the night, apple trees, for example, typically need 1000 hours below 6 or 7 C, and not too much below 0 degrees through the dark season.

Of course we all know that much below freezing is called “freezing” for a reason! It’s no longer a chill, and much above 6 or 7 degrees makes some boys peel their shirts off. A chill is between 0 and 6 or 7 degrees, give or take.

1000 hours, that’s 42 days or a month and a half to you and me. The chill units don’t have to be sustained just like we don’t need to slumber through 6 to 8 hours of deep sleep every night (scientifically known as NREM Stage 3). It seems obvious, but is not clear to me, just how much fluctuation in temperature the trees can take before they are stuck in light sleep and fail to reach full dormancy.

Please let us know if you are a local fruit tree whisperer.

Different varieties and different species have varying chill unit requirements. Local weather records shows that most of February, much of January and some of December should qualify for plenty of apple tree chill hours, albeit not always continuously.

A third of the orchard trail has been planted three years ago and trees are looking fabulous, so we should see those trees bear a reasonable harvest thanks to the lovely cold. Provided the bees will fly at the time of blossom, and no hard frost will hit late, and the many other factors that make successful organic fruit growing a bit of a game of chance won’t come to fruition. Fingers crossed!

At least it’s nice to know that we have been shivering for a good cause, don’t you agree?


Oh Deer

not-a-deerThe BBC opened its Winterwatch programme with a report on Muntjac deer, reminding us that our resident park ranger James reported a possible sighting of a Muntjac in the Hanwell Meadows some while ago.

Before anyone gets excited one way or another, let me say that that reported sighting was from a great distance and is as yet unconfirmed. Reeve’s Muntjac are a modern times invasive species without natural predators in Britain, and sightings have been reported all over West London.

It seems quite plausible that a some Muntjac made the orchard trail their home though. We have no shortage of thicket, some even safe from dogs behind fencing along the railway line in the Hanwell Meadows. Muntjac are small deer with a shoulder at human knee height, but they are certainly big enough to explain some of the rabbit bite damage we have seen and couldn’t quite explain the enormous size of the rabbits required.

Muntjacs live alone or in pairs and are shy, making them difficult to find. You might be lucky to spot one, or hear its laughter-like bark. Please let us know if, where and when you do. Dare I hope you snap a picture, too?

The picture accompanying this article does not show a Muntjac deer.


Mangement Speak

dscn2923_kindlephoto-227171838Let’s talk about management strategies today!

I am of course referring to urban scrubland management in general and our orchard trail in the Grand Union Canal corridor in particular. No hollow phrases or Powerpoint slides in this management speak!

Research of biodiversity in urban environments confirms that biodiversity depends on habitat diversity.

By cutting back scrubland in selected areas in the Grand Union Canal corridor while leaving large areas of scrubland undisturbed, we add pockets of habitats through the introduction of open areas with small meadows and new trees, encouraging fauna and flora to complement the life hidden among the mostly thorny and stingy world of London’s wild west.

We have no biodiversity statistics for the area but personal observation shows that the area is rich in small mammals, amphibians, songbirds, bats and larger birds such as the heron, cormorant or the occasional green woodpecker and plenty of waterfowl. Oh, and the insects regularly introduce themselves in abundance, including the occasional nest of wasps or wild bees.

Perhaps you have photos documenting biodiversity in the area of the orchard trail?

We’d welcome contributions! Please submit photos to hanwell orchard (in one word) at gmail dot com including your full name, a short description of the variety or species shown, and where and when the picture was taken, and we’ll create a public photo gallery documenting biodiversity along the Grand Union Canal corridor between Osterley Lock and Bixley Triangle.

Can’t wait!


Funny Fungi

dog-vomit-fungusIt’s late in the mushroom foraging season, but with luck you might still come across these funny fungi, sometimes aptly called the dog vomit mushroom.

It’s neither dog vomit nor fungus. You might have been carefully looking away from a slime mould, entirely harmless and natural albeit visually unappealing to most of us. There’s a good chance of finding some around the wood chip and bark used for mulching all along the orchard trail.

Fuligo septica is able to actively move to better food sources! How cool is that! Wikipedia describes it as a multinucleate mass of undifferentiated cells that may move in an ameboid-like fashion. Now it not longer sound quite so cool, but still… fascinating, don’t you agree?

Points Mean Prizes!

picnic-kidsWe must have ticked some boxes with the judges and are now pleased and proud to report that London in Bloom awarded the Osterley Lock Orchard with thriving in the It’s your Neighbourhood category. 

Thriving, we are proud to add, is just one tiny little step short of outstanding.

Our thanks to everyone who encouraged or helped with this fabulous project. Why not come and help celebrate at

Saturday October 21
Autumn Picnic and Birthday Party

in Jubilee Meadow by the sheep, from 13:00.

Bring a friend, a spouse, a child or a neighbour. Bring a drink and something to eat for the sharing table if you like, but please be prepared to take leftovers back with you as we hate waste. You’re also welcome to come empty handed, as there’s always plenty and more to go round.

Most importantly, bring yourself. See you there!

Acrobats’ Advice

img_20160710_184605Early apple varieties are now beginning to ripen and the pears aren’t far behind, just looking for a little more time and sunshine.

While trees planted with our orchard trail do not yet bear a lot of fruit this year, more mature trees in the area carry a substantial amount of the delicious and versatile fruit. Good news for foragers on two or more legs!

It is however sad to see that some human foragers apply unnecessary force and rather shortsightedly use destructive methods when picking fruit. Some branches are torn and twisted, broken off and some trees left damaged and vulnerable to infections. Apart from lasting damage to trees, we also witnessed an eager forager falling from a tree. The young man got away without apparent lasting damage, but we were sure this was a close call.

The rule for picking fruit is quite simple: if it doesn’t want to come off very easily with a small twist or light pull, then it does not yet want to come off and is not yet ready for picking. There should never be a need for force, but you might want to bring a pole, a walking stick or a telescopic fruit picker to extend your arm’s reach without dangerous acrobatics.

Please use care and consideration for private land, nature, the law, other foragers and the very tree you are harvesting when foraging so that everyone can enjoy these resources in years to come. Oh, and take good care of yourself 🙂

Vandalism News

summersun-vandalisedThe vandals have been busy doing their mindless destruction once again. This time we mourn the loss of a Summersun Cherry, tree #55 on Elthorne Terrace, and the nearby Orleanne’s Reinette Apple, tree #60.

The Reinette was a poor thing to begin with, but did show good spirits and a strong will to live. The cherry was doing wonderfully well and could have delighted many in years to come, but has now been torn and broken.

We all share a sense of sadness and frustration in the face of these mindless acts.

Splish Splosh

Barley StrawWe are fascinated by the ups and downs of the Piggeries pond. In the beginning, we had much too much water, as reported with the Piggeries Report. Water leaks in the adjacent streets were fixed, reducing the water feed into the pond significantly. The remaining feed was still stronger than anticipated given what little rain we had. Surface water drainage in the local area is subject to ongoing investigation, but in a recent and rather unexpected development, the water flow into the pond stopped all together. Now we didn’t have enough water!

Rainfall earlier this week raised the groundwater levels and water levels in the pond again, quicker than we expected.

We remain fascinated, puzzled and intrigued by the ups and downs of The Piggeries pond. Investigation of various aspects of local surface water drainage continues. However, we are most fascinated and most grateful to see just how many people stop by, inquire or simply enjoy the views of the pond and its tadpoles. Most tadpoles have been rescued and were re-housed locally during the recent water shortage.

We meant to create a natural habitat with seasonally changing water levels. In addition, we seem to have created a focal point for visitors of all ages, two and four-legged ones.

Why not stop by the Piggeries Orchard during one of your canalside walks, and watch nature do its thing in the middle of the metropolis?


Spring Picnic

_MG_8109It’s the famous and famously informal

Spring Picnic

Tomorrow, Sunday May 14, 2017, from 12:00

… and usually in mostly fine weather!

Bring a drink and food to the sharing table, bring a picnic blanket, a smile, a child and a friend! We’ll be by the sheep in Jubilee Meadows (map) and look forward to enjoying a relaxed Sunday in the company of friends, right in the heart of the most beautiful Spring meadows.

You can reach us on foot from the entrance at Trumpers Way by the railway line, or across the lock behind the Fox Inn, Green Lane. (Click for location and access details.) Get in touch with us if you need special assistance.

Bring food and drink to the sharing table if you like. Please bring only as much as your own party would consume and be prepared to take leftovers back.

Spring Dates

tttThe events are rolling in for the Spring 2017 season; please mark these dates for fabulous opportunities to be involved. It’s never to late to make new friends, meet the orchards or to take it out on some brambles and nettles!

Sat 8-April 10:30 – 15:30, Piggeries Celebrations

We’ll be pulling more weeds and digging more brambles, apply woodchip for mulching the hedges along the fence and the back wall, and sow the meadow and wetland areas with native grasses and flowers.

We’ll also celebrate the opening of the Piggeries Orchard with a slice of cake and a speech!

Sat 6-May 10:00 – 14:00, Meadows Mulching

Mulching in the beautiful Hanwell Meadows, with an early start and finish on account of the Hanwell Hootie. This is the first event in our new Saturday Orchard Love series, and we need every hand we can get with this one!

Sun 14-May 12:00 onwards, Spring Orchard Picnic

The big event in every local orchardist’s calendar, the popular spring orchard picnic in the heart of the Hanwell Meadows by the sheep! Bring something to eat and drink to the sharing table, bring a smile, a child, a friend and join us for a relaxed social event in the centre of this most beautiful hidden treasure.

1st Saturday in each month, Saturday Orchard Love

Starting 6-May at 10:00, normally at 11:00. Your regular opportunity to apply orchard love in varying locations along the trail. See the right sidebar on our web site for details of every event (at the bottom of the page for mobile phone users), or follow our Twitter.

Every Tuesday evening, Tree Tending Tuesday

Tree Tending Tuesdays are back! A grand reason to finish work and get out into nature, apply some general tender love and care to the orchards, the orchard trail and its surroundings, and (optionally) finish with a refreshment at a local public house.

As always, be sure to check our web site,  Facebook or Twitter for details or last-minute announcements and changes. See you soon!