It continues to be a very early season, but May is always a busy month in which we focus on making sure everything is right for a growing crop. Last month we reduced potential weed competition, and this month we have made sure that all the nutrients are correct in the soil.
To do this, we took soil samples from a number of areas within each crop and sent them to the local laboratory for analysis. The first basic test is for pH, assessing whether the soil has the correct level. You will probably recall from school day experiments that 7 is neutral, lower than this denotes an acid soil and higher, an alkaline soil. To make a soil more acidic we add sulphur, and more alkaline, we add lime.
Results showed a level around 6 so we applied calcium limestone to most of the orchards to bring the level up to the desired pH of 6.5 which is the optimum level for fruit growing.
The soil analysis also provided results on the levels of magnesium, phosphate, potash and nitrogen, and from these results we were able to apply a compound granular fertiliser to the base of the cider fruit trees and blackcurrant bushes. Each hive produces 40 jars of honey.
Having made sure the crops have all the correct nutrients for optimum growth, we also help nature with the pollination of the flowers. We have over 20 hives on the farm, all positioned close to the orchards. As you can see from the picture there is tremendous activity when the sun is shining and perhaps not surprising as each hive has in excess of 50,000 bees. Each hive will produce about 40lbs (or 40 pots) of delicious Herefordshire honey every year. Honey on toast in the morning, made from bees that have helped pollinate the orchards is rather special !
Having cut down 1,000 of the Ellis cider fruit trees in April to about 4ft in height, we have just completed all the grafting work, adding small cuttings of the Gilly variety to the trunk. Hopefully, within about three years, this part of the orchard will have changed from a rather poor cropping variety to one which is earlier and much higher yielding - pretty clever really and a much quicker way to change an orchard variety rather than replanting which would take about five to six years.
As you will know only too well, the spring grass is growing really well now which is great for the young lambs in the paddock but not so good in the orchards as we have to mow more regularly to keep it looking tidy, but mainly to ensure the grass is short for harvesting.
The blackcurrants are now in full leaf and so we begin a programme of minimal chemical application to reduce the pest and disease burden. The cleverly designed wrap around sprayer ensures application is directed down into the leaf canopy only and therefore avoiding drift.
All is now set fair for the blossom to set and the fruit to develop.