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Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Tea fertilisers

Do you fancy a cup of tea?
Of course your plants would. But it has to be a special "tea" and it won't be served in a cup!
Studying organic matters and nutrients I came across "tea fertilisers", liquid fertiliser (power boost) that can be easily homemade for free.

The first one I have tried to make is the Nettle Tea Fertiliser.
As the name can suggests, you need nettle (Urtica dioica),  and you need gloves to pick it up!
Despite the very unpleasant nature of this weed, it has three strong points on its side:

  1. It's rich in Nitrogen, useful element for growth of vegetative parts and photosynthesis.
  2. It can be a delicious ingredient for your meal (maybe I can write a post about it).
  3. And ...it is free and very common to find!

So all you need is 1Kg of Nettle's leaves per 1L of Water.
Put your nettle into a container full of water and let it rot for two weeks, stir every few days. It will smell very bad, DO NOT keep it inside the greenhouse as the smell  is really bad (evil, seriously!), but remember: No pain, no gain!
When it is ready, dilute 1:10 (nettle mix to water) in your watering can and use to watering your vegetable bed every two week.

The second recipe is the Comfrey Tea Fertiliser.
Comfrey - Source: Wikipedia

Comfrey (Symphytum officinale) is generally harder to find than nettles, it grows in damp, grassy places, it can be invasive, but it can also attract pollinators bees. This plant is also rich in Potassium: excellent for stimulating flowers and fruits.
At the moment I haven't seen any comfrey at the Queen's Orchard, so I will look for some Borage: they share the same family and possibly almost the same nutrient potential.
Doses and time of usage are the same of the Nettle's tea:
1Kg of Comfrey's leaves per 1L of Water.

When the tea is "ready", it need to be diluted 1:15 with your watering water.
Both these "tea" are fast release fertilisers, that means nutrients are available for the plant right away, but they loose their efficacy in little over two weeks and cannot be stored for a long time, so the best thing to do is making just the right amount on regular basis.

I've just used my Nettle fertiliser once, I will let you know the results eventually.
Have you tried any of these teas for your plants? Have you seen any improvements? Let me know in the comments below!

Thursday, 16 March 2017

Waiting for the spring time.

A new year of growing and harvesting is starting, but the activities at the Orchard never really stopped even during the winter.
Sprout broccolis and Roman cauliflowers planted last autumn under the net and protected from pigeons have grown beautifully during the winter, and now they are ready to be harvested.
Same for the leeks planted last summer: they may not be as big as the ones you buy at the supermarket, but they are very tasty and... well, very smelly: simply delicious!
Volunteers have been working hard since last summer digging and cutting all the overgrown weeds that were covering the north wall of the orchard.

North wall: Before (July 2016) and After (March 2017)

North wall work in progress

The area is now tidy and nettle-free (at least we tried) , brambles that had been planted previously now have more room and light to develop flowers and fruits, improving garden's wildlife and providing more berries for us.

Daffodils, aubrieta, and violets have started to show up, but also broad beans "Aquadulce" planted last October in soil and just protected by a net are flowering.
Speaking of welcomed surprises, our garden coordinator Dorothy is back and that means the Queen's Orchard is now open to the public every Wednesday and week-end until October.
See you soon.

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

7 tips to prune a fruit tree

February: It's time to prune some fruit trees!
It has been a very busy start to the year, but Royal Parks' volunteers have been engaged in some very interesting activity during this short holiday period for the blog.
On 25th January we were lucky to host Ian Rodgers, the Arboriculture Manager of Royal Parks, for a pruning workshop at the Queen's Orchard.
Then on 7th of February, at the Kensington park allotment, we had another workshop with Amy Stone, environmental educator from Bristol.
Personally I think it is nice to listen to the same topic explained by different people, because they can develop the concept with a unique and personal approach, and you can get the best from both.
Speaking about pruning fruit trees, for example, you can be focus on obtaining the most of the fruits each year: remember, you cannot replace what you are cutting off!
Or you can take a long term view of a plant's growth and try to experiment and learn what to do year after year.
I think both methods are quite valid, the way to choose between the two approaches actually depends on many factors, but at the base of any approach you must know some fundamental rules.

1. One at the Time
Every species has a right time for pruning to take place: for example the Prunus family (cherries, plums, nectarines, apricots, almonds. See the first picture above) can not be cut in winter because they are easily exposed to Silver leaf and other diseases. The right time for pruning these species will be in summer after fruiting.

2. Look for DDD:
Take a good long look at your plant before starting to cut, can you see any Diseases, Dead or Damaged branch? They should be the first things getting cut.
In order not spread diseases from a plant to another use always clean your tools; rusty and unsharpened secateurs can be cleaned with specific disinfectant and a honing stone.

3. Get in Shape
A good shape means an healthy tree.
You want a well aerated crown where every branch can get the right amount of air and sun light. So branches that are growing toward the centre of the crown, crossing or simply sticking too close to each other, should be removed.
Also watch out for branches growing too close to the soil and stolons (suckers) at the base of your tree: they make the plant more vulnerable from pest attacks and steal energy from the main stem.

4. Stimulate growth
Usually apical buds, those at the tip of the branch, are "dominant", that means they are more developed than lateral buds and they release a hormone that prevent lower (axillary) buds from growing. They are usually floral buds that will develop flowers and fruit rather than leaves.
When the apical bud is removed the lower dormant buds are stimulated and develop new floral buds. This helps to rejuvenate the plant and maximise the production of fruits.
5. Chose the direction
Observe the position of the buds on the branch you want to cut. Try to maintain those that are growing in a convenient direction, i.e. those growing opposite to the centre or to other branches/barriers.
The position of the bud is also significant if you want speed the growth up of your tree or if you want to reduce it. Leaving the buds that are facing the soil will slow the downward growth of new shoots, because the hormones of growth tend to be on the upper side of the branch.

6. Not too close, not too far
Now you have chosen the exact point you are going to trim off, but be careful about the distance between the bud and the portion of the stem you are cutting: the bud can be easily damaged if the cut is too close to it, but on the other hand it can trap water and cause rotting if you cut it too far.
7.Get the angle right
Last but not least: the angle of your cut should be about 45ยบ in the same direction of the bud. Water will then just glide away from the bud without penetrating inside the wound.

That's all, I hope these simple rules can help you when pruning your fruit trees; please let me know if I have forgotten to mention something important in the comments and I will follow them up.

Tuesday, 20 December 2016

Willow weaving workshop

On 1st of December the Royal Parks gardeners plus some of the Queen's Orchard volunteers attended  a Willow weaving workshop hosted by James Buchanan.
The "mission of the day" was pruning and tiding up the willow tunnels James created in the playground area of Greenwich Park two years ago.
Working with alive plants means to control and check their growth in a way that supports and strengthens the structure every once in awhile.
Autumn or winter are the best periods for pruning and arranging the new shoots to tidy up the shape of a living willow tunnel because the plants are dormant and removing the tip branches does not encourage the growth of other shoots until the following Spring.
As the willow has quite flexible branches and relatively thin, the weaving requires bending the young shoots among the pre-existent structure and tying them to the other branches avoiding to break them.
In order to strengthen the structure, the pruned hazel branches are weaved within the existing willow branches or as a base for the fences.
Despite the chilly weather, it was actually a very engaging bright day. A big thank you to all the people attended the workshop and especially to James Buchanan for sharing his experience and knowledge with us.

Thursday, 8 December 2016

The gate

If you have walked by the Queen's Orchard just once, you would probably remember the gorgeous piece of art at the entrance: the gate.
Even now, during the winter time, when the orchard is closed to the public, the black silhouettes forged on the steel layout are an eye-catching feature for visitors coming along the north-eastern entrance of the park, and a very distinctive symbol that we are proud to have as logo for this blog.
A couple of deers, an apple tree, birds, flowers, and mulberry leaves are all natural subjects strictly connected with the Orchard, its history and plant species, and the Greenwich Park as well.
A very distinctive design created by local artist Heather Burrell along with Friends of Greenwich Park, based on pupils' drawings from The John Roan Secondary and Meridian Primary Schools in 2009. She also created the floral shaped well covering inside the entrance you can see in the following picture.
We had the opportunity to meet Heather Burrell at her studio in Deptford last month: she is one of the resident artists at Art in Perpetuity Trust near Deptford Creek and she work with metals designing organic shapes and natural elements for public space and community projects.
During the visit we were given a sneak peek of some new pieces Heather is working on, in particular the "Lungs" made of tree branches, as a strict connection between human and nature, the studio wall panel made out of Acer leaves, and other work in progress projects.

She also showed us the new mulberry leaves that would be replacing the missing ones on the Queen's Orchard gate that have been vandalised sadly.
We hope to see the new leaves and the gate at its best soon and we'd like to say thank you to Heather and her helper for the kind hospitality.

You can visit Heather Burrell's website here: www.heatherburrell.co.uk

Saturday, 19 November 2016

Some pictures from the Harvest Festival

Days have become shorter, sun lower and our activities at the Queen’s Orchard are slowing down: the three signs of winter.
But looking back at the beginning of October, we cannot be disappointed about our Harvest Festival. We had a lot of visitors, fun activities involving children and families, bees and honey workshop and, last but not least, delicious vegetables and fruits.
I would like to share photos of that day with you. They were taken by Lee Yoong, volunteer and awesome photographer too! I hope these pics help you keep you warm and happy all winter long.











Friday, 21 October 2016

Apples Day

Today we celebrate the National Apple Day showing some pictures of the apples from the Queen's Orchard: here there are different varieties grown as "dwarf size" trees. Enjoy!
Photo credits: Lee Yoong
Bramley Seedling