The promise

Things have been a bit quiet at the Community Orchard of late. Covid stymied our Committee meetings for several months, last autumn’s ‘harvest’ was pretty sparse (we’ve put it down to the cold windy spell that coincided with much of the blossom, keeping the bees ‘indoors’ so that not much pollination happened), and then in winter there’s not much to do and a dearth of acceptable weather to go out and do it in.

But we’re back!

The row of big Limes along the Northern edge of the site are beginning to impinge on the fruit-trees, and need cutting back. The trees themselves, many of them, could also do with a spot of pruning. All this is easier said than done: many branches are at least 20 feet up. The fruit trees don’t only need sunshine: they also need air to circulate freely about them or, like damp rooms, they’ll ‘go mouldy’.

So we sawed down a load of branches, chopped them into lengths, and hauled them off to the periphery where, heaped-up, they’ll make houses for hedgehogs, beetles and other wildlife.

In the course of all this, we spotted the first snowdrops of the year. They are the Promise: First the evenings will stretch out, lighting your way home from work (if, like me, you finish at 5:30), then the mornings will follow, getting lighter by the day.

The Promise says nothing about temperature, wind or sleet, mind you: snowdrops are tough little blighters and will shine through it all.

Blight

It looked like an early touch of autumn colour on the leaves of our pear trees. We thought nothing of it, especially since they’d both produced a bumper crop of fruit.

Until we looked underneath the leaves.

Here be monsters.

Not having seen anything like this before, I had to do a bit of digging – not in the garden this time, but on Google and the like.

Our trees were suffering from Pear Rust. It turns out there’s no publicly-available treatment, and even those used by professionals would have left our pears toxic and inedible. We should have been taking off the first affected leaves to stop the spread, but by the time I’d found there was a problem, that would have left our poor trees denuded in September and without their supply of Chlorophyll – which trees pull back from their leaves before letting them drop so as to avoid the effort of having to manufacture it anew the following spring.

The only thing for it is to rake up the leaves as they fell and burn them – which for us means stashing them in the garage and waiting for the chance for a good bonfire. It’s boring and there are other things I’d rather be doing with my time but in the absence of treatment or a vaccine there doesn’t appear to be an alternative.

I can only hope it works better than our country’s pre-vaccine efforts to stop the spread of a more well-known blight.

Howsham Mill in the summer

You can’t tell it by looking at these pictures, but the day we decided to revisit last October’s walk along the River Derwent, it topped thirty degrees.

The woods, though, remained pleasantly cool. There were even tangy wild redcurrants.

The field at the top was full of beans. More than can be said for me by the time we got there! The borders have been left for meadow flowers.

Further on, wheat harvest was in full swing.

The manor overlooks more fields of wheat.

I don’t recall wheat being a thing in Yorkshire when I first learned about it – you associated it with East Anglia. It only takes very little change in climate though – less than half a degree – to shift things miles further north. Half a degree in half a century.

Howsham Mill’s Archimedean Screw water turbine is still working well. You can hear it as a soft, slow, ‘thud, thud’ from across the river.

On the way back to the Priory, another weir awaits. We speculated about whether you could kayak down it.

Back at the Priory, people were enjoying a swim. We dipped our feet in to cool off.

Pandemic Golf

Yes, this is just a walk the length of our local golf course, deserted – at least, by people playing golf – due to the current lockdown.

Turning away from the links, some of the view is like the opening shots of Secret Army. Will we ever get out of here, and back to normal life?

This has been the first dry day for a week, but the paths are not wet – because they’re frozen.

The patterns of winter trees are the best.

Last walk of 2020

It’s been a long year.

Here it is in close-up:

Sometimes it felt like struggling through tangled branches…

Or going through odd places, seeing things from a different angle:

It seemed to go on and on…

Until the last sunset

In the absence of the promised New Year’s Eve party – cancelled due to tightening restrictions (York got moved to Tier 3) – our walk south of the city was the perfect send-off.

Goodnight, 2020. A weird, cruel and thought-provoking year.

An appreciation of the life of a cherry tree

I probably love trees far too much. And this is what happens.

Back in the spring of 2007 we decided to liven up a rather boring (as in, privet hedge, lawn, nothing else) back garden with some fruit trees. So after a spot of research – what size? What type? Are there local varieties that do well in sunny, frosty Yorkshire..? – we chose two pear trees (Conference and Buerre Hardy) and the cherry tree (Stella). These were joined, two years later, by a plum – a present from my workmates in Leeds when I resigned the job there. Tsar – of course!

Round about that time, the cherry produced its first fruit.

To my shame I have no pictures of it in blossom, so here’s a neighbouring tree I spotted more recently when photographing some consequences of this year’s amazing dry, quiet spring.

Our tree grew rapidly, outpacing our ability to harvest anything from it – the birds always grabbed the lot first. Until this year.

Was this brought on by 2020’s uncanny, clear spring? Or simple maturity? Or, strange to wonder, the tree sensing its days were numbered – because we were beginning to talk about it as a problem?

Harvest (well, a tiny part of it)

This year we picked more than 500 cherries, each magnificent. As every year, I keep the stones (along with the dozens I find on the lawn where the birds have dropped them!), scattering them, throughout the autumn, in any place I think could do with a tree.

Autumn.

At this point we were still just thinking the tree could do with a drastic prune. We’d done this before – about three years ago – but that only made it grow faster! By the time I took this shot, it had grown taller than our garden is wide. The two little pear-trees on their modest rootstock were really struggling.

So. A tree-surgeon came and did the deed.

The red hue of the wood is painful to see. As if I’d murdered someone.

I shall miss our tree. This time of year, I miss the shapes I could see in its branches – and the shadows they made on the kitchen wall when I turned the lights out last thing.

But its giant roots had stalked under the lawn and reached the house, putting up new trees along their lines as they did so.

Our cherry tree was a victim of its own success.

It hasn’t gone – its roots are still alive. The new trees that grow from them, I know from having severed roots before, won’t die as a result of being cut off from their giant Source.

We shall dig them up, and plant them elsewhere.

A walk to a mill

There’s been a mill on the site of Howsham Mill since before the Norman Conquest (and subsequent massacre of all things Northern) – it’s mentioned in the Domesday Book.

It’s taken me this long to get round to seeing it. We took a walk there, from Kirkham Priory. This is all that remains of the priory now. The grounds are peaceful, well-tended, and have picnic tables.

From there we headed up into the woods.

The keen-eyed among you might spot a rather cheekily-shaped mushroom at the foot of a tree to the right of the path. More mushrooms were growing on a tree nearby – not edible, as far as I know:

Leaving the wood took us out onto farmers’ land, then a quiet road. A tree had dropped hundreds of tiny apples onto the verge and the tarmac. Many of them have now found their way to places where they stand a better chance of growing. Not into trees with sweet, edible apples to be sure, but at least into trees. This country needs all the trees it can get, and this is just the time of year for-

Pears??


I have never seen a pear-tree, at a random roadside, drop perfectly edible pears (we tested a few) onto the road like this. Pity to waste them…

We crossed a proper staffed level-crossing. Inside the office, we noticed, the windowsills were stacked with books. Perfect job for someone!

And so to the River Derwent:

And on to the Mill.

The present Gothic pile was built in 1755 as part of the Howsham Estate – apparently the gentlemen of the house wanted a bit of a conversation piece, visible from their stately home, as well as a useful source of income.

But bit by bit, over the next 200 years, grinding first flour, and then animal feed, became less and less profitable. The last miller left in 1947 and the building fell into such bad disrepair that some bright spark in the 1960s (of course) put in an application to demolish what was left of it.

Luckily, conservationists intervened.

In the early 2000s local enthusiasts formed the Renewable Heritage Trust with the aim of getting it rebuilt and running, both as a source of electricity and a venue for educational outreach and the like.

Our writers’ group had even booked a day there, but sadly it got Covid-ed.

The Mill now has two sources of renewable electricity: a classic mill-wheel that generates about 10 kW (about enough energy to fire the boiler to heat a small house), and an Archimedean Screw (a spiral rod that the water turns as it passes down a tube – particularly good for venues with a low height difference between the water arriving and leaving, as the Derwent has in this flat landscape) which, when we turned up, was generating about 45 kW.

It also has a picnic table – so we had lunch.

The volunteers who run it all appear to be retired engineers. I worry that, as the national retirement age is raised, life expectancy stops its historic 200-year upward trend, and the supply of rail and other mechanical experts dwindles, we’ll be short of the good types who keep this kind of project on the road, and who are willing and able to start up new ones.

The Third Kingdom

What is it?

It’s an alien growing out of a dead tree-stump. Not animal or plant. I spotted it on New Walk.

New walk has a strange history: it was constructed along the riverside, a mile or so outside town, with no obvious origin or destination. Its purpose was solely to enable grand, Regency types to promenade of a warm evening and show off their finery. So it was basically a glorified catwalk (or runway, if you’re from the USA.)

It was planted with stately horse-chestnut trees of which this, in the picture, was once one. Most of the rest are still thriving, and the path has since been extended all the way to Skeldergate Bridge to the north and beyond our allotments to the south. So it’s basically my walk into town – which is why bits of it feature on this blog so often.

This time of year and the next month or so are the best for spotting fungi of both the edible and inedible sort. Telling the former from the latter is a black art mostly lost to us Brits. But some of us are married to Central or Eastern Europeans, so we get to cheat a bit. We get our other half coming home from ‘a quick bike-ride’ with things like this little lot:

(The egg-box is for scale)

Peeled and stewed, Boletus Mushrooms are great with gently-fried onions and mashed spuds. They have, ounce-for-ounce, a protein content that’s not far shy of the best steak.

And our Unidentified Fungal Objects at the top of this post? Apparently they’re Dryad’s Saddle – at least, according to the first answer to my query to The Facebook Hive-Mind. And they’re edible, but not once they get as huge and tough as the one in the picture…

Unless, of course, you know different.

For forty days…

Saint Swithin’s Day, if thou dost rain

For forty days it shall remain.

Saint Swithin’s day, if thou be fair

For forty days ’twill rain nae mair.

trad

A quick count finds that we’ve now come to the end of those forty days. How did St Swithin’s prediction do? Well, on 15th July it rained for some of the day – and for the last forty days it has, indeed, rained on some of the days! A prediction like that can’t go wrong, really, can it?

But to the point.

Rain on St Swithin’s day is supposed to ‘christen the apples’ – though my bet is this particular piece of lore pre-dates Christianity by quite some time.

They don’t seem to have done too badly.

Neither do these:

Our pears don’t seem to want to be out-done, either. This is the same pear-tree which, all those years ago during ‘The Year-Long Lunch Break’ – my first ever blog – was the beneficiary of ‘the Sporting Chance School of Gardening‘, also known as my tendency not to bother digging up a plant and chucking it on the off-chance that it might come good. That was over ten years ago. This is now:

The tomato plants, from Lockdown times, are giving us our first toms ever. I think the secret is to have them near enough to the back door that you can water them in your slippers, and pick them as soon as they are ripe!

Finally here are some pretty calendulas. Just because.