Tuesday, 3 March 2009

Watching the Grass Grow

Despite the best efforts of the Rockingham Forest Cider Hens, there are definite signs of early Spring growth in the garden. The grass is starting to green up a little, and many of the shrubs and trees are in the very early stages of bud break.

Some of the cider apple trees are more advanced than others, though thankfully nothing tender has actually emerged yet. Temperatures are dropping once again, and a dusting of snow is likely over the next day or two. One sign that our trees are starting to emerge from their Winter hibernation is that the branches are now much more flexible than when I pruned them in January. This shows that sap is on the rise, a good thing as I'll need to tie down quite a few branches this year. Much of last year's growth was a little too upright and these branches will now need tying down to a more horizontal angle if we hope to bring them into early fruiting.

My afternoon preamble around the orchard has provided more evidence that the local rabbit population is out of control. More damage, this time to our neighbour's mature Bramley, and to another tree which has been almost completely stripped of bark by the hopping pests. I'm seriously thinking of guarding my own Bramley, the one I thought was too tough a proposition for rabbity teeth...

Natural predators are plentiful enough in the valley. A Fox has been spotted hereabouts, presumably giving our hens the once-over! A Sparrowhawk is also a regular visitor to the orchard, but it would seem that life is too easy for these carnivores to make any serious impact on the rabbit population. The time has come for a more 'man-made' solution. As I write, traps are being baited with a handful of tasty carrots, and a handful of feisty Ferrets are being readied for the pursuit.

The dispatch of a healthy animal just to protect our own garden is of course not to be undertaken lightly, but unfortunately rabbits and orchards (and pretty-much all of the garden) make for a very poor mix. Rabbits & Cider on the other hand, well they make for a very tasty mix, and we aim to put any reduction in the rabbit population to very good use in the kitchen.

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