Monday, 19 April 2010

Mulching About

I've been meaning to mulch our orchard trees for the last couple of years. Mulching young trees has much to commend it, particularly if the ground is sandy and free draining, as it is for a couple of our trees. At the very least a decent layer of mulch will help to retain moisture around the roots during dry spells (like the one we're having now), and this is particularly important with newly planted fruit trees. If the mulching material is high in nutrients then all the better. Some people apply rotted farmyard manure, we've been composting our Chicken Manure for this purpose.

So, we've got recently planted trees, a ready supply of excellent quality composted manure, and a serviceable wheelbarrow and garden fork. Why then have we yet to mulch or trees? Well there's a bit of a problem, a hen-shaped problem...

Our hens have always had the free-range of the garden. They free-range in Karen's flowery borders, they free-range in the vegetable patch, given the chance they'll happily free-range into the kitchen (otherwise known as 'the source of all treats'). The trouble is, everywhere the hens range, they leave a trail of scratched-up destruction in their wake. The weed-free patch of soil around each apple tree is a particular favourite for scratching around and dust bathing, to the point where several trees have had their roots exposed in a most unseemly manner. Spreading a good layer of worm-rich mulch around the base of each tree would simply encourage the hens to spend even more time scratching up the roots. A kind of 'Garden Thali' for the hens, and a real waste of time and effort for us.

So I've been thinking long and hard on an elegant, yet affordable solution to the hen/mulch problem, without much success it has to be said. A low ring of chicken wire around each tree would look reasonable, and certainly do the job, but to do all 20 trees would need quite a bit of wire, which isn't cheap.

A scratch-resistant covering is perhaps the cheapest but least elegant option. The hens are tenacious scratchers though, and would make short work of all but the thickest covering, so a weighting down solution is also required. Old bricks won't weather well, large pebbles would look nice but are also expensive, so in the spirit of making the orchard look even more like a building site, I've opted for block paving brick-ettes. These are relatively inexpensive, will stand up well to a bit of frost, and I should be able to re-use them at some point in the future when the trees are sufficiently mature to allow the grass to grow up to the trunks.

The picture on the right shows an experimental covering of mulch and membrane, which seems to be holding up well to beak and claw. At last, orchard mulching is Go!

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