Orchard revisited – more pH testing

Toad in orchard area

I had second thoughts about just re mulching the orchard area.  I knew there was couch grass in there, so I thought it made sense to try and dig that out a bit before re mulching.  I have therefore been gently forking over the area that had been mulched and removing any couch, buttercups etc.  I have made a compost area at the top corner which the buttercups and other less noxious weeds can go, and the couch and the odd persistent dock root is bucketed and removed to my foul weeds pile where they can live happily together.  The soil does seem quite light.  I’m trying not to turn it over, just lift and separate out the weeds so as not to destroy the structure too much.  There already seem to be mycelium in the soil which should help to distribute nutrients to the orchard plants from the alder and other nutrient rich areas of soil.

orchard clearing
forking over the orchard

I’ve been mulling over what I want to plant and how to manage it, although the plan is still very fluid.  I know I want more fruit bushes and some good ground cover plants.  I don’t want it to be too much like a garden, since it is only once removed from a grassy field, so more conventional fruits and discrete herbaceous plants or natives will be preferred.  I have a few black currant bushes on the other side of the orchard that I can transplant, and I’ll take some more cuttings whilst I’m at it.  I may try and stick in some gooseberry cuttings as well – they make a good cordial.  The good king henry has done really well in the tea garden and has taken well as seedling transplants elsewhere.  I’m pretty sure there is still quite a few self seeded plants up in the tea garden, so although I probably won’t use much of it I’ll see if I can transplant some down.  I also have a rather tall fennel plant in the dog resistant garden that would benefit from being divided soon.  I think it would be slightly less tall if in a sunnier spot and that will be a good insect attractant plant.  I did want to put my asparagus plants down there, but I’m not sure I’m brave enough if the couch is still coming back….

S. has moved more rotten rock down to improve the gradient down the steep bit of the trackway (pity I’ve just about finished moving the soil down now!) and this has brought the trackway level up more like that of the orchard soil.  Since the couch grass seems to be in the trackway, I have devised a strategy for the orchard on this side – I will keep a two foot band adjacent to the trackway clear of shrubby perennials and leave it for annuals and root crops.  This way I will have a chance to dig out the couch grass as it comes through again as a natural part of harvesting the root crops each year.  We quite like salsify, but I seldom get round to harvesting it, so that is one possibility.  I could also try Yacon down there – I think it will be a bit more sheltered than the tea garden.  Oca and Mashua are other replant perennials that I may have more of next year.

On the other side of the triangle that makes up the north part of the orchard I have a grass path alongside the burn.  Again this has a bit of couch grass in it.  I’m going to try mulching that out rather than leaving it as grass.  I’ve got on pretty well with the newspaper paths I have made, although I think my supply of sawdust may be running short.  I know I put loads in the fruit garden just to have somewhere to put it a couple of years ago, so I may go and mine some back out!  Hopefully I can pull the couch out from the newspaper if necessary!  At the bottom of the orchard I stuck a load of comfrey roots. Hopefully they will out compete any couch that is liable to come in from that direction.  I still have all the lower part of the orchard to clear as well – that has been growing silverweed (amongst other things!)

blueberry plot
View to holding from opposite hill (taken Sept 2017)

I’m wondering a little whether I worry too much about couch grass.  What would happen if I just left it be?  How competive is it as a weed?  I have a patch of ground further down in the tree field that I am eyeing up as a potential blueberry patch.  It is nice and sheltered by some well grown alder just below the hump towards the south side of the field.  I left it clear of trees deliberately when we planted them since it seemed a little damp (well grown clumps of rushes) so I thought it might suit blueberries who like it wetter in the summer.  I haven’t had much luck with my blueberries in the fruit garden – I think I need a more vigorous variety (I got distracted online the other day choosing some for my fantasy blueberry patch).  Anyway, I took a soil sample from there recently and guess what I found – yes more couchgrass!

pH testing kit
pH indicator chart

I was re-doing a number of pH tests to see how things are now that my earthmoving has nearly finished.  I bought some more barium sulphate and indicator fluid off the internet, but it didn’t come with a colour chart.  The colour chart from my previous test kit is quite difficult to use – the difference between 6.5 and 5.0 is difficult to see so I’ve taken a best guess approach.  All the samples I took from various areas of the garden and tree field, including the polytunnel, were I believe between 5 and 6 except interestingly the tea garden extension which appears to have the highest pH at 6.5.  The polytunnel came out at 5.5 whereas last time it was 7.  I forgot to take a sample from the Habby bed this time.  Anyway 4.5 to 5.5 seems to be the preferred pH range for blueberries and I measured the pH in my proposed spot to be 5.0, so that at least should be fine.

pH test potential blueberry plot
pH test for potential blueberry plot




10 thoughts on “Orchard revisited – more pH testing

  1. wow you have a very large area to work Nancy, the prospective blue berry patch looks a good place, in among the trees they will get some protection from the winds and blueberries are apparently a forest understory plant,
    the native wildflower yellow rattle (Rhinanthus minor) will help with the grass problem and then you might also have native wild flowers seed in, it is how nature works to allow the wildflowers to grow where there are agressive grasses,
    I am so surprised at the light colour of your soil, definately not peaty, it looks the colour of the clay soil where I lived in surrey,
    I too sometimes get distracted online with my fantasy garden, Frances

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, we converted the holding to wood coppice. But it seems silly not to interplant with more edible plants when we are creating so much shelter. The soil does seem to be mineral soil left over from the glaciation and degraded by decades of ploughing and sheep. It is medium brown in colour, it may appear paler in the picture because I added plenty of barium sulphate (white) which helps the soil particles settle out so you can see the colour of the solution.
      I know yellow rattle is parasitic on grass. I haven’t seen any here, at least not recently. Do you think it would help with couch?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I don’t know if yellow rattle would help with couch grass but it is a grass…. I find couch grass reasonably easy to deal with as you can pull out the rhizomes if the soil is loose.
        Not sure any kind of root crop is a good idea in your coppicing area. I’ve been resorting to digging out elder and unfortunately it means disturbing the roots of a nearby apple tree. Great idea to use the space for extra productive plants, though 😊.

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      2. I’m thinking of the roots in the orchard area just along the edges – If I’m digging up roots then I can clear the couch at the same time. I thought of another one as well – skirret. The apple trees are still fairly small, so I should get away with it for a while at least

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      3. in my experience since I finally got yellow rattle to grow it is definately helping with the grasses, all of them, it does not eliminate the grass just weakens the agressive perennial grasses, things I love are that in the areas that yellow rattle has colinised natives like red clover, orchids, selfheal, etc. have moved in and also annual flowering grasses, I have also seen more meadow brown butterflies around too, the reason I had problems with getting it started turned out to be the seed supplier, when I bought seed from a different supplier they germinated first year and have been going each year, I try to spread to other places by spreading the cut grass and flower mix as a mulch over newspaper in other areas, you do need though to cut in late summer early autumn, leave the cut for a few weeks then rake off, I didn’t get that done last year in one area and very little yellow rattle came up this spring, so it is not self supporting it needs a little management, but it is easier and better than weeding and brings in more wildlife, Frances

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      4. just read the other comments, potatoes are good for clearing ground I have done that, on the other hand you could use yellow rattle to create a strip between the track and the trees, I also find if I cover an area with a mulch, even a plastic mulch for afew months a lot of the white couch grass roots come to the surface and are easier to pull off, Frances

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Oh your blueberry patch looks like a good idea, and you have a fair pH there too!
    It will be interesting to see whether the comfrey will buffer the couch roots. Ah we have such a problem with couch among our citrus – it grows thick roots right between the citrus roots. I need to investigate rattle…


    1. My research online indicated that couch and some other perennial grasses aren’t significantly affected by rattle, which is an annual, but every little helps! Low pH is a mixed blessing, but I’ve found a lot of things grow fine that I wasn’t expecting (as well as being able to grow some acid loving plants that would struggle in kinder, drier places). I’ve just discovered that snakes head fritilary likes to grow here. I love that, so I’ve got some on order!


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