Thursday 6 January 2011

Bramble clearance: starting from scratch

After the relief of finding most crops unaffected, it’s time to get going with this winter’s Big Task: clearing the bramble hedge. This has been on my to-do list since October and while there’s no doubt other jobs were more urgent, there is a strong whiff of procrastination about this.
The boundary on one side of my plot is almost entirely taken up with brambles. This is not necessarily a bad thing: the brambles covered around two-thirds of the plot when I took it on seven years ago and I cleared it back to the edge to provide a useful windbreak – it’s on the west wide of the plot. Equally usefully, it gives me large juicy sweet blackberries every year, although the hedge has now grown and spread so much that it now produces far, far more blackberries than we could ever hope to eat, even when I coerce half the neighbourhood to come and help me pick them. 

This year, the hedge began encroaching on the adjacent vegetable beds. I hadn’t realised quite how unwieldy it had become until I realised that the paths between the beds and the hedge were now completely overgrown which means the hedge was now 2m wide. Room for another bed in there, my plot neighbour observed. Room for my nascent orchard, I thought. My son wants a cherry tree, I want a greengage and we’re running out of space.

The middle section of the hedge is cleared - still needs digging out.

Hence the clearance plan. The hedge is 12m long. So I intend to dig out the middle 4m entirely – slightly perverse, but the middle section has always for some reason had the least juicy blackberries and is also more accessible from the paths on the plot – and plant the new fruit trees there. The cherry tree is on Gisela rootstock, so we’re looking at around 3m high at maturity (so says the RHS here); the greengage will be on Pixy, I think. Then, this year, I will cut the top 4m section right down to the base and put in proper strong stakeposts and wires so that this year’s growth can be properly trained. The bottom 4m can be trimmed to keep it away from the parsnip bed but left to fruit again this year before it gets the back-to-base post ‘n’ wires treatment next winter.
This means this year’s crop will be reduced by two-thirds. I doubt we’ll even notice.

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