The planting of the orchard, planned for the coming winter, all being well, had a headstart today with the addition of two new trees at the far end of the plot: a walnut and a chestnut. It is not the ideal time for planting, but these trees were bought during the winter and heeled in in one of the vegetable borders. They should have been planted out several months ago and had to be moved now because the recently planted winter squash plants will soon taken over that bed.
George Orwell once wrote of planting a walnut tree:
A thing which I regret, and which I will try to remedy some time, is that I have never in my life planted a walnut. Nobody does plant them nowadays – when you see a walnut it is almost invariably an old tree. If you plant a walnut you are planting it for your grandchildren, and who cares a damn for his grandchildren?
Whilst walnuts certainly are a slow growing and long lived trees, there are, however, a number of cultivars of the English walnut, Juglans regia, that can bear nuts very quickly. I selected Broadview, as it is so often listed as the most suited to the UK climate, can bear as early as the third year, has good frost tolerance, and produces a medium to heavy crop of good quality nuts, and is said to be reasonably self fertile. It is also slow growing and, for a walnut, can supposedly be maintained at a sensible size with judicious pruning.
There are a range of sweet chestnut varieties that appear suitable and it is rather difficult to choose amongst them. I opted for the old French variety Marron de Lyon. Exactly how old this variety might be I am not sure, but have found various references to it from the late 1700s. It is said to be reasonably self fertile, productive and yielding good quality nuts. These are large, there being only one or two per husk, and supposedly readily removed from the pellicle, the papery skin beneath the shell that is often tricky to remove.
As the site where they were planted has not been cultivated and the soil is very compact, a large planting hole was excavated for each tree, more so than would be needed in better soil conditions. After removing soil to a depth of at least two spits, the bottom of each hole was forked thoroughly to loosen the soil. Several buckets full of horse manure were added and mixed with some of the excavated soil, along with a couple of handfuls of fish, blood and bone. I would ordinarily just add bonemeal when planting new trees, but had run out.
Each tree was positioned carefully, making sure that the soil mark was level with the top of the hole. Care was taken with the walnut not to damage the tap root. The chestnut has more of a fibrous root system. Laying something across the hole helps to get the level right. After determining the position, robust tree stakes were driven in with a sledgehammer. Trees do not need to be secured too high up, as the purpose of the stake is to prevent root disturbance rather than stop the entire tree from swaying in the wind. Indeed, this swaying of the trunk will strengthen it.
The trees were placed in position, and the holes filled in. The walnut had originally arrived in a pot and was therefore firmed in as it was. The chestnut was a bareroot specimen, so some care was taken not to damage the new feeder roots that had developed, and also to ensure that it was not forced deeper into the soil by too heavy firming. Thus, it was only lightly firmed in place but watered in thoroughly to make sure the soil was nicely settled around the roots. The trees were secured to the stakes with proper tree buckles. These have a certain amount of give, but it will be necessary to keep an eye on them and loosen as the trunk expands. A further dressing of manure was spread around each tree, making sure to keep clear of the trunk. The few shoots growing from low down on the tunk were removed. Finally, a spiral guard was added to help prevent rabbits from damaging the bark.
The only concern now is whether deer manage to find their way into the orchard area and damage the young branches. The grass should be kept clear of the planting site, at least until the trees are established, and watering will be needed during any particularly dry spells. The organic matter added to the planting holes will help hold moisture. No further pruning will be needed until winter.