Wednesday, 21 December 2011



Last week I ran over some landscape design ideas for improving the garden space around the house of the Courier “Money Can’t Buy” competition winners, Fiona and Scott Merrilees. However the house sits on a large field of nearly an acre so there is a fair bit of land available for some outdoor hobby, activity or enterprise.
I will offer my thoughts on how I would utilise the spare land, but understand there are very many other worthwhile ventures worth consideration. Half an acre is probably too small to consider a fully commercial agricultural or horticultural enterprise, but it is big enough to offer a valuable return on capital invested as a part time or start up venture.
Many businesses start off quite small but plough profits back into the business to grow bigger.
Thirty years ago I would be starting my own nursery, garden centre or strawberry farm as I had youthful energy, some knowledge and loads of ambition. Today I am now into Saskatoon fruit and heritage apples as well as enjoying a bit of forestry, so I will look a bit closer at these three options.

A small woodland

A half acre of land could take about 400 to 500 young trees and provide shelter, improve the landscape amenity and once they mature could provide a nice profit at harvest for the owner or their family. There is a huge demand for timber in the UK so the Government encourages land owners to plant trees whenever they can. A whole range of grants is available depending on location, local woodland policy, proximity to population, size of land available and type of woodland proposed.
A higher level of grant is given where there is more broadleaved trees planted rather than just conifers as they are more expensive to buy and need more room to grow.
Commercially, pines, spruce and larch are very popular, but many other attractive conifers exist where appearance is just as important as producing commercial timber stands. Similarly there is a wide range of very attractive broadleaf trees to choose from including the common beech, oaks, lime, horse chestnut, and maple, but give thought to adding in some sweet chestnut and walnut.
Mixed woodland is very attractive and native species help to blend into local landscapes.
Often the edges of woodland blocks are planted with a diverse range of smaller trees to add interest.
These can include birch, field maple, rowan, alder, bird cherry, sloes and elderberry.
The land is usually ploughed into raised furrows and the trees planted into the top or side of these to assist surface drainage. Weed control is practised in the early years to get the trees established and any losses are replaced after one year.
This is a commercial undertaking so advice, plants and chemicals are available in the trade.

Local apple orchard

This field is a perfect size to establish a small apple orchard to produce apples in season for local shops and farmers markets. As commercial practises will be kept to a minimum it is not necessary to worry about the needs of a fruit that does not bruise easily and has a long shelf life as the skin is usually quite tough. These popular commercial fruit varieties are usually devoid of flavour.
In the past when fruit was grown for local markets and hand picking and packing were normal the flavour of fruit was very important. These varieties are still around and with a wee bit of research, trees from the past, our heritage varieties, can still be grown so we can give our kids an apple they will enjoy and come back to look for more.
This venture will preserve apple varieties in danger of being lost so could well qualify for grant to buy and establish a heritage orchard.
Land is usually weed controlled then ploughed and harrowed then marked out for planting. Apple trees are usually one year old feathered whips planted about two metres apart in rows spaced at four to five metres apart and each tree will have its own six foot tall stake. The crop is grown as a spindle bush hedgerow so picking is always done from the ground.
Heritage varieties worthy of inclusion include Lass of Gowrie, Park Farm Pippin, Oslin, Lord Roseberry and Coul Blush. Other varieties known to do well in our area include Discovery, Red Devil, Red Falstaff and Fiesta.

A Saskatoon farm

At present saskatoons are not grown commercially in the UK, so the first fruit plantations may well qualify for an innovation grant. They grow very successfully in UK and the black berries will go down very well with anyone who likes blueberries which they look like in size and appearance, but are a little sweeter. They crop before the blueberries so will not compete with that fruit. In Canada where the saskatoon is grown extensively the demand far outstrips the supply so growers are propagating them and planting up new fields as fast as they can. They can be sold locally or transported easily to stores anywhere. The fruit is eaten fresh or used as jam, juice, in yoghurts, pies and wines and liqueurs. When this fruit crop takes off, the demand for it will be massive.
The bushes are very easy to grow and require hardly any pruning. They will start to crop in their third to fourth year and continue for the next fifty years.
Prepare the land as for apples then plant one or two year old bushes about a metre apart in rows spaced about three metres apart. This will allow for hand picking, though they do machine pick very well. A wealth of information on growing saskatoons can be found on Google at Prairie Elements.


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