Balsall parish Council agreed at its meeting on 13 April 2022 (item 10b) to use the top grass area in Willow Park for a community orchard. The proposal for a community orchard was supported by the Friends of Willow Park (FoWP).
To prepare the site the council agreed to clear part of the area of some trees, brambles and nettles that had encroached on the site. The initial clearance work was undertaken by the Warwickshire Conservation Volunteer, who did a great job opening up this area. To keep it clear the council added the area to its grounds maintenance contract.
For the first phase of the orchard the council applied for fruit trees from the Arden Free Tree schemes and were successful in obtaining a Victoria Plum, Conference Pear and 3 Bramley
Apple trees. In addition, Rosebourne Garden Centre (now Hilliers) donated 2 eating apple trees - Christmas Pippin and Egremont Russet - and a resident donated 3 trees grown from seed - Beck Braeburns.
The planting site was reviewed by representatives from the parish council, FoWP Love Solihull and Park Rangers to agree where the trees would go and the capacity of the site for future planting.
The trees were collected and planted on Friday 10th February. The work was led by the Solihull Park Rangers who provided tools and expertise, supported by Friends of Willow Park volunteers, the parish council chairman and 5 Year 4 pupils and 2 staff from Balsall Common Primary School (parental approval had been obtained for them to join in).
We all learnt how deep to plant the trees, how far apart to plant the trees, use of mycorrhizal fungi to give them a best start encourage secondary root system to support the tree for its lifetime, use of stakes to stabilise the trees, how to attach tree ties, put in pipes to water (particularly important to help them establish in the first year), tree shields to protect them from animals such as rabbits and deer as well as machinery and put on a bark mulch to conserve water and prevent competition from unwanted plants. Orchard trees are more widely spaced than trees in a dense woodland, and so let in more sunlight.
The rangers explained about the value of fruit trees for people and for the environment as food sources - bees feed on nectar and help to pollinate the trees, role in decarbonisation, what wood can be used for generally. Orchard trees support other beneficial insects that help control pests. Traditional orchards are havens for biodiversity. They offer both food and shelter to thousands of species some of which have high conservation priority. The children learnt about the 2 types of apple trees - eating and cooking - some of both have been planted.
We hope that over time our residents will access healthy, organic fruit and our young people learn where their food comes from. There is a real pleasure picking things you love straight from the tree and this compounds over the years, and yes, it is free to pick and eat the fruit in the autumn when it is ripe.
There is room for more fruit trees in the orchard area and so we will be applying for more trees, more varieties from different sources to extend the orchard.