Looking after fruit trees is one thing, but thought also needs to be given to the space between them. Should you just let the grass and weeds grow, apply weedkiller, mow regularly, or what? After trying a few things, we have settled on an approach which encourages wildflowers and discourages grass, while striking a balance between having a jungle which encourages pests and diseases vs. spending a lot of time keeping things neat and tidy.
To start with, all of the trees have woven plastic mulch mats around them. This reduces weeds in the immediate vicinity of the trees (particularly important when they are young). Eventually they get worn and invaded by grass and buttercups, but this is manageable. The aisles may receive an early cut if the spring is warm, but usually we just cut some paths for access. This allows the flowers (particularly yellow rattle, which is semi-parasitic on grass and stops it getting too long and thick) to bloom and set seed before the main cut in August. This cut is done using Austrian scythes. An Austrian scythe is a wonderful tool for cutting long grass efficiently and quietly. Unlike a strimmer, it leaves the grass in long pieces to be easily gathered with a hayrake – the grass is raked into the space between the trees to return some nutrient and reduce weeds in that area. Hopefully a few people turn up to help scythe or learn how to do it (quite easy really). The picture shows members of the North Cumbria Orchard Group practising their scything skills.
After the grass and flower seed heads have been scythed, the grass is kept mown until all the apples have been picked. The final action of the year is to gather up the fallen leaves to help prevent the spread of scab.