Orchards are great places for nature to thrive. From surrounding hedges and nesting birds, to wild flowers and the pollinating bees and other insects, and the trees themselves – well maintained orchards are an essential part of the UK’s biodiversity.
The ranger team at Killerton are responsible for the management of several orchards, including Dog Village and Clyston Mill in Broadclyst. These particular orchards present a challenge in that they are not suitable for grazing with sheep like most of the other estate orchards, meaning that the grass has to be cut, raked and cleared by the ranger team. Clearing the grass away means that the nutrients from the crop will not re-enter the soil, and this nutrient deficient soil is an essential factor in creating a thriving crop of wildflowers in the orchards.
The grass cutting is completed in late July and August when the summer provides the dry period needed to get a good cut and to make grass easy to rake up and collect – exactly the same principle as farmers use when making hay. Making hay bales is not an option because the orchards are open to public use, increasing the risk of contaminants in the grass that could be harmful (e.g dog mess, which can cause neospora if eaten by livestock). Instead, the grass from our orchards is currently deposited at a suitable site and composted down, which in turn creates a heap that can be good breeding sites for snakes, rodents and insects.
Killerton’s apple trees are pruned each year in the winter to improve the health of the tree and increase the chances of a good apple yield. Every year, the apples are collected in late September and October ready for the cider pressing week, which usually takes place in the second week of October. This finishes with the apple festival weekend, an event held in Sparrow Orchard opposite Killerton House, where you can buy our cider and press your own juice at the pressing tent.