Late winter bonfire
June and I throw offerings of twigs, branches, vines and small bushes onto the fire; we watch and listen as they go up in smoke, flame and a hiss of water vapour. After dark, there’s a sense of relief, of a burden lifted, as we gaze at the glowing embers and grey ash.
However, we also know that it won’t take long to gather enough woody material for another fire. You only need to walk the length of the gully to see the need for a big burn of the willow, pine and plum branches strewn about.
But for now, the big, dark smudge amidst the green grass suffices as a reminder of winter tasks completed. Cold, grey ash a gauge to how well prepared we feel as we brace ourselves for spring’s reckoning.
June has pruned the berry bushes: gooseberry, blackcurrant, grape and raspberry. But you seldom need to take more than the odd dead branch out of the blueberries – that can wait a while, or be left till next winter.
The Cox’s Orange Pippin, a vigorous tree, wasn’t touched last winter and so a month ago I removed a profuse chaos of sky pointing vegetative growth. I also took out three high up branches, all about five centimetres at their base; now more light gets to the lower branches.
I train the fruit trees to form a vase shape that opens up the middle of the tree to light and air movement: usually three, occasionally four lead branches coming out of a main trunk. The shape is easy on the eye and allows the trees to spread in a way that looks right to me.
Fruit trees, when you have an expansive garden area, need to be substantial. We do have a Packham pear growing on dwarfing rootstock. And that’s okay because it’s growing in a confined section of the garden.
The other apple varieties and the stone fruit were pruned thoroughly last winter. I would have preferred to give them all considerable attention with pruning shears and saw again this winter, but I chose to do other things about the place instead.
Straggly twigs encroaching on paths, driveway, the centre of the tree, or going sky high, will be summarily dealt too. As will broken twigs and branches. There’s a sense of urgency about all this: buds are starting to move.
Also urgent had been the pulling out of gorse seedlings and young bushes: a legacy of the gorse hedge that had once formed the roadside fence. Some of the bigger bushes were ablaze with yellow flowers but had not yet formed seed pods. You don’t want them to seed – the seed stays viable for decades!
We chopped, dug and pulled the gorse out. We wore leather gloves to remove them and leather gloves to toss them on the bonfire: their thorns, like thick sewing needles, taper viciously to sharp points!
June feeds poplar poles, with their side twigs, to the goats, and what they leave, we burn. We had five generous armfuls to throw on the fire this time. At present she’s feeding six goats – when you give them the twiggy forage twice a day it doesn’t take long to accumulate an armful of poles, by then most of the bark has been chewed off. Protect your trees – goats are browsers!
Our late winter tempering of nature’s exuberance rendered glowing embers dying for food to be cooked in them. So June made bread dough to go in the camp oven, and we thawed out frozen sausages and wrapped potatoes in tin foil. We felt we had good cause for a wee celebration.
Next Monday, I’ll tell you about our feast. Till then, thanks for your company. Bye for now.