Our new chickens have arrived.

They are Light Sussex chickens, and its great having them here. We have four that were kindly funded by our local supporters group, they are a dual purpose meat and egg laying bird that are traditional for the local area. The act of going out and collecting your eggs for breakfast puts you in touch with the local countryside and its management in one of the simplest ways I know, I hope the many volunteers who stay at Speckled Wood and the Basecamp will get to know them well.

We have also sourced some Speckled Sussex Bantam fertile eggs that we will be hatching out in an incubator to add to the flock. Bantams are miniture chickens, about a quarter to a thrid of the size of a normal chicken. The name fits so well with the project we just had to have some. They lay little eggs which taste delicious and make the best cakes. The eggs arrived today, its going to be fun seeing them hatch, really looking forward to it.

Meanwhile up in the orchard our Knobby Russet (yes, that is a real name) apple tree has been looking a bit poorly lately. There was a ram lamb in there last year who was uncastrated, he had a bit more vigour about him than the castrated males I usually raise and he unfortunately set about butting, nibbling and scratching against this particular apple tree with such enthusiasm I fear it will not survive. A trip to the abbatoir and several very tasty home cooked meals dealt with the problem of the errant lamb, but what to do about the tree. Its the wrong time of year for grafting, but it is the right time of year for chip budding…

All fruit trees are grafted onto rootstocks, normaly in the spring you graft a twig onto a rootstock, but for trees that are either very rare or where you need to do something in the summer chip budding is the answer, using this technique you can use just a single bud to grow an entire new tree.

I headed up into the orchard and fetched back a twig from the knobby russet.

Form that I selected one single heathy looking bud and carefully cut it from the twig. You need to use a nice sharp knife to do this with, so you get a good clean cut.

I then took this bud to where we have some rootstock tree’s growing.

We grow these specially for grafting our new apple and pear trees on to. We use old fashioned rootstocks which grow a much larger tree than you would get in a modern orchard, it gives us bigger trees, better for wildlife and much prettier, even if the picking is a bit more awkward!

From the rootstock tree I cut a small sliver to correspond exactly with the bud I had prepared.

Its important to get a really good match, poor contact will mean the new bud will fail.

The bud was then held in place using a bit of cling film. Beeswax or proper grafting tape would be a bit more traditional, but time was pressing.

Early next spring the cling film will be taken off and the top of the rootstock tree above the new bud will be pruned off entirely. The single bud will then sprout and a shoot will emerge which will form a new tree, of exactly the same genetic make up as our original knobby russet. In a year or two from now it will be ready to be planted back out in the orchard.

Over the next few years we will be raising as many of our own trees as possible to boost the stock in our traditional orchards here at Swan Barn Farm. If you are interested in finding out more, or want to get involved with the apple pressing and cider making at harvest time look out for our apple pressing event later in the year.