The idea of creating an orchard from scratch is interesting, but the more I learn the less practical an option it seems to be. Last Monday I cycled down to Timperley to meet up with Mary Eastwood, who has been growing fruit trees for decades. Mary keeps rootstock plans on her allotment and propagates trees using this home grown rootstock. She kindly volunteered to show me how to graft. We spent a morning in her living room (as there were 50 mile an hour winds outside) with me practising the art of grafting on various twigs from the Beech Drive community orchard.
So why doesn't it seem practical to create an orchard from scratch? Well, the main issue is relying on amateur grafted trees as the basis for an orchard... it takes two years to reach the point where a grafted tree is ready to be planted out (as a maiden) and then opinions differ about how long you should leave a tree to develop before allowing it to fruit (some say up to seven years!). What a waste of time and effort if part way through this process the tree dies, or the graft fails? You have to start again.
The other key issue is space. Once grafted, to stand the best chance each tree needs to be planted in the open (i.e. not in a pot) with between 2-3 feet between trees so that they can grow on. On a small allotment this is a good deal of space to give up! The orchard site itself is not yet ready to be used - a thorough digging over would be needed to get an area ready to plant the grafted trees, and the grafting needs to happen now.
So ... my thinking now is that we need to buy some trees to plant between Nov-January 2009/2010 and also graft some of our own as well. These can be added to the orchard if they are healthy, or we can offer them for sale to raise funds for the allotment society - if we have enough to do this. It may not be possible to squeeze in any grafting this year, but we will certainly do some next year. Better get busy writing a funding bid ...