Pruning Appletree whilst the weather is clear
Appletee Cottage is surrounded by apple orchards which we started planting in 2014.
We how have over 360 apple trees and now that the weather has improved and the rain has stopped (for a bit) we've started the annual pruning. This can take place any time between November and March whilst the trees are dormant.
There are four orchards to be pruned - one to the west and one to the south - both of which can be seen from the cottage, One to the east of Shandon Farm buildings which can be seen from the road, and one to the south east, This is the largest (and the first planted) which is on a south facing slope, protected by high willow wind breaks.
Pruning can take a few days. The larger the tree the longer the time taken. The purpose of pruning is to remove dead branches and branches which cross and rub. We also prune to try to make the centre of the tree less dense - to let the light in and reach the leaves. Some advocate pruning the trees into a bowl shape. While this lets in lots of light it does not work for all varieties. With some trees, if the branches are too spread they are in danger of snapping off the trunk - leaving a nasty scar which can let in disease.
When pruning it is essential to have the correct equipment. We use regular secateurs for the small branches, ratchet secateurs for the medium sized cuts and loppers or a saw for major limbs. All tools should be sharp so that a a clean cut is made and there are no splits or 'hairs" remaining.
Canker can be a problem with apple trees along with other diseases so we take care to paint all the cuts with Arbrex. This seals and disinfects the cut - provided it is applied soon after the cut has been made.
Between pruning each tree we wipe the cutting equipment with methylated spirits to prevent any disease spreading. Cleaning equipment (and hands) is more stringent if there is any canker on the tree. Fortunately canker is much reduced by painting cuts with Arbrex.
An interesting fact about apple trees is that if you plant a seed from an apple the plant that grows from it will never be the same variety as the tree it has come from. In order to preserve the variety (and we have 46 varieties in our orchards) the tree needs to be grafted.
In past years we have used the scions (the off cuts with a growing tip) to make new trees. Using a scion about the thickness of a pencil we graft it onto bought in rootstock and plant it in our nursery. The grafts usually have about a 70-75% success rate. However, we have been getting about 90% success in the last couple of years. Could it be the Scottish weather?
Ben Ledi from base to summit
When you drive from Drymen to Stirling along the A811 and look to the north there is one mountain which appears to be higher than all the others visible. Often snow capped it can be observed for a large part of the journey. It can also be seen from Stirling, the Forth Road Bridge and Edinburgh Castle. There are higher mountains to the west but this one is prominent due to its position approximately half way across the country on the Highland Boundary Faultline. The hill in question is Ben Ledi.
.The hill is best accessed from the car park at the south end of Loch Lubnaig. The car park is on the west side of the A84 about 1.7 miles (2.75km) north of the small village of Kilmahog and accessed via a single track bridge over the Garbh Uisge otherwise known as the River Leny. You may notice the deep cutting in the rock on the way to the car park. This is part of the former Callander and Oban railway which used to furn up the western side of Loch Lubnaig and was closed between Callander and Crianlarich on 28th September 1965.
Once parked we walked back to the western side of the bridge we had just driven over. From there a path begins to climb up the hill. Steep in parts it threads its way through forest old and new.
The eastern flank of Ben Ledi is owned by the Forestry Commission forms part of the south east extremety of the Queen Elizabeth Forest Park which itself forms part of the spectacular Loch Lomond and Trossachs Park.
Rising to 2884 feet (879m) Ledi is classed as a Corbet. In Scotland mountains over 3000ft are referred to as Munros and hills between 2500ft and 300ft are known as Corbetts. The name Corbett by the way is not a reference to the late diminutive Scottish entertainer and comedian Ronnie Corbett but derives from the original compiler of the list of hills between 2,500ft and 3000ft (762-914m) John Rooke Corbett. Another feature of Corbetts is that they must also have a drop of 500ft on all sides (prominence). Ben Ledi most certainly has this feature.
About half way up to the summit the trees give way to grass and heather. The path is well made but there are a few boggy bits later on.
In 1791 the parish minister James Robertson when compiling details for entry in The First Statistical Account of Scotland apparently mistook the meaning “Hill of God” for the mountain due to the similarity of the French Le Dia. It is also asaid that Ben Ledi gets its name from a corruption of the Gaelic Beinn Leitir meaning Hill of the Slope. Quite apt!
The path has been well attended and many parts have stone steps formed into the hill. Particularly at the steepest parts.
The climb is almost continuously steep with a few gently inclined sections.
After a couple of false summits we finally reached the top, a distance of about 3km from where we started.
At the summit is a cairn, originally built to commemorate Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee in 1887, and a trig point installed by the Ordnance Survey.
There are also some spectacular views.
To the east we could see Stirling Castle, the National Wallace Monument and the river Forth right down to the flames burning at Grangemouth.
To the west we could see Ben Lomond, the Arrochar Alps and the hills inbetween.
After a morning roll and marmalade (a great hillwalking snack) we started to make our descent.
Just down from the summit is a large cross set into the rock and a plaque commemorating Sgt. Harry Lawrie BEM of the Killin Mountain Rescue Team. Sgt. Lawrie lost his life when the blades of the Wessex helicopter in which he was travelling encountered some rocks on Ben More during a mountain rescue operation in 1987. The cross was erected on 1 Febuary 1987 on Ben Ledi where Harry’s and his wife’s ashes lie.
The commemorative cross serves as a reminder to walkers to have the correct equipment and experience when climbing hills and mountains in Scotland.
Our descent down to the carpark was naturally much faster than the ascent – although we had to slow down considerably on some icy rocks and slippy path sections.
We did our walk when there was snow on the ground and although we did it in about 4 hours with a pause at the top it is best to allow six hours in case detours and hazards are encountered. Certainly aim to get down before dark.
There are more details about the walk up Ben Ledi and other hills at the excellent site Walk Highlands: https://www.walkhighlands.co.uk/lochlomond/ben-ledi.shtml
Beautiful surroundings even in the fog
Today we woke up to find a dense fog surrounding Appletree Cottage and the farm. The mist has started clearing now but still provides some great atmospheric settings.
Usually you can see for miles around Appletree Cottage. Guests in the self catering have views from the cottage across to the Kilpatrick Hills, four miles away. Just around the corner from the cottage there are usually clear views of Conic Hill with the peak of Ben Lomond peeking above its horizon. But not today
Appletree Cottage faces south getting most of the sun all day. The sun was just beginning to poke through when we took these photos