Grafting skills

Grafting is an ancient technique for propagating apple varieties. If you plant an apple pip of one variety, say a Histon Favourite, that pip will not grow up into a Histon Favourite apple tree. It will be a unique tree, maybe better, maybe worse. So if you want to get another Histon Favourite tree, you have to take some wood from the tree and somehow attach it to a rootstock. The rootstock helps to control the height and vigour of the tree. This process of ‘sticking’ the variety wood (the scion) to the rootstock is called grafting.
Last week staff from Cambridge city council and a couple of orchard volunteers came along to learn about grafting fruit trees and practice their grafting techniques. It’s great to keep these skills alive. We also noticed the bees were very active, making natural honeycomb in the observation hive.

Blossom Day Sunday 30 April 2023

We will be holding a Blossom Day celebration in the orchard on Sunday 30 April 2023, between 2pm and 4pm. As well as an opportunity to enjoy the blossom, there will be guided tours around the orchard, introducing visitors to the swift tower, the beehive and the stool bed where we are propagating rootstocks. Bring a picnic and enjoy the orchard with us.

Orchard Blossom Day was an event launched a couple of years ago by the UK Orchard Network, but of course fruit tree blossom has been celebrated for centuries, and by some very famous artists including those shown below – Millais, Van Gogh and David Hockney. Why not take some photos or bring your sketchbook (digital or paper) and make the most of this fleeting beauty? We would love to share your images of the orchard here.

Apple Blossoms or Spring. 1858-59. Sir John Everett Millais Bt PRA (1829-96). Oil on canvas. Courtesy of the Lady Lever Art Gallery, Port Sunlight, Wirral
David Hockney, from the exhibtion The Arrival of Spring, Normandy 2020, Royal Academy 2021.
Vincent Van Gogh, The White Orchard, Arles, 1888 Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam (Vincent van Gogh Foundation)

Swifts and Squirrels

We’ve had a swift tower in the orchard for over ten years now, and we’ve had resident swifts for the last few years, enticed by recorded swift calls coming from the tower. However, we have noticed that some pesky squirrels have been gnawing at the entrance holes in the swift box. The squirrels might want to move in, or even predate any eggs and chicks they find. So, with further help from the Swift Conservation charity, we have squirrel-proofed the swift tower.

A group of orchard and swift conservation volunteers wrestled with scaffold towers ,scaffold boards and rope and managed to remove the damaged front and sides of the swift box. They emptied ten years worth of nesting material and replaced the front and sides with a slightly different profile – this includes some metal reinforcements to deter squirrels from chewing the nest box entrance holes. At the same time they have moved the lower bat box on the tower to above the other bat box, in the hope that this will also make access to the nesting area harder for the squirrels. Fingers crossed that our resident swifts like their improved home when they return.

Wassail 15 January 2023 2pm.

Wassailing is a celebration of our orchard and its trees. It’s a way of thanking them with libations of apple juice, and of scaring away any bad influences with music and dancing. We also ‘toast’ the trees by hanging toast, dipped in apple juice, from the branches. Centuries ago the wassailing included firing shotguns and lighting bonfires, but we are not going to do either of those things, so we are relying on you to make the noise and bring some torchlight.

Come along to the orchard at 2pm on SUNDAY 15 JANUARY 2023 to help us wassail our trees. This is a free event, but we rely on donations to keep the orchard functioning. Dress for the weather; it can be a little muddy underfoot. Children are very welcome, but remember there are no facilities, such as toilets, on the site. And finally please park considerately in this residential area.

We look forward to wishing you a hearty ‘Was Hael!’

Group effort


Many thanks to the magnificent team of Astra Zeneca employees who came down to the orchard and donated their own time and effort last week. They worked really hard, and the orchard looks amazing as a result. They weeded and mulched the circles around the trees, repaired the herb garden and waged war on the brambles. Astra Zeneca also donated some funds for the mulch and some other supplies, and we are very grateful for this help.

Bugs and Swifts at Trumpington Community Orchard

Bugs and Swifts for the Heritage Open Days Sunday 18 September 2022 14:00 – 16:00

Take a tour around our small plant-filled oasis designed to enhance the community and promote biodiversity and educate people about fruit production, wildflower meadows and conservation.

Innovation is not just technology, but the integration of sustainable food production with biodiversity and conservation is an innovative approach to a new way of living to minimize consumerism and maximize a positive environmental impact.

The visit will highlight how the community orchard and wildflower meadow contribute to biodiversity, illustrated by the bugs found. In addition the swift tower and observational beehive illustrate the possible contribution to conservation as both swifts and bees have been in decline (sadly this year swifts have been added to the red list, emphasizing the urgent need for action).

Trumpington Community Orchard illustrates how nature needs to be the central consideration in all INNOVATIVE community planning.

Juvenile swifts

No booking required, just turn up. Please park considerately in this residential area. The event is free but we rely on donations to keep the orchard going.

Making some bee time

You may have seen the wooden box on legs tucked into the orchard, and wondered what it was. A weather station, maybe? (No.) An illicit cider still? (Definitely not!) A bug house? (We have those elsewhere, good guess, but no.) It is in fact an observation hive for bees. It can be opened to reveal a glass front and back, not so the bees can see out, but so that we can see in. Recently our local expert beekeeper, Dave, noticed that some bees had built a honeycomb inside, and sent some pictures. Dave explained:

‘The pictures show the natural comb the bees have built between the two panes of glass. The bees have built the comb around two dowl rods inside to give it more strength, because if it is very hot weather and there is a lot of honey in the comb it can come detached without an anchoring point. By the time these pictures were taken (9th May), the bees had built so much comb around them that the dowels no longer show. This kind of hive does not allow a bee keeper to take any honey from the bees. Instead, if the colony ever dies out, wooden batons holding the glass in place will need to be removed to allow the hive to be cleared out ready for a fresh swarm to be introduced.’

You can ask to see the hive in action – just drop us an email or a message. It is often open if Dave or another volunteer is working in the orchard so look out for the notices on our board. We hope the bees have a great summer.

Here you can see the bees over the surface of their honeycomb.
If you look on the left hand side you can see the ‘capped’ cells which are full of honey or ‘brood’ (baby bees)

Wassail 2022 – small but beautiful

We took the hard decision not to hold a wassail (a traditional ceremony to honour the apple trees) this year. I know other orchards held large and enthusiastic wassails, but our space is small and we have to think about the potential risks.

But never fear, our Maintenance Session volunteers saw to it that the trees received their usual blessing of a libation of apple juice poured at their roots, and pieces of toast hung in the branches. When we started this orchard over a decade ago, our first wassail was three of the founders (including me) singing some kind of song and banging a saucepan, and a few neighbours came out to see what the racket was. Since then the wassail grew into a really sizeable and popular event, and we have had everything from lantern processions to a wheelbarrow orchestra to folk dressed as Green Men and Women, and as penguins. In the last few years wassailing has been re-discovered, re-invented and revived across the country (I think we were way ahead of the trend.) Wassailing is certainly a tradition of this orchard, and it will carry on, in some way or another, every year.

Bug hunting and bees

Our Open Cambridge event on Saturday 11 September was a great success. Susanna, who is one of our founder members, said, ‘Saturday went really well with sunshine and lots of happy families joining us at the orchard for the bug hunt and plant potting. Tristan did a stoic job leading the bug hunt and showing people how to use a key to help identify the ” beasties”. There were magnificent spiders , grass hoppers and a couple of fat crickets and every one had a fantastic time. Rosa was in charge of greeting our guests and selling apple juice as well as collecting donations. I led the potting up session with a selection of strawberries, sage and rosemary that I’d set up a few weeks ago from runners or cuttings from my allotment. Everyone took at least one plant home with instructions of how to care for them. One enterprising child found a rosemary beetle and then potted up some rosemary to take home so that she could keep the beetle as a pet ( with parental consent of course!) Chris has been busy again making a shelter at the entrance to the orchard (prompted by us getting soaked on Friday evening when we went down to set up the notice board). He has also painted the sign on the gate and re-varnished the wood so our kissing gate looks beautiful. Dave has not had a chance to put bees into the observation hive this year but a colony has moved in anyway.’

Our new shelter – thanks Chris!
Bees doing their own thing, as they usually do, in the observation hive.

We’re going on a bug hunt

On Saturday 11th September 2021 from 2 – 4pm in the orchard, we will be searching for as many bugs and minibeasts as we can find. All creatures, once examined and recorded, will be carefully returned to where we found them.

Come along and see what you can find. No experience necessary, and no knowledge of bugs required.

Last time we did this, we found a lot of bugs!

This event is part of Open Cambridge It is a free event, but donations to keep our orchard going are much appreciated.