Having healthy fruit trees is a necessary precursor to maximising their crops. The debris under trees becomes increasingly unhealthy as the year wears on so it is a sad fact of life, in orchards as in the home, that clearing up is a necessary evil…. the fruit trees site does not seek to cause you work, but sometimes it is unavoidable.
In the fruit orchard this is never more true than in late autumn in October and November. When you are not picking apples and we generally have plenty to pick in an orchard of nearly 50 trees (our record for harvesting, storing, juicing, cidering, drying and simply eating is now just over 850 Kgs of apples) you are picking them up. Windfalls make good cider, but they encourage slugs and provide shelter and late season food for a range of pests. So pick them up and use them, compost them, feed them to the chickens or lose them; but don’t leave them on the ground.
The same thing goes for leaves. Rake them up and burn them or take them to the dump. For the sake of your orchard and garden please DO NOT PUT THEM ON THE COMPOST HEAP. Fruit tree leaves almost invariably carry some disease or another by the end of the season – they have a wide range of scabs, rusts and blights to choose from and the only safe place for a diseased leaf is on the fire (or down at the council dump). Any organic grower will tell you that you can eradicate a number of fungal infections just by being scrupulous about getting rid of fruit tree leaves – most notably scab part of the lifecycle of which involves the migration from tree to ground (where it overwinters on organic detritus) before rising up into the tree the following spring to reinfect its foliage.
And ditto for prunings. They smell sweet when burned and you can spread the bonfire ash on the ground around your trees as it is rich in potash or just put it in the compost.
And finally, clear grass and weeds away from the trunks of the fruit trees in your orchard. Leave a circle of bare earth around the base of each tree ideally 1 metre in diameter. There are several benefits to this. First it means that you do not damage the bark when you mow the orchard. Second it means that rodents that like eating bark have to do so in plain sight of predators such as cats, owls, kestrels and the like (which means they stay away). Third it removes habitat and cover for insect pests that hibernate on the ground. Finally it allows you to spread some well rotted organic matter on the bare earth beneath the tree which will feed it and improve soil texture and moisture retention. All of which will hugely increase your crop quality and size next year.