We have just had two beautiful days full of sunshine in our corner of Lincolnshire and it really has felt as if Spring is just around the corner. Last week Si' had time off for the half term holiday and we spent the whole nine days getting the orchard into shape for the year ahead. There is still lots to do but a lot of the heavy work is out of the way, which entailed cutting back more of the inside hedge that had grown into trees. The increase in light levels now they are cut back is amazing and that is before they had even come into leaf. It was much colder last week than this so we had several bonfires with the brashings from trees felled in previous years. Wood ash is high in potash so we save this afterwards to boost the fertility of our soil. Our blackcurrants do particularly well with a top dressing of wood ash about now. We also cut the hedge that forms the boundary with the main road (the 'outside' hedge). We cut this one every other year but it didn't get done last year as Si' was recovering from an emergency appendectomy. Last year's tall growth had grown into this year's beanpoles and we have made a gift of the surplus to other allotment holders. When we took on the orchard four years ago, one of the first things to emerge from the gloom were a few straggly patches of snowdrops. With light levels restored they improve year on year, both a delicate single variety and a more robust version with multiple white petticoats. Robin and his mate, Bobbin, wait patiently each day to be fed, serenading me while I work and 'helping' when I turn over new ground. There is a new blackbird, too, with an odd quiff on the back of his head. He was along as soon as I had finished digging this afternoon to see what he could find for his tea. There are a number of hazels growing throughout the orchard and we have cut several of these back to the ground to encourage them to grow several thinner stems that will make valuable stakes in a few years time. Trees 'coppiced' in this way tend to live much longer than those with one single trunk and removing the top growth helps wild flowers to establish. I never thought I would say this but I am quite glad to have nettles for a weed. Not only are they a valuable host for butterflies and other insects but they are a useful source of nutrients when added to the compost heap. And when they have to come up, they pull out of the ground in satisfyingly large clumps which grow very near the surface. Some days I look at the orchard and think how much there is still to do. But then I remember just how far we have come and I feel immensely priveliged and grateful to have been given the opportunity.