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Janta Wheelhouse
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Karuna,Church Stretton, Shropshire., United Kingdom
Climate Zone:
Cool Temperate

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I.D.Orchards. Our Heritage & Our Future.

Posted by Janta Wheelhouse about 13 years ago

An attempt to give some explanation about the U.K’s need to exist sustainably with regard to quality Organic local grown food and how we can do that through insight design and practical Permaculture applications. Karuna is one example of this approach.


Our Heritage & Our Future.

These few pages are my attempt to give some explanation about the U.K’s need to exist sustainably with regard to quality Organic local grown food. The land can be restored when we revive best past practice and merge it with Insight design, creative urge and practical Permaculture applications. Such applications create healthy stable ecosystems with considerable resilience to climate change. Karuna is one example of this approach.           

What if we were to distinguish productivity as a breath of richness, not only as the number of fruits that we might pick?

Or ...What if we were to base agriculture on growing food rather than just making money?

Orchards not only offer rich habitats ,they inhabit our lives ,flaunt the seasons ,colour the land, hold history and geography in their gaze, haunt our memory, stir stories from our lips, nourish us and quench our thirst, offer stages for our festive moods, classrooms for our learning and tranquil corners in which to savour life.

We need fresh fruit, locally grown. We need to share more with the bees, birds, bats, beetles, butterflies and badgers. We deserve better everyday surroundings which feed our need for meaning as well as survival.

To help us and our wild friends adapt we must fortify our knowledge and recognise our reliance on nature.

Since 1950 nearly two thirds of England’s orchard area has been destroyed. Devon has lost a staggering 90% of its orchards since the 1960’s and Kent over 80%"..

There has been a lack of legal protection for orchards and much commercial pressure on farmers to produce more profitable crops, alongside competition from cheap imports. Loss of small orchards has meant more intensive production in the orchards that remain, growing fewer varieties for processors and for the ever more concentrated retail market, with supermarkets increasingly demanding a year round supply of cheap, cosmetically ‘perfect’ fruit in a narrow range of varieties. The shift towards such concentrated production has reduced the ability of orchards to support the diverse wildlife that in the past made orchards their home.

Orchards are now meant to be recognised as a national priority Under the U.K’s Biodiversity action plan.

Crop diversity is a serious issue, there are now over 80 varieties of apple at Karuna.

After initially planting around 30 varieties we observed which do best at Karuna which is between 800 & 900ft.This helped us decide which varieties we would propagate throughout the site. We continue to introduce other varieties from local orchards to keep the experiments going, thus increasing diversity. A few traditional local Shropshire varieties have been included ,such as the Onibury Pippin and Brookes. But there are hundreds of traditional varieties and some excellent modern varieties too.

Preserving and promoting the generic diversity of traditional varieties of fruit trees is important, not only to wildlife, but also to provide opportunities to encourage community interest and to market distinctive products.

Additional ‘Forgotten fruits’ such as Quinces , Medlars and Mulberries encourage further interest.

At Karuna we have given consideration as to how climate change might effect biodiversity and crop diversity. Fruit tree diversity might be more resilient to extremes of weather, hotter, dryer summers and wetter winters or even wetter summers and colder winters. Climate extremes are upon us from year to year right across the globe. This is an emerging area of understanding, with some orchard owners and forest garden projects exploring options for the future.

“Climate change harvests” sustainably exploit the new conditions: apricots, peaches and almonds now form part of a new wave in crop diversity.

 There is an increasing interest in eco tourism in the U.K. It’s a fast growing interest in countries such as Italy and France where producers are looking to make a living from small scale farms. Such projects link B&B stays with picking weekends, cookery courses and farm visits. Making cider and apple juice, wine & jam making can also be introduced. Course participants at Karuna often incorporate their educational weekend experience into their holiday.

We distribute posters at events, local shops, and notice boards, pubs and community centres. Disappointingly our local newspaper, the 'Shropshire Star' only ever seems interested in writing negative articles regarding perverse and twisted planning matters. However we attract further interest through recommendations, local and national newsletters, magazines and Permaculture websites.

I.D. design-Into the future orchards

At Karuna orchards have been established which serve small- scale production for marketing. Students and volunteers enjoy what is produced on site during their stay. In the past practically every farm had at least a small orchard to supply the needs of the farm and its workers and we continue that almost extinct tradition.

The majority of fruit and nut trees at Karuna have been planted on the outer south and south-east facing edges of the newly established mixed woodlands as well as within ‘designed open groves’ forming a design embedded within Forest garden practice. This type of practical land management (agro-forestry/Temperate climate forest gardening) is based on diversity of many useful trees, shrubs and plants, not only edibles. This system mitigates and adapts to the effects of climate change.

Fruit tree nurseries merge in as part of the design. This brings in a small income, used to maintain on going management and maintenance of the site.It enables cultivation of fruit trees at an affordable price throughout the rest of this 18 acre site thus supporting the holistic outcome of a site that is designed for maximum diversity with national food security in mind. Unlike traditional orchards this type of production helps repair the environment, the economy and the wellbeing of the community and surrounding wildlife.

This is our fundamental approach. It demonstrates that when we start from scratch we create and build not in isolation but repair the world that is around us. In this way the place becomes more coherent and more whole. It takes its place in the web of nature as you create it.

As the experiment grows over time you see the practice evolve and bear fruit, these applications can be shared. For example I have now started to teach grafting on a basic level. This is a result of personal direct experience and observation of the design and application.

The more varied the practice becomes the greater the impact upon the overall diversity of the site which serves as working example to inspire tentative ‘Insight design’ (I.D).

Although I.D. , (my own term) , comes through the experience of internal reflection, it can be reversed. The design of a place can help to light the fire of inspiration within others enabling them to connect to their own I.D.,...their own limitless vision. Where the best of tradition and modern invention are successfully applied new local distinctiveness is bound to evolve.

These solutions naturally help change things for the better.



009 008 Karuna oct10 2

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