The great thing about living in the country is that there is plenty of space to grow fruit and vegetables - sometimes too much space in fact and managing the garden and fighting the weeds is quite a battle that I often lose! However, this year has been fantastic so far for fruit as there were no frosts and the early cool weather gave the fruit extra time to establish and grow. We currently have enough cherries to feed a small village, even with the pigeons taking their share!
Staying here you are welcome to pick what happens to be in season. So currently we have plenty of gooseberries, red currants, white currants, red and blush cherries, rhubarb, salad, rocket, spinach, red onions and garlic to share with guests. There is nothing better than picking produce on a warm summer's day like today and then cooking or eating it straight away.
We have had a great crop of asparagus and strawberries and now the rest of the soft fruit is becoming ready. Broad beans are looking good, though the pheasants took all my peas. The salads are beginning to go to seed and I need to sow some more for early autumn. I am hoping this year to get to grips with cabbages and Brussels sprouts - though they often seem to elude me - I grow the seed, but planting out at the right time or preserving them from all those other creatures that would like to eat them seems beyond me!
Traditionally October 21st is National Apple Day and there are quite a few events in East Anglia to celebrate this, which is great (Common Ground http://www.england-in-particular.info/cg/appleday/index.html). Locally people have got together to press their apple juice too. This year has not been a great year for Orchards as the cold and wet weather in the Spring meant poor pollination and therefore poor crops. Here our cherries, plums and damsons suffered. We had a few pears but our apple crop has generally been good although a couple of trees including our Cox's Orange Pippin didn't fruit.
At one time the whole area around here was farmed as apple orchards and the stores on the farm were used as cold stores for apples. I have an aerial photo from the early 1970's showing the orchards before they were grubbed up. When we arrived in 1993 there was only one apple tree left! However I went to the record office and found a plan of the garden on an Ordnance Survey map from the 1870's and also details of the orchards in a sale document of 1951 - both of these helped me when restoring the garden and planting the orchard in 1998.
The new orchard has 36 trees and each one is different - it might seem strange - but this is how orchards used to be planted to give a succession of fruit rather than having one variety all crop at once as with modern methods. I had great fun researching old fruit varieties and finding ones that had an Essex/Suffolk connection - so of course we have a Sturmer Pippin and a D'Arcy Spice! I went on an Orchard Planting day at Brogdale in Kent, home to the national fruit collection http://www.brogdalecollections.co.uk/index.html and I also went on a pruning day run by the Norfolk Smallholders Training Group http://www.nstg.org.uk/ - both very useful. I sourced apples locally from Ken Leech who was an apple grower in our village (Bulmer) as well as from Brogdale who grafted some specially and Deacon's Nursery on the Isle of Wight. All were planted as whips and trained. Trees were selected for their flavour and also for the coloour of their blossom, also taking in account pollinators. The orchard now is quite mature and the trees are doing well - to the east is a row of cherries, to the south plums and gages, to the west pears and in the middle apples. There are also two crab apples which act as pollinators.
We make apple juice and often freeze it so that we can drink it throughout the year, using a little Vigo masher and press which works well. There are always plenty of apples for visitors, friends and family too!
Completely new to blogging, I thought I would try it, to give you an idea of what is going on around here. It is still warm and dry although the Autumn colour is beginning. A fruitful time in the orchard and kitchen garden, with a bumper crop of apples and pears - the air smelling slightly cidery! For the first time we have quinces, large, slightly furry, lime green fruits with an interesting perfume. The pumpkins and squashes are developing too - fighting to take over the universe!