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!
I was woken by the sounds of a nightingale early this morning and the birdsong has continued on this brightish day. It is lovely to hear after the recent rains. I heard the first cuckoo on 16th April but I am still waiting to see the first swallows and house martins return. The house martins nest each year in the eves on the front of the Dairy, which faces west - it is great to watch them flitting backwards and forwards and feeding their young. There are a great variety of birds in the garden and surrounding fields, and although I am no bird watcher I have noticed flocks of skylarks, several woodpeckers, pied wagtails and a variety of tits and finches amongst them. I must find a bird book to help my recognition!
The orchard was humming this morning - the cherry blossom is beautiful at the moment with a delicious scent. The plum and gage blossom is fading and the apple and pear is just beginning to come out. We planted the orchard in 1997, there are 36 trees altogether, with a row of cherries on the left, a row of plums and gages at the back and a row of pears on the right - in the middle are apples. They are all old varieties associated with Suffolk and Essex, we thought this seemed appropriate as this whole area up until the 1970's was covered with apple orchards - it is sad that they were grubbed up. Only one apple tree remains from that time - but I have an aerial photo of the farm in the 1970's and also some documents from the records office listing the varieties that were here in 1951!
I hope that the recent rain doesn't spoil the pollination - hopefully the sun this morning will help. On Sunday the kitchen garden looked very dramatic in the stormy weather with a double rainbow behind the wall. Beyond the next field behind the wall are two ancient woods - Butlers Wood and Waldegrave Wood, as well as Parsonage Wood over towards the Tye - we often get a rainbow that seems to start in Parsonage Wood and end in Butlers Wood, going across the sky behind the garden - it always looks magical though of course I would prefer sunshine to rain!
The snow has gone, revealing the work that needs to be done in the garden. Usually February half term is my starting point - this year I am running late. Pruning is the major job of the moment - the vines to finish, the orchard and the soft fruit garden as well as the willow bed still to do. It is amazing how much growth the apples and willow have made in a season and important that the pruning is done before the end of February when the sap starts rising. The soft fruit also needs a bit of a haircut - some having already been pruned after it fruited last year. Soon the rhubarb will be up - the first crop always being the best of the season.
Signs of Spring are here with snowdrops down the track, bulbs beginning to peep through the soil and aconites and hellebores in full bloom. Time to get on top of the weeds - which always seem to suddenly reappear, like a bright new green spring carpet, when you thought you had done a good job in the autumn!
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!