The Orchard – beautiful in spring, productive in autumn

The orchard sits at the north end of the garden beyond the old rose garden.  Originally planted in around 1994 it has been later extended with the addition of new pear and cherry trees and most recently an apricot.

The orchard looks wonderful in spring with all the blossom emerging in sequence, the white of the pear and cherry, the apple blossom pink and the huge dusted pink flowers of the quince.  The orchard is planted in mown grassland and at the base of each of the trees are daffodils, narcissus and snake’s head fritillaries (Fritillaria meleagris)

We were looking to create an orchard that offered us fruit that you would not normally find in the supermarkets – a range of unusual varieties that offered us both cooking and dessert eating.

We also wanted an old-fashioned field-style orchard which had large (but not too large) trees.  We therefore decided to buy new apple trees on a semi-dwarfing rootstock MM106 – small enough to climb in and prune but tall enough to be able to mow under.

Apples (Dessert)

Egremont Russet – an excellent golden russet with a distinctive nutty flavour.  One of our earliest dessert apples to ripen and they are usually ripe by early October and over by late October.

Egremont Russet
Egremont Russet Apple

Lord Lambourne – a decent sized cox-style apple with a rich aromatic flavour. Usually ripe around mid-October here in Warwickshire.

Tydeman’s Late Orange – a smaller red cox-type dessert apple with white flesh that ripens much later than the others.   Usually ripe for picking early November but fine for cider making earlier.  It has a good strong flavour with and almost floral undertone.  It has proved to be a very vigorous and large tree and a little difficult to keep pruned and under control.

Tydemans late orange
Tydeman’s Late Orange

Apples (Cooking)

Bramley seedling- quintessential British cooking apple with reasonably sizes fruits with a red blush.  Fruits can be small if not thinned early in the year.  Our tree is more susceptible to scab than our other apple trees.  Proved to be very vigorous and has developed into a large tree even on a semi-dwarfing rootstock.

Bramley
Bramley Seedling Cooking Apple

Golden Noble – an excellent green cooking apple with large clean fruits, consistently crops well.  Tends to crop earlier than the Bramley in September and October.  Introduced in the early 1800’s.

Golden Noble
Golden Noble Cooking Apple

Pears

Winter Nelis (Cooking) – a small cooking pear with a very good flavour.  Although supposedly a cooking pear they are perfectly good to eat as a dessert pear later in the season.  Nice and firm for pickled pears.  Introduced 1818.

Doyenne du Comice – has remained a small and manageable tree over 20 years.  Reliably produces good quality fruit.  You have to watch carefully as the birds know when they are ripe (mid-October) and they will quickly peck at them before you get to pick them all.  The fruits are so large that the branches do need to be supported to avoid damage.

Conference – a very well known pear which can be eaten as a dessert pear or cooked.

Williams pear (died 2015) – we have had two of these trees and they have always struggled before eventually fading away.

Plums

Warwickshire drooper – we had to grow this one (as we live in Warwickshire).  It has proved to be a very productive and delicious plum with a strong rich wine flavour.  Can be eaten fresh (mid-September) or cooked.

Quince (previously described in an earlier post)

Cherry

Stella – Canadian bred cherry with large dark red fruits which are easy to pick.  Does not fruit reliably every year and the blossom is susceptible to frost.  Needs careful protection from the birds as once ripe the cherries will disappear in a matter of hours (really annoying!).

Sunburst – very similar to Stella with large juicy fruits in late July.

Apricot

Flavorcot – a very new and exciting addition to the orchard (c. 12 months) this apricot is a new variety bred specifically to crop well in the UK climate.  I can’t wait to taste the first fruits!!

Some experiences in growing and managing our small orchard

Vigour – Many of our trees are well established and now over 20 years old.  They are very productive.  All the apples were purchased on a MM106 semi-dwarfing rootstock but they are all now different sizes.  The Bramley and Tydeman’s Late Orange have been very vigorous whilst the Egremont Russet and Lord Lambourne have remained smaller trees and easier to manage.

Leaning – We mentioned in the introduction to the site that we only have a couple of feet of soil sitting above clay.  This has meant that the trees have struggled to grow deeply into the soil and gain a foothold.  The result is that many of the trees now grow at a jaunty angle having been subject to 20 years or more of south westerly winds!  Nevertheless they produce far more apples each year than we need (and plenty for making cider).

Pests and Diseases –  In the early years we suffered a lot from codling moth and plum moth damage at harvest time.  Over the years we have used grease bands and pheromone traps and we have noticed a significant reduction each year in the number of insects we have caught in the traps.  We now get very little damage.

The quince has always suffered from a fungal infection which can lead to early defoliation.  Although we sprayed in the early years (and this worked well) we feel rather uncomfortable in spraying our fruit with pesticides.  In recent years we have not sprayed and the crops are large and the tree comes back with great gusto the next year.

The Bramley is the only tree that seems to suffer from scab.  It also suffers in some years from bitter pit which I believe indicates a calcium deficiency or irregular watering.  The trees are all grown in grass and therefore in the summer there is considerable competition for any water that is available.  Perhaps this is the cause but none of the other trees seem to suffer in the same way.

Biennial bearing – we have certainly noticed that the apple trees exhibit this trait sometimes especially after a year where there has been a very heavy crop.  In the next year they have a bit of a rest.

Pruning – getting the pruning right over the years has taken us some time to get right I must admit.  Too much pruning and you simply get masses of water shoots which don’t bear fruit.  Similarly knowing which varieties are tip-bearing (eg. the Bramley) and spur bearing is key to making sure that you don’t prune off next years flower buds.  You do eventually get to recognise the future flowering buds but it does take time.  The subject of a whole new post in its own right I think!!

Overall – In general the apples have done extremely well but the pears have all struggled (though have survived).  The quince took some years to start fruiting but is now a vigorous and productive tree.  The cherries have established well but the blossom is rather subject to a late frost.  Some years we get a wonderful harvest whilst in other years we get nothing.

Using the produce

As the seasons pass we will begin to post up some of our favourite recipes and how we preserve and use the orchards production.  What are your favourite recipes?

Further reading

Royal Horticultural Society – Apples:choosing cultivars

Orange Pippin

Orange Pippin Fruit Trees

Pomona fruits

Blackmore nurseries

 

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