Six on Saturday: Summer Harvest

With so much to talk about in the flower garden the fruit and vegetables seldom get a mention. This year the vegetable garden seems to have really got going. Whether this is the result of the earlier hot temperatures, the current wet weather or simply the fact that I have had much more time to do things better this year I am not sure.

To celebrate the fact that we are picking good produce daily now I thought I would highlight six crops that we have enjoyed this week. It has also been an interesting exercise trying to create some attractive photos of fruit and veg to post!

One: Raspberries

I think I would describe the raspberry canes as a little feral now. They are growing at least six feet away from where I originally planted them. I wrote earlier in the week about our new decorative walk-in fruit cage project so next year we hope to have a much better crop of larger berries. However, we are still enjoying the old ones with lashings of cream and sugar. You really cannot beat fresh raspberries!

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Two: Broad Beans

I have grown three varieties of broad beans this year and managed to sow them in succession. The varieties this year are Sciabola Verde, Red Epicure and Express. All are growing strongly and don’t seem to have been bothered by black fly this year. I have also done a much better job at supporting them which has helped reduce the damage to the pods from mice and voles. The picture shows the larger green beans of Sciabola verde and the small tender red beans of Red Epicure. There is something rather attractive about their silky skins.

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Three: Lettuce

We have suffered very little from slug damage this year (so far) and the lettuces have really grown away strongly. We have concentrated on an Iceberg variety called Match. This is producing nice, clean crisp leaves. Although not strictly a ‘cut and come again’ variety I have been able to remove just the leaves we want for a meal and leave the remaining plants to develop further.

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Four: Mangetout peas

These have been a real success. The fact that I have had the time to carefully pick the pods every day has ment that they have kept coming and continue to crop extremely well. We are getting a small bowl full every day now off a three metre row. The variety is Oregon Sugar Pod.

We do seem to have a lot of wood pigeons in the garden this year and normally it would be a challenge to keep them off the crops. However, I have dusted off my trusty bird scarers made of old shiny CDs and DVDs and they seem to have worked a treat. ‘Back in the day’ when you used to receive loads of free CDs through the post from Internet Service Providers like AOL and Tiscali I had a huge stack of these but they are now beginning to run a bit short I am afraid.

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Five: Swiss Chard

We grow a lot of Swiss Chard and Perpetual Spinach in the vegetable garden and it crops reliably right through the summer and autumn. They also produce harvestable leaves throughout the winter months and it is lovely to have some fresh veg to pick at this time.

Not only are they very productive but the Swiss Chard (variety Bright Lights) is also very attractive with its bright red, yellow and white stems. I would highly recommend this Salmon and Swiss Chard Pie recipe that we found the tried the other day. Easy to make and very tasty.

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Six: Blackcurrants

Usually the birds do not trouble my blackcurrants but last year they suddenly took the lot when I wasn’t looking. I am trying to get ahead of the game this year by picking and freezing the currants as they ripen. Picking blackcurrants is certainly a time consuming business and you cannot rush it (otherwise you end up dropping the lot on the ground whilst you seek out the next bunch to pick).

Because of the lack of rain the currants are not as big as they might have been in previous years but hopefully they will still pack a punch. I have noticed that they have suddenly started to swell and split with the recent rain. Still usuable but they will need to be picked before they spoil.

Although we do love a blackcurrent and apple pie the bulk of our currants go to make blackcurrant jelly. We freeze the fresh berries as we pick them until we have a large enough amount to make up a batch of jam. Blackcurrant jelly on warm buttered toast at the breakfast table – always good!

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All in all the fruit and vegetables are growing well. Each year something goes wrong though and this year it has been the cucumbers. All five super plants have suffered from wilt I’m afraid and had to be chucked out. Such a shame as they usually grow so well for us.

And to finish, a little nostalgia. I do find podding broad beans at the end of a busy day with a glass of good beer a very civilised summer activity. It also brings back memories of my (then) young children singing this harvest song at the top of their voices in primary school assembly:

Cauliflowers Fluffy and cabbages green
Strawberries are sweeter than any I’ve seen
Beetroots purple and onions white
All grow steadily day and night

The apples are ripe and the plums are red
The broadbeans are sleeping in their blankety bed

Blackberries are juicy and rhubarbs sour
Marrows fattening hour by hour
Gooseberries hairy and lettuces fat
Radishes round and runner beans flat

The apples are ripe and the plums are red
The broadbeans are sleeping in their blankety bed

Orangey carrots and turnips cream
Reddening tomatoes that used to be green
Brown potatoes in little heaps
Down in the darkness where the celery sleeps

The apples are ripe and the plums are red
The broadbeans are sleeping in their blankety bed, Yea!


The Six on Saturday meme is hosted by The Propagator. Click on the link to be inspired by what other plant lovers are enjoying this weekend.

New fruit cage for strawberries and raspberries

Although we have grown strawberries and raspberries over the years we have not had any decent plants for some time now.  After 25 years the old raspberry canes have become exhausted and the strawberries have just faded away.  In addition the birds always seem to get to the fruit first!

As a lockdown project we have therefore decided to set ourselves up in style; clearing a previously unused part of the garden, building a new walk in fruit cage and buying in a fresh set of plants.

Having cleared a sunny area at the edge of the orchard of brambles and weeds we have invested in a 5 x 2.5 metre walk-in fruit cage from Harrod Horticulture.   The orchard is a very attractive part of the garden and the location for my daughter’s wedding next year so we felt it appropriate to go for something that had a little more style and be an interesting feature.  We therefore went for the peak roofed steel fruit cage.

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Once the ground was dug over constructing the fruit cage was quite straight forward.   It took us (2 people) four days in total to put up.  You certainly could not have done the job alone.  Putting up the peaked roof required one person up a ladder to hold the roof in place whilst the other bolted it together.  My tall Niwaki Japanese Tripod ladder was invaluable.   The instructions were all very clear and we had no problem with these.  It did however take us a whole day to put up the netting and sow it tightly together so that there we no gaps.  I think (and hope) it was worth taking the time to do this very carefully to ensure no birds will be able to access our precious fruit.

Whilst we were constructing the fruit cage we ordered a number of cold-stored strawberry plants from Ken Muir.  I have to say that I was very impressed with the quality of the plants we received.  We were not quite ready to plant them out when they came so potted them up into compost first before they were put out.  Every single plant has grown away beautifully so no complaints here at all.  In addition to the plants you get a comprehensive and informative 46-page guide on how to grow strawberries effectively.

Cold-stored plants are runners that were dug in January and kept in cold storage until required for sale.  If planted out before July they should crop in the first year.  We have gone for three varieties (early, mid-summer and late summer) that will allow us to crop over an extended period.  The varieties we have chosen are Vibrant (Early), Hapil (mid-summer) and Fenella (Late summer).

The ground we have used has been uncultivated for some years and although we have tried to remove all the perennial weeds and bramble roots I am sure we are going to be troubled with annual weeds for sometime.  We have therefore decided to grow the strawberries through black weed suppressing membrane cutting individual circular holes for each plant.  Hopefully this will mean we don’t have to use straw either to keep our fruit clean.

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Half of the fruit cage has been put down to the 36 strawberry plants (12 of each variety).  The other half will be put down to raspberries which we will buy and plant later in the year.  Rather than just leave this half fallow we have planted corgettes and sweet corn purely to make use of the space and cultivate the ground to reduce the annual weeds ready for autumn raspberry cane planting.

Every day now I go out and look at how the strawberries are progressing.  The plants look very good and the early variety is now flowering (11 June).  Very soon I hope the berries will start to form and ripen. How exciting!

Quince cider – a new experiment for 2018

This year has been our best ever for Quinces in the orchard.  Much as we love Quince Crumble Tarts there is a limit to just how many of these you can eat.

BBC Good Food

Photo Credit:  BBC Good Food

Rather than simply leave the fruit to rot on the compost heap we thought we would explore another method of preserving them and enjoying them over the coming months.  Although we make cider from our apples every year we have not tried quince ‘cider’ before so this is very much an experiment.  I have used the term ‘cider’ as I am not trying to make a quince wine.  I am looking for something that is thirst quenching, fresh and sparking and not as alcoholic as a wine would be.

The fruits have such a fragrant bouquet that they should make a very enjoyable drink in theory but I can imagine that if you use too many the flavour could be over-powering.  Having read various recipes this is the approach we decided to adopt to make our first gallon of trial quince ‘cider’.

I decided to use eight large quince fruits per gallon.  Some recipes suggest 20 per gallon but I think this would result in a flavour that might be too strong.  As the fruits are so rock solid even when ripe they could not be crushed and pressed in the same way as apples.   The quinces were washed, cored and grated (skin on).

The pulp was then added to 4 pints of water in a large pan and brought to the boil.  It was boiled for 15 minutes and then the liquid was strained from the pulp.  Other recipes have suggested that boiling for longer than 15 minutes makes it difficult to clear after fermentation.  The resulting liquor certainly had a very pleasant flavour.

To increase the sugar levels for fermentation I dissolved 1kg of granulated sugar in 2 pints of water and then added this to the quince juice.  This resulted in a specific gravity measurement of SG1080 which is perhaps higher than I might have wished for.  If it ferments out then this would be in excess of 9% alcohol which is pretty potent for a cider.  Time will tell whether the result will be on the sweet side with a lower alcohol content or drier with a higher alcohol level.

A further 2 pints of cold water was added to the must to make up the 8 pints (1 gallon) and this was allowed to cool to tepid before adding a cider yeast.  I also added 2 teaspoons of pectolase to help the cider clear.

All that is left to do now is stand back, admire and wait for the result.  Usually my apple cider is ready to rack in mid-November and it will be interesting to see if the quince cider performs in the same way.

I will let you know how it goes!


Update:  June 2019

The Quince Cider is now ready to drink.  It is certainly beautifully clear and certainly looks the part.  For my taste it has worked out rather sweeter than I would have hoped.  I think next year I will reduce the additional sugar to perhaps 0.5kg rather than the 1kg used this year.  There is no doubt that the fragrant quince gives a wonderful flavour – not to strong or too insipid.

(PS:  Still enjoying the quince crumble tarts from the freezer – they are just to die for!)

Six on Saturday: The fruits of our labours

Harvest time is certainly upon us and this week’s ‘Six on Saturday’ highlights some of the autumn produce coming out of the garden.  It has been a rather strange year with some plants and trees setting really well and other producing absolutely no fruit at all.


One:  Grapes

Last autumn we described the process of pruning the red and white outdoor grape vines ( Pruning time for the outdoor grape vines ).  They have both really enjoyed the hot weather this year and produced (after thinning) large juicy bunches of sweet grapes.  When we planted these a few years back I was rather sceptical as to whether we would get anything worth eating here in the UK Midlands but they have both exceeded all my expectations.

You can eat them fresh but they also make a lovely grape juice.  This is simply done by putting them in the food processor for a very quick pulse to mash the fruits and then straining.  Absolutely delicious.

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Two:  Apples

It is not quite apple picking time but the Golden Noble, Bramley seedling, Lord Lambourne and Egremont Russet (pictured) have all done very well.  The Tydemans Late Orange, however, has no fruit on it this year and we have no pears at all (see:  The Orchard – beautiful in spring, productive in autumn for further details of the varieties we grow in the orchard).

Next month (October) will be peak harvest time for the apples and on a warmish, sunny day I will get out my cider making equipment for the annual cider making bonanza. ( see:  How to make cider from all those spare apples  ).  With so little water this year it may well take some time to get a decent yield of juice out of the apples.

P1020133 Russet


Three:  Greenhouse and polytunnel fruits

At the peak of the heatwave the greenhouse fruits were certainly struggling a bit and we suffered a lot from bottom end rot on the early tomatoes.  This is supposed to be caused by irregular watering but I seemed to be watering all the time.  I think the plants were just unable to cope with the temperatures and were in a semi-wilted state for a number of weeks.

However, as the temperatures cooled the tomatoes have recovered and are now producing a regular crop of large red, tasty fruit.  I have grown the variety ‘Shirley’ for the last few years and found it very reliable and full of flavour.

The cucumbers did not seem to mind the heat and produced a huge crop.  The variety I have most success with is the variety ‘Euphya’ from Marshalls. You only get 5 seeds but your get five plants from them and they produce far more high quality cucumbers than we could ever eat.  Most of the hamlet here receive free cucumbers at some point in the summer.

The final fruit crop in the polytunnels has been the Sweet Peppers.  The variety I have most success with in both hot and cold summers is the ox-horn type pepper Diablo.  They produce huge sweet peppers (pictured) and are currently ripening to red in the polytunnel.

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Four:  Plums

Our plum tree is now over 25 years old and beginning to show its age.  When we saw this variety (Warwickshire Drooper) in the catalogue when we were first planting the orchard we just had to include it.  We live in Warwickshire after all.

This year it has had a huge crop despite an increasing number of dead looking branches.  It is a lovely plum to just eat fresh off the tree with a slightly plum wine flavour. Yum!

P1020130 Warwickshire Drooper Plum


Five:  Quince

Another tree that has had a bumper crop this year has been the Quince.  You could grow it purely as an ornamental tree as it has a mass of large pink flowers in the spring.  When ripe, the fruit has a delicate and beautiful fragrance.

They are a lovely fruit to eat if prepared well (see:  Quinces ).

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Six:  Enjoying the harvest throughout the winter

Although it is lovely to eat all this seasonal produce at this time of year now is the time to preserve the harvest for those long cold winter months.  This is probably the topic of a separate blog still to be written but we do make a lot of use of a wonderful little kitchen gadget – our Tefal jam maker.

Home grown fruit jam on hot buttered toast on a cold winter morning.  I will leave you with that thought!

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The Six on Saturday meme is hosted by The Propagator. Click on the link to see what other plant lovers are chatting about.

Six on Saturday: Blossom diary for 2018

What a wonderful year for orchard blossom we have had.  More importantly when the blossom has been out the sun has shined and the bees have been flying.  All bodes well for a bumper crop I hope.

I always find it fascinating to see the signs of spring moving up the country each year as I read other garden bloggers’ articles.  As the temperature rises and the days get longer the blossom slowly emerges across the British Isles.  I have always felt that the flowering here in Warwickshire is about 2 weeks later than where my mother lives in South Oxfordshire.

The 2015 study conducted by Coventry University in association with the Woodland Trust, British Science Association and BBC Springwatch concluded that spring moves up the country at about 2mph travelling from the south west towards the north east (how fast does spring travel up the country).  There is some evidence that it is now travelling up the country more rapidly that it did between 1891 and 1947 when the figure was around 1.2mph.

For this week’s Six on Saturday I have recorded the flowering dates for the blossom in our fruit orchard using the dates on the various pictures I have taken over the months.


One:  Apricot (16 March 2018)

IMG-20170316-WA0001 Apricot


Two:  Early flowering Pears eg. Winter Nellis (23 April 2018)

P1000922 Early Pear

 


Three: Sweet Cherry (23 April 2018)

P1000941 Cherry


Four:  Late flowering Pears eg. Conference (3 May 2018)

P1010104 Late Pear


Five:  Apples (Early flowering  eg. Egremont Russet, Golden Noble – 3 May 2018, Late flowering eg. Lord Lambourne, Bramley – 8 May 2018)

P1010106 Apple Blossom


Six:  Quince (8 May 2018)

P1010211 Quince

We are located near Warwick in the UK Midlands.  If you live in the south or north it would be very interesting to hear when your trees flowered so we can get a feel for how long it has taken spring to move from the south coast to the north and across the border to Scotland.

More information on the varieties we have in the orchard can be found on a previous blog (The Orchard – beautiful in spring, productive in autumn ) with a specific article on Quinces and how to cook them at: Quinces.  I have also previously written on our annual cider activities at:  How to make cider from all those spare apples.

 


The Six on Saturday meme is hosted by The Propagator. Click on the link to see what other plant lovers are chatting about.


Honey Pot Flowers are wedding and celebration florists based in Warwickshire in the United Kingdom specialising in natural, locally grown seasonal flowers. We grow many of our own flowers allowing us to offer something very different and uniquely personal.

The garden in late January

The garden here at Honey Pot Flowers may appear cold and quiet but the new year is coming upon us quickly and there is plenty to do and much to see.

Despite the low temperatures here in Warwickshire, bulbs and flowers are beginning to emerge.  The snowdrops are now in full swing complemented by the pinks and purples of the cyclamen and hellebores.  The first of the primroses and yellow crocuses are beginning to flower and the air is filled with the scent of Daphne odora and Sarcococca.  And, what is more, the sun has started to shine!

Galanthus elwessii
Galanthus elwessii
Cyclamen coum
Cyclamen coum

The garden birds are extremely busy foraging for food across the garden.  Great Tits, Blue Tits, Coal Tits, Long-tailed Tits, Nuthatchs, Chaffinchs, Dunnocks, Blackbirds and Great Spotted Woodpeckers are all regular visitors to the garden now with Buzzards mewing and flying overhead trying to catch any weak thermals that might come their way.

Crocus
Crocus
Primroses
Primroses

With time marching on we are also trying to get all our pruning jobs completed before we get into seed sowing in earnest.  A few days bright and dry weather has allowed us to start pruning back the bush and climbing roses.  Ideally the climbing roses should have been done in November but better late than never!  With the climbers we are untying all last years growth, cutting out some of the old stems to shoot afresh this year, cutting off the side shoots to a couple of buds and then tying in three or four strong new stems to flower this year.  In March we will give them a good feed to set them on their way.

Helleborus orientalis
Helleborus orientalis

In the orchard we are also starting to prune the apple and pear trees.  There are three main tasks to perform here on each spur fruiting tree:

  • remove any dead or diseased branches
  • improve and open up the structure of the tree by removing crossing or unwanted branches (this also increases air flow and helps minimise issues with disease)
  • prune back any of the new leaf shoots from last year to three or four buds leaving the flower buds on the spurs to develop.

With partial tip bearing trees, such as the Bramley, remember that some of the flower buds are on the end of the stem and removing these when pruning will obviously reduce your crop.  The wood, or growth buds are much smaller than the flower buds that will eventually provide you with your fruit.

Winter pruning underway in the orchard
Winter pruning underway in the orchard

One thing to remember when pruning fruit trees is that if you prune hard the tree will grow back vigorously producing a rash of long ‘water’ shoots.  This will make pruning next year much more difficult.  Ideally you need to achieve a balance, just enough pruning to improve the health and structure of the tree and encourage the tree to put effort into fruiting and not too much that the tree produces excessive vegetative growth.

It really is such a pleasure to be out in the garden again at the start of a new gardening year.  There is much to do and seed sowing is just around the corner.

 

Pruning time for the outdoor grape vines

We have always been rather surprised at how successful we have been at growing grapes outdoors in the garden here at Honey Pot Flowers.  Anna Pavord in her Independent article suggests that it is difficult to grow them north of a line between Gloucester and The Wash so here in Warwick we must be pushing our luck a little.

We have two vines, one of red dessert grapes and one of white dessert grapes.  They have been in place for about 12 years now but unfortunately the variety names have become detached along the way.  Year in, year out they produce a good crop of sweet and tasty grapes and it feels rather special when it comes to harvest time.

In November/December we prune the vines ready for next year.  Writers indicate that if you leave this until the spring when the sap is beginning to rise there is a tendency for the cut ends to weep.

Next year’s grapes are produced on the laterals formed in the current year.  The plants grow very vigorously in the spring and can produce a huge number of floating laterals with many spectacular large fresh green vines leaves.  The aim of the pruning is to not allow the plant to produce too many laterals and encourage the plant to put its efforts into a smaller number of larger bunches of grapes.

Having said this we nearly always have to prune out some laterals next year as well as thin out the number of bunches of grapes on the plant as a whole.  In this way we get larger, juicy grapes.

Grape vines are very attractive climbing plants and we grow our vines up the same trellis supports as our climbing roses.  The main leader is trained in a spiral up one of the main uprights and allowed to clamber across the top so that the grapes hang down and can be picked as you walk through the arch.  A lovely thing to do when you are taking a gentle evening meander around the garden to appreciate your days work.

At this time of year (December) we cut back the leader by about a third and shorten last year’s fruiting laterals back to 2 or 3 buds.  These buds will create next year’s fruiting laterals.  Any unwanted, broken or crossing laterals are also removed to create a nice tight structure that is firmly tied into the supports.   It is very important to take time to tie in carefully and robustly so there is minimal chance of damage from the winter winds over the next few months.

Dormant grape vine before winter pruning
Dormant grape vine before winter pruning
After pruning
After pruning – the climbing leader shortened by one-third, the laterals cut back to 2 or 3 buds and the main stem tied in firmly for the winter

All of this work now will pay dividends next year.  In September/October next year the grapes will begin to ripen and be ready for picking.  Surprisingly we get very little bird damage and without netting we get a good crop for ourselves and also enough to share.  Despite being outside they are sweet enough to eat fresh but one of our preferred methods is to make juice (there is not usually enough to make any sensible amount of wine).

Making the juice is a very simple process.  Pick and rinse the grapes and give them a very quick pulse in the food processor.  This should be just enough to break up the grapes and release the juice but leave the pips intact.  Strain the resulting pulp through a course plastic sieve into a jug and store in the fridge until you need it.  Avoid using a metal sieve as this may impart a metallic taint to the juice.  No sugar needs to be added and the juice will keep at least 2 or 3 days by which time the family have guzzled the lot.

Drinking your own freshly pressed grape juice from your own grape vines is such a pleasure and a real taste of summer.

 

Further reading:  “Pruning” by Christopher Brickell (RHS) (ISBN:  1-85732-902-3)

Garden Ecology: Hornets – friend or foe?

One of the things I love about writing a blog is that it encourages you to investigate around a subject more than you might otherwise do so.

Over the last month the hornets have been much more noticeable in the garden than at any other time of year.  I presume that they must be about all year but we only tend to notice them when the apples ripen and the cider production begins.

According to Wikipedia the European Hornet (Vespa crabro) is the largest eusocial wasp in Europe.  Certainly the ones in our garden at around 3cm in length make the ordinary wasps look petite and delicate.  The hornets have a very characteristic yellow band across their heads and brown hairs over their thorax.  They are brown and yellow compared to the black and yellow of the common wasp (Vespula vulgaris).

They just love any apples that have been pecked by the birds and it appears that they get rather intoxicated by the (fermenting?) juice.  From time to time they seem to just fall out of the apple onto their backs and onto the ground, lie there for a while with their feet in the air and after a few minutes fly back to the apple for more!

According to the UK safari website , the larvae eat insects taken back to nest by the adults.  As with wasps this probably makes the hornet a friend (rather than foe) in the garden helpfully eating unwanted insects and reducing their numbers.

This same website indicates that hornets are mostly in the south east of England and range northwards as far as Nottinghamshire.  Our population here in Warwickshire must therefore be part of this tough northern stock (the ones with the Midlands accents).

There has been concern about the arrival of the Asian Hornet (Vespa veluntina) in the UK which is an invasive non-native species.  As a predator of the honey bee its arrival is of great concern.  I am fairly sure that the hornet pictured in our garden is the European Hornet as the ‘Asian Hornet’ has an entirely dark brown or black velvety body, bordered with a fine yellow band and a much blacker abdomen.  Only the 4th abdominal segment is yellow/orange.

Further information on the Yellow legged ‘Asian Hornet

How to make cider from all those spare apples

We have been making cider with our orchard apples for over 15 years now. I find it hugely satisfying and it makes excellent use of an apple crop that would otherwise go to waste.

We try to use a mix of apples. Too many eating apples and you get a rather insipid cider. Too many cookers and it is rather sharp. The beauty is that every year is slightly different depending on the apples available. You certainly don’t need specialist cider apples to make a very drinkable cider.

  • First of all make sure that all your equipment is cleaned and sterilised to reduce the risk of off flavours getting into your cider.
  • Give the apples a good wash in clear water and cut into quarters making sure you take out any bruised pieces and any bugs! Some people leave the bruised parts of the apple but we like our cider to be fresh tasting and not of old over-ripe apples.
  • Put the apple pieces through the crusher. The aim is to crush the apples and not chop them as this releases more of the juice.
  • We extract more juice by a short pulse in a food processor. You don’t want to create a pulp as this simply oozes out of the press in the next stage. The pieces need to be crushed but still large enough not to escape out of the press.
  • The juice is extracted using a manually operated Vigo fruit press. You need patience for this as you need to give the apple time to release its juice. You then apply more pressure and wait again. (You can always drink the juice at this stage as well – in the interests of quality control of course!)
  • Gather all the juice together in a sterilised fermenting vessel with a bubbler.
  • We add about 1kg of granulated sugar dissolved in a small amount of water to every 25 litres of juice to increase the alcohol content of the final cider (to about 7%-8%). This means it keeps much longer and will keep up to a year once bottled with no problems.
  • We use cider yeast rather than a general purpose wine yeast. Sprinkle the yeast on the surface and allow to soak for 15 minutes or so before stirring in.
  • We also add about 4 teaspoons of pectolase to the must to get a clear, fresh cider with no cloudiness.
  • Place the cider to bubble away until around December. Keep it in a warmish place at around room temperature. Once the fermentation starts to slow decant the cider off the old yeast deposit into a clean fermenting vessel. Leave to ferment out until the bubbles stop.
  • We bottle our cider into normal, sterilised beer bottles that will take the pressure of a secondary ferment in the bottle. We add one teaspoon of sugar to each bottle before filling and then apply a crown cork to seal.
  • The cider is then left for its secondary ferment in the bottle. This is important as this secondary ferment will mellow the cider and create the natural sparkle in the bottle.
  • The cider will be ready in about February or March but will keep very well for at least 12 months.
  • Chill before drinking and enjoy!!

2017/2018 Timeline

22 October 2017 – Apple pressing completed and fermentation started

9 December 2017 – Racking the cider off the dead yeast as fermentation slows to prevent off flavours developing

31 January 2018 – Cider bottled and stored in cool area for secondary fermentation in the bottle to create the sparkle!

20 March 2018 – Breaking open the first bottle – yum😁

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