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!!
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
June may well be the best month for roses in the garden but there are some stonking repeat flowering varieties that continue to flower well into the autumn.
These are three of our favourites growing in the Honey Pot Flowers garden and photographed on 17 October. They all flower consistently well, remain remarkably unblemished by the wind and rain and are good for cutting having long, strong stems.
“Boscobel” (deep pink – good fragrance)
“Sweet Juliet” (light peachy pink – very strongly fragrant)
“Simply the Best” (peachy orange – mild fragrance)
If only you could experience the fragrance wafting around this room with me now !!
One of the great things about planning and developing a new flower garden is that it is a wonderful excuse to go out and seek inspiration from other people’s gardens (not that we really need much of an excuse to visit the beautiful gardens across England!).
During last week (w/b 7 October 2017) we visited four varied Herefordshire gardens to find out how they had maintained the colour in their borders into October. We want to be able to extend the flowering season well into autumn if possible. We had not visited any of the gardens before and everyone offered something to think about.
Firstly a little about the gardens and then we will say something about the planting combinations we discovered:
Located at Hope Under Dinmore just south of Leominster, Hampton Court has been standing by the River Lugg for 600 years. This wonderful ‘formal’ garden is divided into a number of garden rooms with island pavilions, pleached avenues, grottoes, a yew maze and more. We thoroughly enjoyed this garden and will try and visit again at other times of year.
A National Trust garden situated near Yarpole and the home of some wonderful ancient oak and spanish chestnut trees. If you like walking and have a dog the estate is dog friendly and there are a range of well marked walks throughout the parkland. The castle has a walled garden and working vineyard.
A plantman’s garden with a wide range of interesting and unusual trees and plants. Located in the grounds of a building of the arts and crafts period the garden draws on specimens brought back by the plant hunters of the period. The garden boasts over 90 champion trees.
An absolutely stunning Georgian Manor and parkland near Leominster. The manor sits within the last landscape commission of ‘Capability’ Brown as well as having excellent walled gardens, kitchen garden and orchards.
October colour in these enchanting gardens
The first observation is that it is clearly possible to maintain the colour in your herbaceous borders right into October as long as you are clear of frost.
At Berrington Hall we saw beds of complementary colours brimming with colourful cosmos in a range of varieties and shades, complemented with pink malope (Malope trifida). These beds also made use of Nicotiana sylvestris creating a wonderful structural candelabra effect (and I suspect that in the evening these beds would also be bathed in scent). Contrasting some of the darker, purple cosmos was the lovely perennial sunflower which we assume was the variety ‘Lemon Queen’
Berrington Hall also made wonderful use of grasses within the borders which really come into their own as this time of year. The tall Miscanthus with its slightly pinkish seeds heads sits well with the candelabra of the Nicotiana sylvestris, Malope trifida and cleome. The Rudbeckia ‘Cherry Brandy’ brings in a subtle red/brown which works well with the rest of the border.
But of course contrasting colours can give a totally different effect and bring a zing to a border. At Croft Castle the perennial sunflower ‘Lemon Queen’ sits alongside the tall floating stems of Verbena bonariensis. In the evening light this Verbena almost has a fluorescence as the light fades.
And lets us not forget the strong shades of autumn colour that can really bring a garden to life. Here at Croft Castle the Vitis coignetiae was in its full glory in the walled garden.
At Hergest Croft Garden we saw a more traditional autumn border of michaelmas daisies, sedum and saxifrage in pink, mauve and white. Very much loved by butterflies at this time of year these combinations are not to be under estimated.
In contrast, Hergest Croft also showed that the more tender perennials such as Salvia confertifloraand Salvia involucrata ‘Bethellii’ can still provide striking border plants at this time of year if frosty nights have not yet arrived. Mixed with dahlias and other salvias and edged with Liriope muscari these borders are still brimming with colour into October.
Dahlias also featured in the beds at Hampton Court Castle gardens along with white cosmos to give a light airy feel and more cottage style to the borders. A very striking addition was the strong architectural shape of the deep burgundy amaranthus, grasses and white cleome in these borders – stunningly effective planting.
In addition to this stunning planting of complementary shades, many of the borders a Hampton Court Castle also used contrasting colours to great effect. Combinations of strong blue with a very dense double ‘feverfew’ and also the yellow perennial Rudbeckia fulgida with tall stands of blue Monkshood (Aconitum) made wonderful combinations for an October border.
Plenty to think about…
Well there is certainly no doubt that, with planning, your herbaceous borders can look full of colour right into October. We will certainly be adding some of these combinations to our future planting plans for the new garden and I hope it has also inspired you to see that the garden has much to offer at this time of year and is not simply shutting down for the winter.
An excellent late season perennial for the cut flower garden in a wide range of pink, white, lilac and purple shades. The butterflies love these flowers in the late autumn sunshine.
Latinname: We mainly grow Asternovi–belgii, Asternovae–angliae, Asterpringlei an Asterxfrikartii ‘Monch’
Origin: Mainly North America
Height: Wide variety from small clump forming varieties up to 4-5 feet. Tall varieties definitely need staking in our windy conditions.
Position: We grow these in a sunny open position as part of a mixed perennial and annual border.
Cutflower: Yes. We use these widely in our September and October bouquets and also use Aster ‘Monch’ which flowers earlier in the year but also continues right into autumn. All stand well after conditioning if picked young before the bees get to them.
Conditioning: Standard conditioning in cool clear water for at least 2 hours.
Suppliers: At this time of year one of the best places to see a wide range of Asters is the Picton Garden and Old Court Nurseries near Malvern. They hold the NCCPG national collection of autumn flowering asters and it is a stunning show at the right time of year.
Their website www.autumnasters.co.uk provides a wide range of background information to help you choose and grow these lovely plants.
Well the thinking and planning are over and it is now time to get down to the hard graft in the new garden. We are starting with the planting of the new formal hedges as we want to get these into the ground and give the plants time to get their roots down before it gets too cold.
We could have used box or yew for this but have decided to go with Lonicera nitida. With all the problems with box blight here in the UK we decided on the honeysuckle because it has worked very well for us elsewhere in the garden providing an excellent, dense dark green hedge which is easy to keep in shape and under control. The hedging plants were sourced from Buckingham Nurseries (www.hedging.co.uk) and were delivered in 9cm pots ready for planting.
Having marked out the circle we dug down deeply and removed as many perennial weeds as we could. We suffer from a lot of couch grass so try hard to remove as much as we can before planting anything new. Many wheelbarrows of garden compost were added to improve the sandy thin soil before planting.
We would like to have added bone meal but the dogs just love it and we struggle to keep them off anything we plant. We did add pelleted chicken manure and dug it all in well with our Mantis tiller (an excellent machine!).
Once prepared we covered the ground with weed suppressing membrane to reduce the future weeding around the plants.
To plant we cut slits in the membrane and planted the new plants about 1 foot apart (80 in all). Having watered in well we mulched with wood chippings we had collected from tree pruning work last year (nothing goes to waste here!).
Last but not least is the final pruning of the new plants to help them get really bushy. I hate this bit but it has to be done. Each plant was cut back by half to make sure they will bush out well from the very bottom.
Voila! Hopefully these will all settle in well and we will begin to see the formal structure of the garden develop in the spring next year. A very satisfying job.
We may be moving swiftly into October but there are still so many beautiful flowers to pick from the cutting garden. This bouquet was created this morning from freshly picked Cosmos ‘sensation mix’ (Cosmos bipinnatus), lilac and mauve michaelmas daisies (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae – varieties ‘Colwall constellation’ and ‘Colwall galaxy’), chincherinchee (Ornithogalum thyrsoides), zinnia , outdoor grown chrysanthemums (varieties ‘Incurve Purple Royal Mist’ and ‘Incurve Pink Allouise’) and peach, pink and white dahlias backed with eucalyptus and fresh lime-green feathery cosmos foliage.