We have an old plum tree in the orchard with the charming name of ‘Warwickshire Drooper’. Being Warwickshire residents ourselves it is great to have a locally named variety.
The tree is certainly showing its age but this year seems to be flowering profusely and evenly across all branches. We have been thinking that it’s days are numbered but perhaps it is trying to prove us wrong. It has a lovely flavour and with a touch of cinnamon makes a scrumptious jam.
Slightly later into flower this year is a small Victoria plum (29 March 2022). We have planted this now so it has time to establish in the orchard before the Warwickshire Drooper finally has to be removed.
When I posted about the Apricot I thought we may have been about a week later than my previous records made in 2019. My 2019 record for Warwickshire Drooper was 27 March so we may well have caught up due to a spell of warm weather.
Driving through the Vale of Evesham last weekend the plum orchards were in full bloom and looking a picture. The blackthorn (Prunusspinosa) is also looking particulary good in the hedgerows this year. We have had a few weeks of fine weather without rain which has kept the blackthorn white and undamaged.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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 ).
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!
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)
Two: Early flowering Pears eg. Winter Nellis (23 April 2018)
Three: Sweet Cherry (23 April 2018)
Four: Late flowering Pears eg. Conference (3 May 2018)
Five: Apples (Early flowering eg. Egremont Russet, Golden Noble – 3 May 2018, Late flowering eg. Lord Lambourne, Bramley – 8 May 2018)
Six: Quince (8 May 2018)
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.
Honey Pot Flowersare 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 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?
One of the beauties of growing your own fruit is that you can grow things that you don’t often come across in the supermarket. Quince (Cydonia oblonga) is something that is well worth growing both for its large, delightful pink blossom in the spring and its large yellow fruits in the autumn.
The tree in our orchard was planted in 1995 and did take some years to get going but now fruits reliably year after year. The fruits do seem prone to scab but this only effects the fruits on the surface and does not impact the flesh at all.
At first glance the fruits might seem daunting being hard and solid and difficult to cut through. You will need to feel strong to prepare these! However, peeled and cored and boiled for around an hour in a limited amount of water creates a wonderful, fragrant peach coloured puree that is quite unique. Mash up (technical term!) with a hand blender and add sugar, lemon and cinnamon and you have the most wonderful puree for use in a wide range of desserts.
The following Quince Crumble Tart from BBC Good Food recipe is one we have done many times and always works well. The quinces will fill your house with a beautiful quince perfume.
Tip: We freeze cooked fruit in large muffin trays. When frozen tip them out into a bag, label and pop back in the freezer. You can then take out exactly the amount you need when you need it. One frozen block fits nicely in a ramekin dish, then topped with crumble mix and placed in the oven gives a quick pud.