Over the last few years it seems that apples and orchards are making a comeback, not to say becoming trendy. Thats a good thing in my book and just in the nick of time. For decades the government has paid farmers to grub up old orchards and since the 1950′s over 60% of traditional orchards have gone. Vandalism on a grand scale. Thanks to such thoughtless actions old orchards have become a rarity. Finally the government has realised that traditional orchards are an important habitat and are now promoting their planting. Brilliant! You could not make it up.
You may have noticed that I’m keen on old apple varieties. Our tiny garden is full to capacity with bush trees and I’mtickled to see that our six trees technically count as an orchard in their own right – but I’m not satisfied. Our local National Trust estate at Swan Barn farm has planted 3 orchards in the last few years and also planted the seed of an idea in my mind.
An apple tree has become almost an ornamental tree in our gardens and the fruit something of an annoyance when they lie on the grass and rot! Whilst the habitat is important I am equally keen to restore a sense of planting and using fruit locally. The fruit can be eaten, cooked and turned into juice. They can be preserved by drying, pickling, storing or fermenting (something that’s never far from my mind). But these days we could be forgiven for thinking that apples grow on supermarket shelves and are transported from exotic climes rather than on local trees.
When our Parish Tree Warden suggested that we might plant a Community Orchard in Lynchmere I think she was a little surprised to get immediate support for the idea. Apparently the concept has been promoted for some years but no site in the Parish has been found. It took myself, Robert and Dave about 5 minutes to show Alexandra a potential site by the Barn and the Lynchmere Community Orchard project was born.
I already had a full schedule of work to do over the winter, but I just could not resist being involved in the Community Orchard project. Having fenced off the corner of the field I’ve been busy planning the layout of the trees, selecting the varieties and getting together the materials. I managed to source the trees from a respected local nursery, Blackmoor, near Selborne and last week we planted the first batch of trees, 20 apple varieties including a traditional crab apple, plus a quince tree and a victoria plum.
Selecting the trees has been an interesting learning experience. As a Community Orchard we wanted a mix of traditional apple varieties which would both educational for locals as well as enjoyable for the volunteers who will maintain them. Because of the small area of the site and limited height (overhead power lines) we’ve gone for MM106 rootstocks which will allow us to grow half standard trees. These trees will be a lot bigger than the modern bush trees but easier to maintain than full standard trees. Bearing in mind the pollination groups and the exposed nature of the site we’ve selected these as first batch of varieties:
Egremont Russet – Although it’s not particularly rare it is a great traditional tree and a very popular eating apple. Though it’s origins have been lost it is thought to have originated in England and first recorded in 1872. It is alleged to have been raised by the Earl of Egremont at Petworth only a few miles away.
Crawley Beauty – Discovered in a Sussex cottage garden in around 1870 by Mr Cheal a nurseryman of Crawley and introduced in 1906. A culinary variety which flowers late and is very hardy.
George Cave – a seedling discoved by chance in Essex in 1923 and named after the man who discovered it. An early dessert apple.
Newton Wonder – a culinary apple from King’s Newton in Derbyshire introduced in 1887, very hardy and very vigorous.
Court Pendu Plat – is believed to originated in Roman times! An eating apple which is hardy and frost tolerant.
Tydeman’s Early Worcester – An eating apple raised by H.M. Tydeman in 1929 at the East Malling Research Station in Kent
Howgate Wonder – A late cooking apple which can also be eaten and produced enormous fruit. Originally from Howgate on the Isle of Wight and raised in 1915.
Ashmeads Kernal - An eating apple from Gloucestershire and raised by Dr Ashmead around 1700.
Katy – The most recent apple we’ve selected, raised in 1949 in Sweden from James Grieve and Worcester Pearmain. We’ve selected it for it’s hardiness, the attractive fruit and as a good pollinator (and nothing at all to do with my liking for a single variety cider made from it’s apples).
Lanes Prince Albert – A late culinary apple from Berkhamstead, Hertfordshire in about 1840. Although not particularly hardy several old specimens of these trees were in an orchard at up at Ridgecap, the farmhouse only a few fields away. I’m told that the apples were so popular that they were originally sold through the local greengrocer. Perhaps thats a traditional that we should be restoring?
Blenheim Orange – found at Woodstock in 1740. Locally known as Kempster’s Pippin as its thought that a local countryman named Kempster planted the original kernal. Reputedly the best eating apple of all.
John Downie – A crab apple, raised in Lichfield in 1857. The fruits are edible and good for making crab apple jelly.
I’m still on the hunt for some local and rare varieties such as Bramshott Rectory, Sussex Forge and Kobbly Russet (from Midhurst) which we intend to add to the final batch of planting next season.
So how many volunteers does it take to dig a hole? Dan Cornell digs the hole whilst we study his technique! Once the hole is dug we tip in a barrow load of well rotted manure from the local stables.
And then it’s time to plant the first tree. Alexandra, Lynchmere Parish Tree Warden does the honours, with assistance from the volunteers of the Lynchmere Society and South Downs National Park rangers.
The finished job, well almost. Root protector to guard against rabbits and a home made stocknetting guard against deer. I will be adding tree stakes for each tree but the need to plant them overcame the desire to wait until I had finished the tree stakes.
Bringing the orchard into existance has been a lot of work. There is still lots to do and the plants will need plenty of care and attention in their first year. But it’s enlightened self interest as we have the fruits of our labours, literally, in mind! Bring the orchard to fruition (pun entirely intended) will take a few seasons yet and in the meantime there will be lots of pruning and scything the grass to look forward to.
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