The Orchard Man Cometh

Martin pruning the Bath Beauty 2015A decade and more ago, the Government were paying grants to grub up and destroy orchards. Today there are loads of Government grants and projects to protect, save and replant orchards, which apparently had been disappearing at an alarming rate. It’s what politicians like to call joined up thinking.

So, blessed with a small old orchard at the Secret Acre, prolific in apples and plums, we decided to do the responsible thing and joined the Gloucestershire Orchard Trust, to add our heritage varieties to the County’s register.

Like everything at the Secret Acre, our orchard was in need of a fresh injection of tlc. Undergrowth and hedges had engulfed some areas, and a good restorative prune was needed.

The Secret Acre is prolific in apples and plums.

The Secret Acre is prolific in apples and plums.

Now in theory learning to prune is straight forward. In practise any individual tree conspires to look as confusingly different as possible from any ideal text book diagram in order to create maximum panic and despair.

But cometh the hour, cometh the man, for us in the shape of Martin Hayes, an experienced fruit tree pruner from the Gloucestershire Orchard Trust.

Martin surveyed our orchard and wrote a report, including spotting some extra surprises hiding in the still to be cleared undergrowth, like a quince tree. Martin then spent several days with us doing the first stage of a two year restorative prune, patiently explain what he was doing and why.

Martin Hayes of the Gloucestershire Orchard Trust prunes a Charles Ross (before & after).

Martin Hayes of the Gloucestershire Orchard Trust prunes a Charles Ross (before & after).

I’m still not sure I am confident enough to tackle the rest of the restorative prune next year without Martin’s guidance, but hopefully I will have learned enough practical pruning to handle the ongoing maintenance from year three. Now Emma and I are looking forward to seeing how the trees and fruit respond and flourish in response to the pruning.

I already make a demijohn of cider each year in Bristol, so for me a load of apple trees holds the future promise of being more than merrily self-sufficient in cider.

Three test combinations of cider on the go.

Three test combinations of cider on the go.

The orchard was coming into fruit as we took on the Secret Acre last year, too soon to ramp up our own production. So friends came on organised work days to help clear undergrowth in return for picking the fruit, which resulted in an outbreak of delicious pies, jams and chutneys right across Bristol. I increased my cider production to all three of the demijohns I currently own, each with a different test combination of apple varieties, all now carefully noted, in contrast to my previous haphazard approach. And Emma and I enlisted the help of Rory Cox at the Lockleaze Apple Press to produce a 50 bottle test batch of pasteurised Apple Juice for Christmas presents, which received great feedback.

A taste of things to come, we hope.

A 50 bottle test batch of pasteurised Apple Juice thanks to the Lockleaze Apple Press.

A 50 bottle test batch of pasteurised Apple Juice thanks to the Lockleaze Apple Press.

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