During the May Day Bank Holiday last year David Pealing of Mr P’s Bees took the first super from the hive and spun it in our garage, so that we could actually sample the honey there and then. This year, not only was there no honey to be taken, but David has actually had to feed the bees because there was not enough flower for them to feed themselves sufficiently. April 2011 was the sunniest on record, April 2012 the wettest. What a difference a year makes.
One thing we have certainly been talking about for a year is our Orchard Trail and on Saturday 5th May we were able to take our Cropsharers around it for the first time. There is a marked map showing the shorter Gobbits Trail and the longer, hillier Hursts Trail, both named after our two orchards. On the ground there are marker posts with snippits of information on each which give an overview of Dragon Orchard and Once Upon A Tree. Simon has done a fantastic design job on the information boards and we were delighted when our neighbours, who run an internationally recognised tourism company, told us they felt there was just the right amount of information on each board. There is a QR icon (quick response) on the first board, so that the cognoscenti with smart phones can simply point their device at it and up pops the website. The QRs are also on the drinks labels and being used by many more people.
Our Dragon Orchard Cropsharers Spring Weekend over May Day Bank holiday coincides with our local Big Apple event and came at the end of a period of really heavy rain. We had just got the pruning finished and the brash burnt before it became really wet. But since then we weren’t able to get on the ground at all. We erected the marquee and got all the flags up and left it as late as possible to try and cut the grass. Once up the side of the drive was enough to confirm that even the wide low-pressure tyres on our garden mower were going to make too much mess. However, we really did not want to complain about the rain because up until then it had been so terribly dry and the trees really needed moisture to get them ready to produce leaf and flower. Temperatures had been low enough to inhibit early growth, which is just as well as there had been several hard frosts. Jo Pardoe, who farms near us, has organic cherries on the side of the Cockshoot and spent a fortnight putting up covers to protect them from hail and frost. The gales at the end of April just about shredded the lot, so that now all that remains are tatters of plastic.
Hansnett Farm at Canon Frome is a very interesting enterprise owned and run by a fantastically creative family. They hosted us for a visit with our Cropsharers and delighted us with their interest and enthusiasm. Sue Farquhar, who moved to the county some twenty years ago, keeps and shows Shropshire Sheep and Ruby Red Devon cattle. The Shropshire sheep are being increasingly used for keeping down grass and weeds in both conifer plantations and, more recently, cider orchards. Sue’s daughter, Jo Butcher, keeps rare breed hens which produce an astonishing array of eggs of many different colours. She sells her eggs and day old chicks, as well as point of lay and is dispatching her poultry at these various different levels of development all over the country. Her daughter also has her own business, called appropriately Ellie’s Eggs and although Ellie is still young, she is turning into an eggspert entrepreneur. Guy Butcher finds his creativity through wood and the quality and sheer craftsmanship of his work does need to be seen to be believed. He has both his workshop and gallery at the farm and it is well worth a trip to savour the sheer brilliance of the work. You can also look at it online at www.hansnettfarm.co.uk and www.guybutcherfurniture.co.uk
The Movie Bus
A wonderful addition at Big Apple this year was the Vintage Movie Bus. In the halcyon days of the Labour government when Anthony Wedgewood Benn ran the Department for Industry, or whatever it was called then, he commissioned a fleet of specially built mobile cinemas. Resplendent in 60’s coachwork, they sped the length and breadth of Britain bringing information about current working practices to industrial sites. Putley Parish Hall was the venue for the sole remaining Wedgie Benn Movie Bus which has been carefully restored and now shows a range of local interest old films and newsreels. Each performance was fully booked and gave a real focus for the weekend. The Movie Bus spent the night at Dragon Orchard, snuggled against our shed, dreaming of more gentle days and glad to be back in a quiet rural community. www.vintagemobilecinema.co.uk
Sponsor A Tree Weekend
Our Sponsor A Tree Weekend was held on the second weekend in May. We were blessed with fine weather, having suffered cold and wet conditions for most of the previous month and experienced a very cold Bank Holiday Monday with Cropsharers. We had an excellent turn-out of enthusiastic tree sponsors who were able to enjoy the new orchard trail in the morning, sample a delicious Dragon Orchard lunch and then go on the walk to The Wonder in the afternoon. An excellent reunion of some 35 tree sponsors.
Other Orchard Events
The last Saturday in April saw Richard Crompton running another of his photographic workshops. Although it was a cold and windy day there was just enough early blossom to capture on film. In the afternoon, a local expert brought an amazing variety of birds of prey. It is difficult to know which is the most extraordinary sight - eagles and owls flying over our lawn or them being snapped by a myriad of intrepid photographers. It was also a good test of the photographers’ outdoor clothing and for them to find out exactly what to put in all their fantastic array of storage pockets in their especially designed waistcoats.
The following Monday we were hosts to a Bulmers Foundation 'Art in the Orchard' session. This is the second year the event has been run and Dragon Orchard was asked to be a venue. Various special needs groups worked under the wonderful guidance of Green Eyed Monster, a group who specialise in creative outdoor arts. The students all contributed to a fantastic piece of sculpture and spent a really constructive time in the orchard. The expert tutoring and their enthusiasm really blossomed at Dragon Orchard and we hope to welcome them back before too long.
International Cider Competition at the Hereford Cider Museum
Four years ago Annie and I were in Italy with our Cropsharers and received a text from Simon with the results of the very first competition that Once Upon a Tree had ever entered. He had done rather well and since then has not been out of the medals at the competition, which is held annually at the Cider Museum. This year was no exception for as well as coming third in the medium cider, Once Upon A Tree took two firsts. One for the best dry cider for 2011 Marcle Ridge and the other for the best single variety, The Dabinett. See the latest News item on our website for more details. The dry summer last year made it a particularly difficult season but when the going gets tough Simon Day gets going.