Even though it seems to have rained almost constantly through the winter, Spring comes around regardless and the blossom is starting to appear in the orchard. Now that the rain has finally stopped and the orchard has begun to dry out, we are somewhat anxiously awaiting to see if there will be any lasting damage to the trees. However it may be sometime before any effects begin to show. The last long wet spell was in the winter of 2000 and following that we lost a good number of the young cider trees that had been newly planted behind the house. While the trees are dormant, they survive quite well but if their roots are in water when they begin to grow again, they become starved of oxygen and nutrients and can suffer badly. Sometimes the roots on just one side of the tree are damaged and die and the tree then becomes unstable and keels over. Julian Temperley of Burrow Hill Cider & Somerset Cider Brandy Company has been in the media a good deal recently saying the cider crop could be adversely affected this year. He had cider trees standing in a foot of water for quite sometime which does not bode well. An additional problem over the winter was that there were hardly any frosts and the trees did not go into a proper dormant period. This will mean they have not stored up so much vigour for the spring and will be more susceptible to pests and disease. To be a grower of any description, one does require a certain degree of optimism coupled with a healthy dose of realism, so we remain our usual upbeat selves and hope for the best.
The Dymock Daffodils
The difference between the last two winters is well illustrated by our contrasting Daffodil walks. On Easter Day at the end of March last year, Annie and I went round the Poets' Walk at Dymock and found only a few very short stemmed hardy blooms trying to raise their heads out of the cold ground to be blasted by a bitter wind. This year we set out at the end of March on the Daffodil Walk which takes you through Dymock Woods We were overwhelmed by the prolifically carpeted woods and fields and delighted by the 'hosts of golden daffodils'.
The pruning has also been delayed this year as it was not expedient to trample the soaked ground around the trees which would have become a muddy compacted mess. Once the ground started drying out, we were trying to catch up and have made good progress in March and have been quite severe in Dorothy's Orchard to keep the burgeoning trees within bounds. With help from Bill Smith, we have lifted the skirts of the cider trees behind the house and the mechanical pruner has now been through all the cider to side them up. Two machines visited the orchard last Saturday and the pruned the whole 15 acres in a morning.
Another sign of Spring, besides blossom and daffodils, is the return of the Orchard Monitor. This species has been an early visitor for the last three years recording all aspects of orchard wildlife. They are recognised by huge amounts of warm clothes, a waterproof outer layer, wellington boots and a woolly hat. Two appeared recently while we were pruning and proceeded to bang posts into the ground and erected a mist net between them so they could capture and ring birds visiting the orchard. They then follow these birds with listening devices and the monitors are often to be found lurking near hedges with their aerials. Between sessions they retreat to a van to eat and doze before the next bout of activity.
Major Cider Producers
I recently attended a Chamber of Commerce Food & Drink Group Breakfast meeting at Westons Cider with a presentation by their Commercial Director, Roger Jackson. Having taken some 100 years to push their turnover to £10 million, they have increased that to £50 million in recent years. It is their intention to hit £100 million by the early 2020s and are mounting a huge marketing campaign to promote Westons at home and abroad. They are sponsoring English Cricket, Gloucester Rugby, the Cheltenham Literary Festival and the Bristol Balloon and Harbour Festival as well as numerous stages, bars and VIP areas at other events.
Heineken who own Bulmers have just announced plans that they will be investing £60 million in new facilities in Hereford and moving production and packaging from the UBL site at Ledbury. This has caused some furore locally due to the loss of jobs. Hereford's gain is Ledbury's loss. Apple milling and processing will continue at UBL, Ledbury but this is highly mechanised, very seasonal and requires few workers.
Meanwhile, the Once Upon A Tree ciders are fermenting nicely and Emma, our Production Assistant has been very busy racking them off and Simon is pleased with the early indicators. Last season the fermentation was very slow due to the cold weather through the winter of 2012/13. This winter has been wet but much warmer and the higher temperatures have resulted in quicker processes and results. You might enjoy Emma's blog as she learns the ropes of cider and wine making at Dragon Orchard..........
Loins are being girded as we transition into Spring, with our first orchard visit of the year by the Orchard Network for Excellence (ONE) study group at the end of the week.
Our Tree Sponsors Day will be on Saturday 26th April and the following weekend is Cropsharers' Spring weekend and Big Apple Blossomtime Festival. The Big Apple Cider and Perry Competition is held on the Saturday 3rd May and tastings of all the entries on Sunday 4th & Monday 5th May at Putley Village Hall. There will be a special event put on by the Wye Players of a read through of excerpts from Laurie Lee's 'Cider with Rosie' on Monday afternoon at the Big Hug. See Big Apple website for Programme details at www.bigapple.org.uk
The Ledbury Food Group are holding a beer tasting event "Appreciating Great Beer" at the Burgage Hall with Derek Orford also on April 26th. www.ledburyfoodgroup.org