And Still it Rains.....
Orchard mowing early on a June morning is usually one of the most enjoyable of rural chores, chugging along between the rows of trees relishing the sunshine and sparkling air and the gradual increasing warmth with the newly formed fruitlets proudly peeping through fresh green leaves. This morning the task began under leaden skies and I soon had to return to base for a woolly hat and gloves. Instead of becoming lighter, the skies darkened, the clouds lowered and the heavens opened. In just a few minutes surface water appeared and torrents began to wash down the aisles and filled the still to be ironed out ruts. Time to return to the house and strip off soaked clothes and warm up with a reviving breakfast. During May over 100mm of rain fell and the first five months of this year have seen almost all of the "average" annual rainfall. This has meant that the orchard has been saturated for months and water has been holding in pools in places. We have had a ground engineer come along and assess the state of the land drains. He has advised that the big 'goat' willow that has established itself over the years behind Hearst shed has probably blocked the bottom drains. Acer Tree Services have now come along and taken it down in a very timely manner. All gone in a day.
On the Brighter Side.....
In the last blog, I wrote about the fantastic Dymock daffodils. The warm, wet conditions have led to a profusion of wildflowers and the buttercups appear even more buttery. On the May Cropsharers weekend we visited Putley Common which is being managed to promote a wide variety of wildlife. Kate Woollen, who works for the Forestry Commission and is an active member of the Putley Wildlife group, opened our eyes to the many different things growing and residing on the Common. We walked back through the Dingle and into Lady Wood which revealed an extraordinary carpet of bluebells under the trees. The following day we drove over to Malvern to see the Well Dressing and were astonished by the intensity of the colour of the bluebells on the hillside. If an artist had painted a picture of them, you would think they had gone 'heavy' on the blue! People have been coming from 'far and wide' to enjoy the amazing display.
The Orchard Centre, Hartpury
We have been aware of the Orchard Centre for a few years now and were delighted to have the opportunity to pay a visit in May. The Centre was set up and built with an HLF Grant by a knowledgeable group of enthusiasts as the National Collection of Perry Pears and a centre of excellence for cider and perry production in the rolling Gloucestershire countryside near Hartpury. The Centre has purpose built facilities for cider making and is used for cider and perry production for 'Out of the Orchard' and is the base for Peter Mitchell's Cider making courses. The centre is managed by Matteus, who showed us around and I was delighted to be able to inform him that Hartpury takes it's name from the Old English for 'hard pear', which he didn't know. After the visit, we called by Hartpury Church to see the extraordinary Bee Shelter, an ornate carved stone structure in the churchyard that houses a plethora of bee skeps. Not something one comes across every day.
Cider with Rosie
This has long been a favourite book of ours and we have a CD of Laurie Lee himself reading extracts from his iconic story of his early life in the Cotswold valley of Sladd. The Wye Players performed a fine version on the Big Hug at Dragon Orchard on May Day afternoon. Supposedly a read through performance but many knew all their lines and the costumes and set were just right. Our friend and neighbour Jake Herbst was the narrator as the older Laurie Lee but the star turn was the orchard itself. Resplendent in its blossomtime finery with the cuckoo producing noises off stage, it all provided the most fitting backdrop for such an evocative piece.
'Golden fire...that first taste of summer....." is how Laurie Lee described the cider consumed so provocatively by young Rosie. Golden Fire is the title that has been given to a contemporary project being proposed by the Rural Media Company who you may remember produced the extraordinary 'Ledbury Lives' piece last year. There are plans afoot for a multimedia platform – you all know what that means, of course – to celebrate Cider, its culture and place in our county of Herefordshire. Part of the celebration maybe a pop-up restaurant at Dragon Orchard. Watch this space and keep your glasses filled with the golden fire. www.ruralmedia.co.uk
In the winter we made a determined effort to prune the apples, pears and quince in Dorothy's Orchard to contain some of the vigorous growth therein. However the stone fruit needs to be left alone during the winter and pruning takes place post blossom and fruit set. Despite our best intentions this often escapes our notice until too late but this year it has been firmly on our TO DO list and we have now managed to get it done. It is really hard to cut off branches festooned with little fruitlets but we kept telling the trees it was for their own good. After the recent torrential rain, it was really muddy underfoot and under wheel and we have had to pile the prunings into bins on the edge of the orchard as it is too wet to haul them up to the burning pile. We hope it won't be too long before it is dry enough to make that move.
Dorothy Reigns Supreme
The Hereford International Cider Competition held annually at the Cider Museum in Hereford has regularly seen some decent results for Once Upon A Tree and 2014 was no exception. Priggles Perry took a prize, as did a fine single variety Dabinett which Simon bravely let ferment with its natural wild yeasts rather than using wine yeasts. However pride of place was awarded to Dorothy's Orchard Draught cider which is made from all the dessert fruit in the sponsored orchard. There has been growing interest in recent years in making ciders from dessert apples and this one has a lovely soft flavour with a long finish but without the normal cider tannin. Against some stiff competition from some fine cider producers the first prize was awarded to Dorothy's Orchard. So well done to Dorothy's with a good bit of help from Simon and Emma.