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Dragon Orchard News

Erd Buying Group

French Cultural Institute

CSA Meeting in Godolo

Snowy Farm Walk

Snowy Walk

Meeting in Szeged

Ice on the carriage windows

Ice on the Danube

In the small but deliciously warm lobby of our Budapest hostel situated close to the Danube, lay a battered guidebook that had been thumbed by visitors eager to make the most of their stay on the edge of Buda itself. In the usual preamble of the best times to visit Hungary in general and Budapest in particular, the book laid lavish praise on various seasons but gave dire warnings against visiting in January and February. We arrived on February 1st as part of the European funded Gruntvig programme promoting Community Supported Agriculture to local farmers and consumers. Ann and I travelled over with Jade Bashford representing the Soil Association who have been the main body encouraging and helping to develop CSAs in the UK. Jade is an actively involved founder member of Stroud Community Supported Agriculture’. and we, of course, run Dragon Orchard Cropsharers CSA scheme. Both these initiatives have been running for a number of years. We were part of an eight strong delegation consisting of us three from the UK, a grower and a consumer from an AMAP (French CSA) in the south of France, an Austrian vegetable CSA scheme member and two enthusiastic eco-warriors from CSAs in Germany. Our programme had been organised by the energetic and industrious Zsofi who did a wonderful job of minding us for the four days of the visit. She had put together an excellent series of events in which we partook and which served well to increase our mutual understanding.

Our first full day began with an early tram ride to a market in Budapest to see what local producers were bringing into the city to sell. Early February meant that their wares were limited but we were still able to gain a good impression of their lifestyle and also their stalwart and stoic acceptance of the bitterly cold winter conditions. There used to be many sizeable markets in the city but these have been dwindling as supermarkets have taken hold. After much needed coffee and cake to warm us (and we had only been outside for a relatively short time) we travelled by train to the suburb of Erd to meet a newly formed buying group who have made contact with local farmers and growers to supply some of their food, to tell them our stories and to learn something of their hopes and aspirations. The final session of the day was at the magnificently appointed French Cultural Institute complete with impressive presentation facilities including a huge screen and simultaneous translation. The meeting was very well attended and we all made our presentations which led to some interesting discussion afterwards. We began to realise that Hungary’s past Communist regime had left a legacy of distrust for ‘community’ based ideas but there is a growing wish and need to re-establish contact between growers and consumers and the direct link that CSA provides was of interest to lots of people.

The next day saw us at a Conference day held at the university in Godolo where Zsofi had studied and had an excellent network of supporters. Our journeys on public transport were always an education and one thing that Jade Bashford learnt was that if you buy an apple from an outside stall in early February don’t be surprised if it is frozen completely solid. At the university the gathering consisted of the shakers and movers of the few existing Hungarian CSAs and our food was mostly vegan, raw and tasty in the extreme. This was another meeting with a real sense of purpose and helped us gain a much greater understanding of the issues facing CSA in the country. It also gave us understanding of the yearning for affordable, good quality food and a re-engagement and attachment to the land. As the afternoon drew to a close we walked across town and were treated to an evening meal in a newly opened café that had been set up to provide school lunches made from locally sourced produce for the children.

The temperature had been steadily dropping and snow was forecast for our last couple of days. We set off on our third morning on a suburban rail journey out to Harankaptor in the Danube valley. The snow was just starting to fall as we walked to an organic holding that had set up a vegetable based CSA the year before. The exertion was worth it as on our arrival we were revived by a colourless still liquid, which turned out to be home-produced Palinka and we were able to appreciate just why it is so popular in the winter. We felt very much at home in the farmhouse kitchen and among kindred spirits with a common purpose and again related our stories and held our discussions in a much more informal setting. Our walk back to the station became increasingly wintry as the snow deepened around us. On our return to Budapest Zsofi guided us through the wonderfully lit and shrouded in falling snow triumphal Heroes’ Square. We passed a magnificent ice-rink with a backdrop of a fairytale castle and ended up in the marble reception hall of one of the ornate thermal spas. We were soon floating on our backs outside in the heated pool, gazing up through steam and snow to a starlit sky and the moon and then walking barefoot, in our bathing suits through the snow, up ice-encrusted steps to other indoor pools, saunas and hot pots. All we lacked was the Palinka to render an extraordinary experience totally sublime.

On our last day we travelled some 150 kilometres south to Szeged. As it had snowed so much overnight the proposed road trip had to be shifted to a journey on the train. The two hour ride to the university town of Szeged through a snow covered landscape was followed by a half hour walk through foot-deep snow on the streets to a gathering at a Steiner School. Here was a fine grassroots gathering of like-minded souls who had braved the extreme central European weather to come and exchange information and thoughts, dreams and aspirations about running their own CSA. Our train journey back was enlightened by the build-up of snow and ice on the inside of the windows which gave a Dr Zhivago atmosphere to the proceedings. We had one final meal of Hungarian specialities before taking the tram from Pest across the river to Buda as the ice flowed majestically down the Danube past the impressive Parliament building. Better not to have Palinka in those conditions one felt.

So what did we learn apart from February being a fine time to visit Hungary?

  • We learnt that in Hungary and in other countries there are an increasing number of people looking for good healthy affordable food of known provenance and wanting to reconnect with the land.
  • It confirmed out belief that CSA can help people achieve these aims.
  • We learnt of rich soil and considerable enterprise in Hungary and we found out that it will take time to rebuild trust following a communist regime.
  • We enjoyed an energetic and hospitable community who were bursting with ideas and enthusiasm.
  • We were reminded that informal discussions and personal contact are the meat that fleshes out the bones of more formal and structured gatherings.
  • We found out just how good outdoor spas can be on a wintry night.
  • We learnt to enjoy the vagaries of ancient public transport in Budapest in the winter and the warmth of Palinka, the bite of good coffee, the comfort of a pastry and the honesty of their pork.
  • We learnt to relish a somewhat overheated bathroom when you come in from the cold and that winter travel can lift the spirits and inform the senses.

 

Further reading:

www.soilassociation.org/communitysupportedagriculture

www.stroudcommunityagriculture.org

www.gartencoop.org - CSA near Freidberg, Germany

angelThere are now Angels in our Orchard as well as a pair of hooded figures and two interesting benches! Here at Dragon Orchard we are always keen to enhance the visitor experience and add value for the Rural Tourist - though I’m not quite sure what any of that really means. However, on a recent visit to nearby Trumpet Corner, we were very taken with the work of up and coming wood sculptor Ed Elliott. Ed’s work has been well acclaimed and when we suggested he might like to display some of his work in the Orchard he readily agreed. The wet weather delayed the flight of the Angel but he has now landed and taken up his place among the Blenheim Orange accompanied by a pair of hooded pieces and a wonderful ladder figure. We are also displaying work by up and come Dave Johnson who has lent us two of his fantastic benches. These are great for sitting on, providing succour for the weary and a place for enjoying the nearby sculptures. You don’t need to go to heaven to rest and see angels, just come and visit us at Dragon Orchard.

Study Orchards

Dragon Orchard is one of ten Herefordshire orchards to be used as a site to look at populations of birds and mammals and their reproductive performance. The monitoring teams have been here late at night and early mornings trapping, marking and releasing, searching, surveying and recording, often in very wet conditions. They also used endoscopic cameras, cavity searches and motion sensitive cameras which does make it sound rather like an uncomfortable hospital appointment. However, we now have more accurate information on the wildlife population of our orchard and its surroundings and know that we have high numbers of wood mice, bank voles and yellow necked mice. This is the first year of the ongoing study and we will keep information coming as the story unfolds.

Yellow Necked Mouse Bank Vole Woodmouse

Hydes and Hops

Were just two of the things that we learnt about during our last Dragon Orchard Cropsharers weekend held between the showers on a typical 2012 summer weekend in July.

hoverdTim Hoverd of the Herefordshire Archaeology Department led us on an eye-opening Putley Parish walk revealing the history of our area. Of particular interest were the line of Roman villas along the base of the Marcle Ridge, the Middle Age manors and the still visible remains of the marks of the great oxen powered ploughs. Putley has been an area of great agricultural endeavour over the centuries and it now feels even more of a privilege to be continuing that tradition. Interesting Fact: An acre - which you may remember from school - is a patch of land, a furlong by a chain - 220 yards x 22 yards - based on the area that a horse could plough in a day in medium ground. According to Tim, the area ploughed by an ox team in a day is known as a Hyde.

hopsWe also visited Town End Farm on the edge of Bosbury to see how Mark Andrews and his family are keeping alive the Herefordshire skills of growing hops. Hop growers are a dwindling band and there are now just some 40 left across the country. The Andrews still grow hops in the traditional way in Hop Yards as well as having some more modern varieties of mini hops. The wet weather has made it a very difficult time for all growers but especially so for hop producers as the hop flower or more precisely hop fruit is particularly susceptible to attack from weevils of every description. If when you drink cider you give a thought to the cider apple grower, next time you have a beer, give a nod to Mark Andrews and his like, without whom your drink would have a very different flavour.

They have a beautiful award-winning self-catering holiday cottage in a converted cornmill and also sell hop products in season.



anntweet

Whilst basking in a momentary spot of rare summer sunshine during the Olympics, Annie gathered in the plums and was inspired to 'tweet' to the online world ... "Even more gold. Picking Golden Sphere plums in a golden sunny Dragon Orchard on a golden afternoon". Most of the plum varieties have been very scarce but this one tree of Golden Sphere was prolific and there are some still available if anyone would like some. Greengages coming soon.


Pear Blossom in the OrchardGood Friday was when farm workers had a rare day off from their unrelenting physical toil. They would often keep a pig and grow their own vegetables as well as snaring the odd rabbit for the pot. The reason they were given Good Friday off was so they could spend time sowing their vegetable seeds and getting the potatoes in the ground. This Good Friday would have proved quite a challenge as it rained hard all day and the ground is saturated. The high winds of over 70mph in the week were strong enough to blow over a tree at the front of the house even though it has not yet come into leaf. Some of the ancient perry trees in the area have also suffered especially those that have a heavy infestation of mistletoe, which provides a huge amount of wind resistance.

However wild, windy and wet....Spring is sprung and the Mirabelle plums are in early blossom, the quince in bud and much stirring in bucolic places. The winter has been good with cold nights and dry clear days and not the endless rain we experienced last year. This has held back growth, lengthened dormancy, storing up that all-important vigour until the days become longer and the temperatures rise.


 PruningsPrunings
Pruning and Orchard Work
The mostly clement weather has allowed us to make good progress on the pruning and winter work in the orchard. The cider apple trees have had their most severe pruning of the last 40 years. They are still producing well and had been mechanically pruned last year, shaping up the sides. However the tops were becoming thick again and there was a reduction of light levels lower down the tree. We obtained the services of 5 strong young East Europeans who worked 10 hours a day taking out some major branches just with hand saws. The piles of prunings between the rows looked as though they had removed half the orchard. Luckily the ground was dry enough for all the prunings to be gathered onto two burning piles which made short work of the enormous amount of brash they had created and we are fairly tidy again now. Hugh and I have been gathering up the final bits and pieces with our small tractor and buckrake.
A soil analysis has been carried out and the required replenishment of lime to reduce the soil acidity has been applied. This is put on in slow release granular form using a tractor mounted spinner which gives an even spread underneath the trees.


 

New Topper
We have just purchased for the new 2015 grass management season a 'new to us' Votex mower. You will be delighted to know that this model has overlapping, swinging blades so the aisles will look more neatly tended come the summer. We remember the excitement when we bought the previous mower, shortly after we started Cropsharers in 2001, as being the first major purchase we could afford from this extra source of income.


 

Charlotte's Survey
We are pleased to announce a fourth PhD student has joined our orchard entourage. My nephew Ben and his fiancée Helen have been housesitting for us while we were on holiday. They are due to be married at Dragon Orchard in mid May shortly after they have completed their doctorates in Zoology. Dr Jess Allen is working on her second PhD while living off-grid in her yurt and we have just made contact with Charlotte Selvey. Charlotte, along with Helen and Ben, is based at London Zoo but had no idea of their connection to Dragon Orchard. She is in her first year of a 4 Year study looking at the relationship between habitats in orchards and biodiversity. Once she is set up, we hope Charlotte will come and meet Cropsharers and discuss her work.


 

Herefordshire Walking Festival 2015Walking with the Dragons
We are once again involved in the Herefordshire Walking Festival in June www.walkingfestival.com and shall be leading two walks from the orchard. The first on Sunday 14th June at 2pm is the Herefordshire Pomona around the local orchards of Putley. The second is on Tuesday 16th June at 9.45am, The Wonder of the Wonder.
Jess Allen is undertaking her week-long walking event culminating at Dragon Orchard on June 21st.

 

 

 


 

imag1143
Bab’s Tree
Babs Tree

One of the great strengths of Bulmers has always been the link between the Orcharding Department and the Growers. Thankfully this was maintained throughout the takeover by Scottish and Newcastle and now strengthened under Heineken. The old bush orchard that was planted by my parents 40 years ago was supervised by a strip of a lad who had just started at Bulmers - a certain Chris Fairs who is now about to retire and one feels we shall not see his like again. However, as well as Chris, one delightful link that continues is when a grower passes on to the Great Orchard in the sky, Bulmers donates a standard apple tree as a memorial. My dear mother Babs hung up her pruning saw and picking bucket in 2007 but one does not wish to rush into memorials with unseemly haste. Recently I hitched up our trailer and headed to the Bulmers’ Nursery at Kinnersley in North Herefordshire. I collected a standard cider tree plus stake, guard and tie and tag and Bab’s BroadLeaf Norman is now resplendent between our drive and the Goose pen. It is a great joy to be able to continue this tradition and to keep alive such fond memories.

Soil Analysis

When one manages an orchard there are many factors which need to be taken into consideration on a regular basis. There are seasonal tasks on an annual basis beginning with pruning and ending with the harvest. Routine mowing and spraying are other specific matters, as are hedge trimming and drainage including sub-soiling. Machinery needs to be serviced and maintained and even boxes and bins made ready for the following harvest. All these items are fairly obvious but the whole operation is literally underpinned by what is under our feet and the medium from which most of our income is derived - the soil. Here in Herefordshire in general and in what I am often fond of saying - Putley in Particular - as it is a most particular place - we are blessed with rich moisture retaining soils which are well suited to fruit production. They are not easy to work for arable production as there are shorter times when they can be tilled but for fruit this is less of a problem. We apply small amounts of nitrogen and potash on an annual basis as we know how much is taken out of the ground per tonne of fruit. However there are many other elements involved, so every three years we undertake a detailed soil analysis. This is done by taking samples using a small hand auger at a variety of places in the orchard and then bagging these up and sending them to the lab for analysis. This is our result for 2012 and overall it is good news. Our soil has held up well and just requires an application of two tonnes of lime per acre. We will need about 30 tonnes in total but our neighbour Nigel Rolinson will need 70 for his orchard and as there is a useful discount for 100 tonnes we will buy this jointly and can also share the cost of the spreading. As the present custodians of the orchard we are pleased to be ensuring its health and vitality and doing our bit to keep the land in good heart.

A Balancing Act

imag1166

Fruit trees are mostly interested in reproduction. They only want to continue the species and so left to themselves will produce lots of small fruit one year, have a year off and then repeat the process. Fruit growers over the centuries have learnt how to persuade them to be more co-operative by selective breeding, judicious planting, control of pests and diseases and talking to them on a regular basis. One of the key techniques is pruning which by cutting pieces off the tree makes it think it is under attack and so stimulates growth and vigour. The old boys and, apart from my mother, it was mostly males working in orchards, always used to suck their teeth and mutter that “wood follows the knife”. A dark warning that taking out too much will over stimulate the tree and produce more wood, not necessarily more fruit. The trick is to balance the root system with the framework and to keep it in balance and harmony - a sound principle for humans as well as trees. The balancing act is further enhanced by removing branches that are broken crossed or diseased and by ensuring that sufficient light and air can penetrate the canopy.

This year we have mechanically pruned the Brainge Patch which contains Browns’ Apple and Ellis Bitter and the contractors have given the rest of the cider a hard prune with chainsaws on poles and hand saws. It looked as though a quarter of the orchard was on the ground! Ken Treherne spent two days last week clearing and burning all the prunings. We are still tending the fire as it slowly subsides into a steadily shrinking heap of white ash. I have been speculating on diversification into carbon neutral funeral pyres but my idea has met with muted support so far.

Walk on the Wildside

There have been a few brushes with Nature in the orchard in recent weeks ...

Caught by the Cat

imag1153As reported in this month’s Putley Press “a live dormouse was found by a cat near Dragon Orchard last week and rescued and placed carefully in a dormouse box complete with nest as it appeared to be quite well after its ordeal”. The Days now have two young cats and one must have found the sleeping dormouse in the hedgerow and spent some time playing with it. Kate Wollen came to the rescue with a lovely wooden nest box and an old nest and we do hope the dormouse is resting quietly in its new abode.imag1154













Caught on Fire

Behind Dragon House is a line of trees, part of an old hedgeline that we kept when we built the house almost 20 years ago. As well as providing shelter, the trees are also a wonderful wildlife habitat and allow us a close up view of nature from the comfort of our bedroom and bathrooms at the back of the house. Recently we have been enjoying the antics of a very distinctive squirrel whose main characteristic is that it has no fur on its tail which looks more like that of a rat. We have been keeping an eye on ‘Rattail’ and sending reports of its progress to our son Hugh. The two of them had a close encounter when Hugh was lighting the wood burning stove. Hugh was actually keeping a eye on proceedings as a squirrel had fallen down the chimney and into the fire the previous week and been incinerated. He had just got the fire lit when, lo and behold, another intrepid explorer fell into the fire and was becoming rapidly blackened. Hugh managed to open the door and the singed and terrified animal jumped out into the sitting room. We then watched as the animal began a frantic wall of death run, bouncing off the walls, pictures, curtains, sofa and carpet leaving behind it a black sooty trail. It then hid under the desk and we managed to open a window as it took off again on its search for freedom. We were finally able to usher it onto the window sill, it smelt the fresh air and leapt out into the night.

We didn’t see it for a while after that and thought it might have been too badly injured to survive. Then we spotted it one day on the ground with its very distinctive rat tail. It has now progressed as its tail is growing to more adventurous activities back up in the trees.

Caught on camera

Simon has put some video footage on Youtube from a nest box in their garden at Orchard Croft. There is a blue tit that has taken up residence in the box which has a little camera in it and they are keeping an eye on progress as more and more eggs are being laid.

http://t.co/z8DsXOaV Blue-Tit update - eggs spotted!

blossom-to-big-hugWet Wet Wet

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.

Dymock Daffodils


 

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'.


 Machine Pruning in the Orchard

Pruning

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.


Orchard MonitorsMist Net 

Monitoring continues

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.


 Simon & Emma Cidermaking

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..........


 Big Apple Blossomtime Beer Tasting!

Upcoming Events

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

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