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Dragon Orchard News

Harvest begins

Recently we have had some perfect autumn days that linger in the memory, to make up for the lousy summer. Harvest has begun and activity around the cider shed is hotting up. Last week we started pressing our first juice of the year, the Discovery which although it has a fantastic pink colour, the sugars are 20% down on last year. This is due to the lack of sunlight and the poor uptake of potassium due to the wet conditions which all slows the ripening process and the starch is not converted to sugar. This week the next batch of Tumpy Ground cider has been sent off to be put into bags and hence into box, along with the Worcester apple juice for bottling. The grass keeps growing as if it were April and has to be cut often to get it short enough for the harvesting machinery. Another of life's little balances.

Shows and Stuff

The show season is also upon us and there was great excitement when Kay attended Carfest where she rubbed shoulders with Chris Evans. He was a very good host coming round to all the producers for a photo opportunity. Ludlow has been and went and the re-scheduled Welland Steam Rally was last weekend. These will be followed by The Malvern Autumn Show, September 29th and 30th, The Big Apple October 13th and 14th and then our local Hereford Food Festival on the last weekend in October.

5a the homendThe Three Counties Cider Shop
Once Upon A Tree trade customer base is growing with the Midlands Co-Op Group and Countrywide stores now stocking our products and quite a few who focus on Tumpy Ground Draught. Among these are two specialist cider shops in Bristol and Essex, who have been doing good trade in the last year or so but there is not a similar outlet anywhere in our region. Well there will be now - 5a The Homend in Ledbury recently came up for rent, a small double fronted unit in a prime position right in the middle of town. We signed the lease, have applied for the licence and have begun to fit it out. We will sell Once Upon A Tree products but also feature a range of draught ciders and perries and probably a Wye Valley beer as well as other local cider producers. We plan to open in early October. Watch this space.

The Winery
When we originally set up Once Upon A Tree, part of the plan was to offer contract wine making at some point as a service to small local vineyard owners. Three Choirs deal with larger amounts, but do not have the capacity for smaller producers so their grapes usually end up in one ubiquitous pressing. However Coddington Vineyard has just been sold and the winery there will be used for the new owner's vintage car collection. We have purchased the wine making equipment which will need to be moved over to Dragon Orchard very soon so we will be able to carry out the whole wine making process. As you can imagine, this has initiated a massive move around to sort out our storage capacity, rather like an elaborate parlour game with some crafty moves we are still contemplating.

The Legacy of Bees
As a group of people interested in fruit production we are all aware of the role of honey bees in our orchards. The challenges facing managed bee populations are understood and research is relatively well funded. We recently attended a talk organised Putley WI given by The Bee Guardian Foundation, which totally changed our perception of these creatures. There are over 20,000 species of bees, including many living underground and in cavities, as well as in nests made from petals and leaves. Over three-quarters of our food depends on pollination and wild bees are an essential part of this, especially bumble bees which are able to operate at lower temperatures than honey bees. The hypodermic syringe, the microscope, sweetness, light and modular building techniques all owe their origin to bee technology and our future on this planet is closely linked to theirs. We are planning closer links to The Bee Guardian Foundation and hope to organise a talk at Dragon Orchard in the New Year.

68e72d7a196411e3a4d822000a1f924b 7After one of the the worst years for apple production in living memory, there has been a great deal of uncertainty about the 2013 season. A late cold spring led to much anxious speculation about the set of the blossom. However there are now predictions of a ‘bumper’ harvest in 2013 … whatever that may mean. The Ledbury Reporter rang Annie a few weeks ago to seek her views and for once actually managed to accurately quote her as being ‘cautiously optimistic’. Early signs are encouraging but we won’t count our apples until they are all in. My Mother used to wisely remark ‘there’s many a slip twixt cup and lip’.

We have been able to pick a good few plums and have just finished making jam and chutney with the Czars. There has been another excellent crop of greengages and we had enough to send 75 x 10 kgs trays off to a local wholesaler in Evesham. Their flavour is really intense this year with the right balance of acidity and sweetness. We have also gathered in the Kirks’ Blue and Yellow Eggs. We are often away when the plums ripen as one never knows exactly when this will happen. It is good to be here and be able to pick them at the right time and get them into the cold store so we can extend the time we can make use of them for making preserves.

We are now picking the Discovery for juicing this week. The mill and press have been dusted off and made ready for a busy crushing season over the next 3 months. With a good bit of sunshine this summer, the sugar levels in the apples are better than last year. Despite that last year’s Discovery juice did win top prize again at The Bath and West Show in June.




Feline assistance

This summer we have had two new additions to the occupants of Dragon House in the shape of ‘Simone’ de Beauvoir and ‘Edith’ Piaf, both Snow Bengal cats. We have adopted them from a young itinerant cello playing friend of ours who has had to move to London Town to seek ‘fame and fortune’. She performs with Emily Barker and the Red Clay Halo and has just set up a quartet (yet to be named) with three other women. They have already secured an advertising engagement with Cadburys, so should be making an appearance on our screens at some point. The cats have settled in very well and have rapidly made the orchard their home and are even helping out with the apple picking. It seemed a little unfair to inflict this new situation on Zeiki, the aged German Pointer, but they seem to have sorted out their differences and mostly ignore each other.




repairsThe Big Hug receives running repairs

Two horrible wet winters and a soaking summer in between have not been kind to the strawbale wall known as the Big Hug in Dorothy’s Orchard. It has taken quite a battering and has developed some large cracks and the odd hole which has been expanded and extended to create temporary living accommodation for a rodent or two. We called upon the expertise of Steve, our wonderfully adaptable orchard worker and Jack of Many Trades. He along with his son and daughter had an end of summer day in the orchard and have done a sterling job raking out the cracks, filling the holes with straw and applying a base layer of plaster. This has now been covered with a smoother top coat and will be ready for limewash in another week or so. This may have been accomplished around apple picking but we might need a work party at the Harvest Weekend in October.

Ledbury in the news

On Saturday 7th September an article appeared in the Weekend section of the Times entitled 'A Weekend in … Ledbury'. The author Richard Whitehead wondered if this was just what David Cameron had in mind when he appointed his ‘shopping czar’ Mary Portas. He liked the bookshops, delis and butchers but was particularly impressed with what he deemed the "magnificent Three Counties Cider Shop that lets you taste from a huge range of local varieties before you buy”. So on your next visit to Ledbury remember to enjoy the rustic magnificence that is the Three Counties Cider Shop.

dorothys orchard box labelTwo new draught ciders

Of particular interest in the Cider Shop are our two new draught ciders. Following the success of Tumpy Ground, there has been demand to widen the range which Simon has now answered. The blend of Kingston Black and Somerset Redstreak known as Kingston Redstreak is now available on tap alongside a new cider which is our first attempt to produce a cider from a blend of dessert apples. Known as Dorothy’s Cider, this is a fine dry cider made with fruit from Dorothy’s Orchard. Simon has created a lovely label with the geese of which my Mother was particularly fond. She would have loved it.


spainCider Club - up and running

Following the launch at the Crown at Woolhope at the last Big Apple in May, the Three Counties Cider Shop Cider Club is up and running. The inaugural meeting tasted the winners of various competitions and Simon devised a tasting and scoring matrix to be filled in by the participants. A fascinating evening and the Once Upon A Tree range featured highly in the overall ratings. The next meeting is on September 18th when they will be visiting Dragon Orchard and walking through the excellent crop of cider apples and discussing harvesting and production techniques. This will be followed by a tasting of Spanish ciders brought back from Simon's recent excursion to the Asturias and the Basque country in search of the esteemed ciders from Spain. Olé!

Apple blossom looking strong this year
May Musings

"Orchard Days" the Dragon Orchard book of poetry featuring poems and photographs from each month of the year, is a focus of seasonality like no other. We often use it during orchard tours, but this year we are seeing the largest discrepancy we have ever had between what is in the book and what is in the orchard. For the Spring Big Apple Blossomtime Weekend at the beginning of May we only had a little pear and plum blossom to show, but now the dessert apples are in full flower and the cider just coming on song.

Due to the late season, an item about it even appeared on BBC breakfast television and I ended up doing three pieces live to camera in the orchard early one morning. The satellite truck appeared in the gloaming and erected its dish and the reporter arrived later by taxi. In between takes we nipped in to Dragon House to warm up and eat breakfast and by 9am we were all done and dusted. That was my second consecutive early start as the previous day had been May Day itself. The forecast was good so I went up the hill on the evening of April 30th and, as it was cold but clear and still, I slept out just below the top. The following sunrise was fantastic and I was able to admire the Morris sides, return home and go for a bike ride all before breakfast.

Jean Nowell and Jackie Denman are presented with Wassail BowlsSipping Cider

The May Day weekend is when the Big Apple Cider and Perry Competition is held and this year marked the 20th anniversary of The Three Counties Cider and Perry Association. The two organisations have done much to raise the standard and profile of craft cider making and Jackie Denman and Jean Nowell who have been key players in this process, were presented with traditional wassail bowls made from local sycamore. However, the unusually cold spring meant the competition entries were down as producers struggled to ensure the cider and perry Cider Club Posterhad finished fermenting. Even now temperatures are 10 degrees below the norm but maybe a long slow fermentation will produce high quality drink.

The Cider Club

One way to keep abreast of all things cidery is to "Taste, talk, meet, eat, make and drink" the alluring strap line of the Three Counties Cider Shop Cider club which was launched at the Blossomtime weekend during a Cider event at The Crown Inn at Woolhope. Full details are on line or contact us direct for further information.

Victoria Westaway Willow SculptureWillow Sculptures

Over the last few weeks Dragon Orchard has been enhanced by some wonderful willow sculptures designed and made by Victoria Westaway, a willow worker from Cradley. Her giant cider apples, Dabinett The Ram, Willow Wassailers and Children at Play and Reading Boy sitting on The Big Hug have added a superb creative element and have been hugely enjoyed by all who have visited. Do have a look at Victoria's website

Visits East and West

One of the many delights of our Cropsharers' Weekends, besides the fantastic food and marvellous company, is the variety of enterprises that we are able to visit. The MayWorking Horses at Three Choirs Vineyard Day Weekend was no exception and we ventured both east and west. Our eastern foray was over the county border to Gloucestershire as far as Three Choirs Vineyard. This is where our Cider Maker Simon Day was brought up and he still has family connections. We went to see a demonstration of horses working in an English vineyard which they believe is a first in this country. The display was part of the British Festival of the Working Horse and headed up by Doug Joiner, who we have visited at Childer Wood in the past. The demo raised many environmental, sustainability and green issues and could prove to be a serious future trend. Doug reminded us of the old saying that if you leave a tractor out for a year it will rust away, but if you leave a horse out for a year you might possibly get another one.

Martin Sobell with his Big Apple AwardOur western perambulation led us along the meandering Wye Valley, past Holme Lacy and the wonderfully named Cottage of Content to Whitethorn Farm, home of Carey Organics, run by Martin and Rachel Sobel. They have transformed what was a potato field into an Organic Farm producing an amazing range of fruit and vegetables with a newly planted cider and dessert orchard. Martin went to great lengths to explain his philosophy and gave us a fascinating and absorbing visit. He freely admits he would be more efficient and profitable if they were to specialise but that is not what they choose to do. We all left full of praise and admiration but fully aware of the need for total attention to detail, of small profit margins and the large amount of risk and other uncontrollable factors at work. We were delighted to be the bearers of the good news that he had won first prize for his medium cider at the Big Apple competition.

The new goslingsAnd then there were four - but now there are three

Our goose population has fluctuated over the years from natural wastage, fox attacks and the vicissitudes of life on the pond. We acquired a new goose earlier in the year as a companion to our Brecon Buff gander and they have been happily hanging out and she has been sitting on four eggs. Well, now two have hatched and the family of four have just popped out for an evening constitutional. Parents are being properly protective, we have just invested in a bag of chick crumb, so watch this watery space.

STOP PRESS. The four are now three - the missing one we think the victim of a predatory raid from a carrion crow. However the remaining gosling is thriving although the crow is not as I got out the 12 bore to even up the odds and reduce the threat.

Ledbury Ox RoastLedbury Ox Roast Weekend June 1st & 2nd

Sixty years ago in 1953, Ledbury was one of only a handful of towns given Parliamentary permission to roast an Ox to celebrate the Coronation of Elizabeth 11. This year 2013 there is to be a whole 60th weekend given to commemorating the anniversary. Saturday 1st June is Ledbury Community Day with over 50 local groups strutting their stuff and showcasing what they do. This is to be followed on Sunday 2nd June by a Food, Drink and Craft Festival right in the middle of the town with the Ox Roast as its centrepiece. The full programme is on the website and it promises to be a truly memorable occasion. To be sure of a slice of the beast you will need to purchase your ticket in advance either in person in Ledbury or online.

june dropThis doesn’t refer to Wimbledon, but to the turning of blossom into fruitlets. There was a good flower on most of the trees and especially on the cider, although it was all very late. However, pollination has to take place but due to the continuing cold, damp and windy conditions in May there was very little insect activity, so not ideal conditions at all. Even if there is a good number of fruitlets there is often a significant June drop when lots of these fall off. We think that there is a good enough set for a reasonable crop, which after last year, is a huge relief.

Photo (Simon Day): "The "June drop" is happening in July this year. Pritt sticking these back on the tree isn't working!"



Saint Dorothy

We have hosted a number of orchard walks recently and one was with Woolhope WI. We of course visit the Sponsor A Tree orchard and explain that Dorothy’s Orchard was named after Norman’s mother. Beryl Walker who is the wife of David, our local Haiku poet and sculptor told us that her mother was also called Dorothy and that they had recently visited Burford Church. There she had found a stained glass window commemorating Saint Dorothy, and discovered that she just happens to be the patron saint of orchards and small gardens. I feel Mother must have known that.




Ledbury Ox Roast - June 1st and 2nd

The Ox Roast Weekend to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II was blessed with wonderful weather and turned out to be a fantastic event. On Saturday, the Ledbury Community Day, more than fifty local groups strutted their stuff in a massive open day and in the afternoon the Beast arrived in town in a trailer mounted mobile oven. We went into Ledbury in the evening for a jazz performance and the whole of the High Street was filled with the smell of roast ox.

On Sunday the day dawned sunny and bright and the streets were closed, a stage was set up, the Hereford Trow arrived on a low loader to be offloaded by two huge telehandlers and installed next to the Market House.

The Ledbury Reporter said that over 5000 people came out for the event. The sun shone, the bands played and the Food, Drink and Craft Festival celebrated local talent and producers. A full programme unfolded throughout the day with appearances from Charles Martell’s Coach and Four, vintage cars, a Grand Opening of the event by Dolly Tow and the hounds only snaffled a few ox rolls as they passed through town. The Ledbury butchers did a fine job carving the ox and hundreds got to enjoy the tasty rolls. Many of those who remembered the original event in 1953 pronounced 2013 even better than the original. The whole day was hugely entertaining and a great Ledbury community occasion and very much as Norman had envisaged it just a few months earlier.

There are lots of lovely photos at

onceuponatree thewonderInnovation Award

The Three Counties Show for this year had a new category in its Cider and Perry Competition. This was to encourage and recognise new and innovative products and attracted some strong entries. Simon entered The Wonder, the dessert pear wine, but was not told until just before judging that he was required to make a Dragon’s Den style presentation. He received quite a grilling from the panel, but obviously convinced them and came away with the first First Prize for Innovation. He has also picked up another first prize for this year’s Discovery juice at the Bath & West Show.

Bird Life

Recently, almost every time we go out into the orchard, we find someone holding a large aerial standing or lurking by a hedgerow. This is happening on all days of the week and in all weathers and is part of the Orchard Survey which is being carried out to look at the effects of orchard management techniques on wildlife and especially the birds. Individual birds have been caught and tagged and are being tracked, so that their every movement is recorded. They have no privacy at all, but some really useful information is being obtained.

az cuckooEvery year we avidly await the arrival of the cuckoo and expect that according to the ancient rhyme that “He’ll whistle his tune ‘til the middle of June and then he’ll fly away”. However with this late late year, here we are at the beginning of July and the cuckoo is still ‘cuckooing’ and not flying away. An excellent illustration of this particularly strange tardy season.

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