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Dragon Orchard News

Empty Orchard, Full Vessels.

Our early December daily walk around the orchard furnishes major sensory input. This time of year seems to embrace more change than any other. There are few apples to be seen now and the views down the aisles and through the rows of trees become longer and more defined. The smells change from a rich fruity aroma to a slightly earthy tang with a damp leaf finish. The leaves are gently rustling to the ground after the first frost and there is a background chatter of fieldfares and blackbirds. The sodden earth from a very wet October has been slowly drying out during November, leaving us with firm bottomed muddy ruts and crisp tractor tyre tread marks. The only apples remaining are on the orchard floor over by Orchard Croft and these are supplying excellent food for the pigs and visiting birds. The fruit keeps really well in these cool damp conditions and will provide sustenance for some weeks before the remains gradually disappear in the detritus of the under tree world as the season inexorably turns.

In contrast to the almost empty orchard and after a very busy harvest period, the new shiny vessels in the Production Shed are all completely full with another 10 x 1000 litre containers currently standing outside. This has been our largest crushing by far as we have almost tripled our capacity.
Shiny tanks arrive at Dragon Orchard


Zeiki with DiscoveryZeiki's Farewell


Our circular orchard walk or 'the round' has been a significant part of our daily routine that has gradually become a little slower as Zeiki, our German Shorthaired Pointer has got older. She had reached 16 1/2, a good age for the breed and we always said we would keep her going as long as she could get round the orchard and enjoy her walk. After a little collapse last week, we decided the time had come and on a sunny morning the vet came to the house and she sloughed off her canine mortal coil and made a peaceful and dignified entry to the great kennel in the sky to bound about unfettered and free. Zeiki now resides quietly under an oak tree at the back of the house where she has spent her whole life. She is at rest while we still listen for the sound of her toes tip tapping across the floor and miss her unfailing loyalty and enthusiasm for life in the orchard. The two cats, Edith and Simone seem to catch our mood and rub against our legs, snuggle into our laps and purr gently and tell us it is alright to miss our lovely dog and for our eyes to mist over every now and again and to swallow a little harder as we remember her life well lived.



Ledbury Real AlesThe Brewers' Art


Although we grow apples and make cider, I am not averse to a decent beer and thoroughly enjoy many of the drinks produced by the local breweries. In October we visited the Ledbury Real Ale Company based at Gazerdine, opposite Roots at Little Verzons and were shown about by Anthony and Kate Stevens. They run a microbrewery and produce three cask ales that they sell to local pubs. They work incredibly hard to balance other part-time work and a young family but are passionate about their brewing and have just expanded production so that the process takes less time. They gave us a real insight into the process, looking at different yeasts, malts, hops and discussing the economics and minute margins of this scale of production. Not for the faint hearted we felt. Simon and I saw a much larger operation when we visited the Wye Valley Brewery last month for a Chamber of Commerce Breakfast meeting. We went there with Cropsharers some years ago and it was fascinating and illuminating to see how they have grown in the intervening time. They now turnover £4.5 million a year and all this from a standing start behind the Barrels pub in Hereford in 1985. Once again their attention to detail and belief in their product shone through. I have also recently enjoyed the art of brewing in medieval times shown on the BBC2 series the Tudor Monastery Farm. The process is still fundamentally the same. Apparently ale and bread made up nearly 80% of the daily calorific intake for many at certain times of year. I have mentioned this to a couple of beer aficionados and they commented that it sounded like a perfectly balanced diet to them!


Black BeeTudor Bees


The format of the Tudor Monastery Farm works really well as it takes the techniques developed by the Tudors and illustrates how they have evolved over the centuries. There was a section on Tudor Bee keeping that was covered by our very own Paul Hand of Bees and Trees. Paul gave his usual instructive and entertaining insight into skep bee keeping of which he has a deep and intimate knowledge. The original bees would have been the British Black bee which preceded the exotic golden bees imported from the continent. An early import replacing a national treasure! Paul feels the black bees are more reliable pollinators as well as being less prone to Sudden Colony Collapse and will soon play their part again. In fact we have just read in the latest NFU Countryside magazine that there are Black bee colonies in the Hebrides which have been made the subject of a Bee Keeping Order. This will create a black bee reserve and it will be an offence to keep any other species of bees on Colonsay and Oronsay. The order will protect the native bees from hybridisation and help ensure that the species remains strong and healthy for future generations.



Worlds Best CiderWorld Book of Cider

This is the ideal Christmas gift for the Cider lover in your life. The World Book of Cider has been produced by Pete Brown, who was one of the judges for the BBC Food & Farming Drinks Producer Award, in collaboration with Bill Bradshaw, a cider loving photographer. They have combined to create a beautifully written and photogenic tome that is informative and entertaining. They believe that "Herefordshire represents ciders' intellect and ambition" and that "Once Upon A Tree Cidermaker Simon Day works in partnership with orchardist Norman Stanier in a business that takes painstaking care of everything from how the trees are planted to how the ciders are sold". You can't ask for better than that. (Signed copies now available at our shop!)




iNigel Rollinson helps to install our new tanksShacksbury Cider, USA

This is a new business from upstate Vermont that is seizing on the renewed American interest in craft cider. Shacksbury Cider has been set up by two young and very enthusiastic guys, David Dolginow and Colin Davis, who want to revive cider growing and making in the US. They are planning to grow cider apples and make their own cider but this will take some time to put in place and they want to have product to launch and grow the business. Both Colin and David have been to visit us earlier this year and Once Upon A Tree is their new UK partner and we have already shipped 3,500 litres of cider stateside this summer. We will send 50,000 litres next year in two large shipping containers and the cider will be pumped in directly from the fermenting vessels. The US Cider is now in 3Third tank in place - Norman is sent up the ladder to release the fixings beautiful shiny stainless steel containers standing outside the green shed. Each of these holds more cider than we created in our first 2 years of production! Dave and Colin have been working through the fall, gathering cider apples and are testing them to select the best to be planted in due course. Do have a look at their website which gives a fascinating glimpse of this new, young vibrant business. During the last few months we have also had a visit from their local fruit farmer Barney Hodges from Sunrise Orchards who is going to be planting up the cider apples for them and from another of their friends who is a Sports Correspondent for the New York Times who came to take photos and create a promo video for them. It has all been rather exciting.


Mid February and it has finally stopped raining for a few days and the ground is beginning to dry out just a little, making the daily walk round the orchard with the dog less of a slippery slog through the mud. We did have some snow in January, by way of a change from rain, which gave the opportunity for a few seasonal photos, a bit of sledging and snowman construction. Ed Elliott of Trumpet Corner created an extraordinary Snow Angel. The melting snow just added to the general wetness. However it is now a good bit colder and drier. The cold is welcome as it keeps the trees dormant; the wet is not as it keeps their roots sodden. It is now time to get around the orchard for a bit of pruning which we put off while it has been so wet underfoot.


Wassail 2013

If the purpose of wassailing is to ensure a good crop for the following harvest, it is devoutly to be wished that the ceremony held this year at Court Farm, Aylton, will produce a better result than the 2012 event held at Hellens House, Much Marcle. Last year was by just about every measure the worst harvest in living memory and the rainfall the heaviest since records began. The 2013 wassail was among the most memorable held as it was in the magnificent Manorial Barn next to the Church, where my father sang loudly and played the harmonium scratchily for over fifty years. The barn provided a magical setting for the Mummers play and wonderful shelter from the January chill, which was kept further at bay with mulled cider and Noggin Farm pork rolls. Surely a good year must follow!

Wassail photos courtesy of Richard Crompton

wassail 2013

holmelacyhouse hotel

The Scudamores of Holme Lacy House
When one looks at the history of cider in general and of its role in Herefordshire in particular, a name that keeps leaping off the page is that of Lord Scudamore. His family seat at Holme Lacy House - largely regarded as the finest house in the county - is only just over the ridge from our orchard, so we decided it was time to pay a visit during our Cropsharers’ Winter weekend.

Lord Scudamore was Ambassador to France for Charles 1 and so a trusted member of the Royal Household. He entertained royalty and royally and was the patron of a Fownhope man, Tom Spring who became the bare-knuckle fighting champion of All England. Scudamore became convinced that the orchards of his home county could make drink to rival that of the vineyards of France and he eventually grew the famed Herefordshire Redstreak cider apple, which produced a drink of the highest quality. He wanted his cider to impress on the table so designed delicate fluted glasses engraved with the Royal Coat of Arms and his own insignia. His other and probably most important contribution to the industry was to put his cider into glass bottles. Local glass makers had been able to manufacture stronger bottles since wood powered furnaces had been banned to conserve this vital raw material and coal used instead, which burnt hotter and so produced thicker and stronger glass. So next time you pour a glass of sparkling cider make sure you raise a toast to Lord Scudamore of Holme Lacy.

jessAll in a Day's Walk is the title of a PhD performance and research project carried out by Jess Allen, who lives in a yurt at Caplor Farm near Fownhope. She has coined a new word ‘Tracktivism’ - ‘a field of activist performance that utilises walking and moving and talking in rural landscapes to address issues of environmental, social or political concern’ to describe her work. Jess, a dairy intolerant vegetarian, decided that in the long dark wet and increasingly muddy days of December, she would eat only what she could source within walking distance of her home. She told her story in our warm comfy house in January to an enthralled audience as she talked about different levels of activism and engagement. A fascinating project which you can read about online at

Rayessa's Indian Kitchen

Dragon House produces the most fantastic range of seasonal smells as Annie makes various preserves throughout the year. We are presently enjoying apple jelly with rosemary and apple chutney making has also been underway. However, recently the kitchen has had a visit from Rayeesa of Rayeesa's Indian Kitchen when we had a fascinating cooking demonstration from one immersed in the food of her culture. Rayeesa was born in the UK but spent her early years in India. She also learnt a huge amount about Indian food whilst a police officer in Southall, which re-engaged her passion for cooking from her childhood. She and her family moved to Herefordshire and we have met her at several food festivals. She cooked vegetable curry and dhal with the help of an enthusiastic audience and also made chapattis from scratch, finishing them off with aplomb on a naked gas flame. The simplicity of her ingredients, demonstration of her technique and love of her craft gave a great demonstration and wonderful tasty lunch. For further information about her products and workshops, see

2013-02-03 00.03.56-1Giant Jenga
The Flavours of Hereford Award ceremony has just taken place with a different format from previous years. The event has usually been held on the Friday evening before the Hereford Food Festival and this year's prizes were given for individual products rather than a single award for Drinks Producer. The actual awards were beautifully engraved oak boards, using wood left over from the construction of the Wye Trow, a replica of the 36' long flat-bottomed boats that used to ply their trade on the river. The Wye Trow, aptly named the Hereford Bull, was part of the flotilla on the Thames for the Jubilee celebration and is now a training vessel. Once Upon a Tree collected four golds and one silver so Simon ended up on his dinner table with a pile of wooden tablets, which Matt from The Crown at Woolhope immediately dubbed Giant Jenga.

oxroastLedbury Ox Roast Weekend
June 1st and 2nd 2013

An ox was roasted in Ledbury to celebrate the Queen’s coronation sixty years ago in June 1953. One of my earliest memories being the white clad butchers basting the beast with bass brooms, as wonderful a sight as it is alliteration. It felt as though a Jubilee celebration and re-enactment of the event could be a great way to put Ledbury on the map and provide a community event for the town.

So there will be another Ledbury Ox Roast over the weekend June 1st & 2nd. A date for the diary and details will be posted on the new website as plans develop I am off to view the selected animal next week to check its credentials. It will come from Awnells Farm at Much Marcle, bred by David Powell, who has a Hereford herd of the longest and purest lineage, 100% beef ...

"I'm not an Orchard Blogger

nor an Orchard Blogger's son

and I'm only Orchard Blogging

till the Orchard Blogger comes"


Actually, as far as I am aware, though many generations of our family have worked and lived on this Orchard here in Putley, just outside Ledbury in Herefordshire, none of them has knowingly or otherwise blogged about it.

Jubilee Mug

New Year is always that time for a fresh look forward, following a largely token glance back as the previous one rapidly recedes into faint memory. How did we do last year? What can we learn from it? What could we do differently in 2012, the year of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and the Olympics? I still have my coronation mug up in the cupboard - where will it be in another 60 years I muse?

Well one new thing we are going to do is a Dragon Orchard Blog. Who will read it? How many others are out there? Who is doing them? Does it matter, or as Ford Prefect from The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy would have said, “Does it matter that it matters?”

So here goes ...

One would expect an orchard to be quiet in the first month of the year. Dormant trees [Dormer - to sleep, of course], no leaves, no insects, but when we were out walking with friends yesterday there was a great sound of birds. The Fieldfares make the most noise, a cacophony of very loud chips and squeals as they feed upon fallen apples and the remains of some old pomace left over from the last cider fruit to be pressed. Not really cold enough so far this winter. No real frosts. But this week might redress that balance. However, good weather for fermentation, unlike late 2010/early 2011 when the yeast died off in the cold and many local cider makers muttered many local coloured oaths - Tom Oliver, a maker of fine cider and perry and facilitator of fine music with The Proclaimers - the undisputed champion of the oath of the Lamenting Fermenting.

Noise was also experienced in a Much Marcle Orchard at Hellens Manor a fortnight ago. Here the Big Apple Association held the Wassail of Wassails. A bitterly cold clear starlit night, the stark outline of an ancient perry tree lit by 12 fires, the tree was sprinkled by the Leominster Morris with a libation of cider, an offering of Christmas cake to feed the tree, lodged in a convenient hole in the first fork, dances danced, songs sung, cider drunk, roast pig relished, mummers play savoured and a community coming together to celebrate an age old pagan ceremony as relevant in 2012 as it ever was.

The Wassail FireA Leominster Morris ManThe Wassail ProcessionNorman Wassailing
So Blog begun, orchard coming alive, light increasing. My Granny always said “New Year’s tide a cock’s stride Candlemas an hour wide” referring to the extra daylight to which she so looked forward, especially as, until the Lister generator in the mid fifties, the house was still lit by oil lamps and candles.

Pruning calls, bird feeders need topping up, geese need clean straw, three piglets for slaughter this Friday need ear tags, we all welcome more light.
{jcomments on}

Dramatic Storm over the orchard!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.


bluebells-smlOrchid on Putley CommonOn 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.


Hartpury Orchard CentreThe 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 RosieCider 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
'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.


Summer PruningSummer Pruning
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 SupremeAwards from the International Cider Competition 2014
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.


Getting Ready for Ben & Helens wedding

The Cuckoo-oo

The Cuckoo this year has been well on song and has apparently been paying heed to the old poem: The cuckoo comes in April, Sings his song in May,
Changes tune in the middle of June, and then he flies away.
We heard the first notes on April 24th, my Granny's birthday anniversary. She was always delighted if that was when the cuckoo made its appearance. We have heard the call every day since and noted the tune has made a distinct change. The 'oo' at the end of the 'cuck' is now an 'oo-oo' with a distinct uplift of the final 'oo'. It's probably on Youtube but for us it means the solstice is approaching.


Apple blossom with bee and bugsFlowering
Late April and early May saw a very good strong blossom and it was well timed for this year's Big Apple Blossomtime weekend over the May Day Bank Holiday. However the cooler temperatures since have meant that there is not a huge set. Perhaps just as well as a heavy crop might have needed thinning if they had all come to fruition. Note the precise meaning of the word in this context!
One thing that did come to fruition was the display in Putley Parish Hall of a set of portraits of local cidermakers painted by Jean Nowell, artist and perry maker extraordinaire. Jean spent time with them all in their natural habitat, took photos and made sketches before creating the large portraits. These were 'curated', as I like to call it, by Hugh and myself hanging them from the hall roof supports. So displayed, the cidermakers were looking down on their drinks arrayed on the tables below. Jean presided over a reception on Sunday evening with her typical modesty and erudite wit. The portraits may well go on display again elsewhere.


WeddingsTrees lit up in the evening
The middle weekend in May, when the Michelin cider trees behind the Big Hug were shouting their loudest, was the time when my godson Ben Godsall celebrated marrying his fiancé Helen Meredith at Dragon Orchard. The official legal bit had been held the previous Tuesday in St Faith's Chapel at Westminster Abbey, where Ben's father (one of my oldest friends) has been doing some part-time work. He is a priest would you believe. However Ben and Helen very much wanted their main celebration to be held here and 180 guests enjoyed a fantastic event with Weston's Shire horses and dray bringing the bridal party to the orchard. There were shotguns and blossom and many sides of beef and copious amounts of Once Upon A Tree drinks to wash it down. Ben and Helen have just completed doctorates at London Zoo, so had a quite a collection of conservation friends who delighted in the orchard setting and the shire ambience.


This week Annie and I are conducting a couple of Putley based walks for the Herefordshire Walking Festival. We will be celebrating the Herefordshire Pomona with a stroll around the parish exploring the links between Gladstone's Balance of Payments deficit in the 1870's, the Woolhope Club and my great Grandfather. Later in the week we are wandering over to The Wonder landslip site. We shall be sampling the Chapel Pleck sparkling perry, the Wonder dessert pear wine and the draught cider Tumpy Ground – all linked to the 1575 landslip. Now that really is what passes for a good time round here!
There will also be a summer solstice celebration in the orchard organised by walking artist Jess Allen. This will mark the end of her 'Trans-missions' walk following the power lines right across
Herefordshire and concluding here with the June 21st event. See


ShowingsNorman collects the Trophy for Champion Perry, Bath & West 2015
We have just been to the Three Counties Show and done a day on the cider stand at Malvern. It still retains its local agricultural flavour and it very much provides an opportunity for the coming together of the Farming Community to 'show and tell'. However we have also visited the Bath and West Show near Shepton Mallet a couple of weeks ago. A first for us and well worth the trip as we were able to pick up a cup. It is the largest Cider & Perry Competition and Simon had entered a number of classes. I was delighted to receive the trophy from Lord King for our Chapel Pleck, awarded the Champion Perry.
Our neighbours Brian and Fran Robbins collected an award for the Best Single Variety Cider for their Yarlington Mill and Tom Oliver received a well deserved Lifetime Award. So Herefordshire brought some prestigious prizes away from Somerset, where they seem to believe the best cider is made!  [We also had first place in sweet cider & gold award for our Blenheim Superb, although we didn't realise until a few weeks after! - Simon].


Harry Taylor's Thrown HatHarry Taylor
Harry was my great Grandfather who spent most of his working life planting up and managing the Putley Court Estate for Squire John Riley at the end of the 1800s. Recently we have been discussing the creation of a range of less alcoholic ciders to sell as a draught and also carbonated in 50cl bottles. Simon has just released the Harry Taylor range which includes the medium cider Thrown Hat and the dry cider Crooked Branch. The label quotes Harry saying, "If an apple tree is pruned well, you can throw your hat through it' and continues ' Harry's descendants are still here, throwing hats and growing fantastic fruit – with quality that is evident to the very last drop! So hats off to you Harry!'


Anna Beck 1946-2015Anna Beck
I first met Anna at a rugby match at Twickenham in the early 70s, having become friends with Roger during our teaching practice at Devonport High School in Plymouth. We not only remained firm friends from then on but they became fantastic supporters of Dragon Orchard. Anna, as a Management Consultant supplied wonderful advice for both the orchard and Wallwalkers over the years. Whenever we were musing on what to do, Anna was always available with wise counsel. We saw her just a few weeks before she died and even though she was in some discomfort, she remained keenly interested in everything that was going on.
Her Memorial Service was held in a wonderful woodland setting near Christchurch and fittingly the rain that had been heavy all morning relented and the sun shone as we sent her on her way.

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