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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


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
The Ledbury Food Group are holding a beer tasting event "Appreciating Great Beer" at the Burgage Hall with Derek Orford also on April 26th.

David PealingYear in the orchard celebrations continued in May at Dragon Orchard with a drop-in workshop on ‘a beginners guide to beekeeping’. David Pealing (Mr P) from Putley has been keeping bees for about seven years now, and is supplying Once Upon a Tree shop with his honey. Annie and Norman Stanier have wanted beehives in their orchard so this was a great opportunity to team up with Mr P.

MeEric helps build the hiver P had an old hive that required refurbishment. He set up outside to work on it with his willing helper Eric (10). They set too making new frames with foundation wax, wood, hammer and nails and managed quite a production line. Interested parties were welcomed to join in the action. Questions and Answers carried on a pace and eventually an inquisitive crowd gathered to learn more about the life and times of the honey bee, its hive and its role in the orchard.

Due to the very warm Easter we had experienced, the honey bees had already been very productive in some of Mr P’s hives in the village. For added interested the audience were herded into the garage and the electric doors lowered in preparation for a honey extraction display (The door was closed to reduce any bees flying past, being attracted to the honey.) Four frames heavy with comb and honey were lowered into an extraction barrel. The lid replaced and then a lot of manual effort About to extract the honey!was required to central frugally extract the honey. Efforts were rewarded with the sampling of very sweet, clear, magnificent honey.

DHive siting instructionsuring this day a competition was run to find the most appropriate site for the new hive. Visitors were offered the chance to set out into the orchard armed with a numbered stake, mallet and the few tips given by Mr P on the best place for a hive and find their ideal position. They were encouraged by the thought that the winning stake placed closest to the final resting place of the hive would win the first jar of honey from Dragon Orchards hive.

Our bee hiveThe day was informative but fun. Many of us left with more knowledge of the bee and beekeeping than we came with. Many thanks to Mr P for all his hard work.

Kay Harris

UPDATE: May 5th 2011 - The Hive has been sited in the orchard between the Big Hug and Tin Shed along the hedgerow. The winning stake was No.4 belonging to Tim Kemp. Congratulations! He will be receiving the first jar of honey extracted but first we need some bees!

Swarm of bees introduced to the hiveUPDATE: May 17th 2011 - Breaking news: We have a swarm of bees living in Dragon Orchard’s hive. They needed a little help in finding it but they have settled in and are being productive – you could say it is a hive of activity! Hopefully honey will be soon!

In anticipation of our upcoming Herefordshire Year in the Orchard Event - "Photography in the Orchard", I've been out taking some photos in the fantastic weather we've had the past couple of days. Last night, we had a beautiful crescent moon, low in the west, and I tried to be all arty with a torch in front of the pear blossom! This is the best of the photos (click for a bigger photo):

Pear Blossom and Moon

I've also tried a couple of macro shots, first, blossom with a money spider:

Pear Blossom with Money Spider

And a close up of a quince bud:

Quince Bud

Feel free to comment!!!!

Apple pealing and tasting!The rain didn't dampen spirits at our Autumn Children's Orchard Day on Thursday 27th October 2011.  Flags were flying, the men were crushing the apples and children turned up prepared to explore all that Dragon Orchard had to offer!!

A simple apple corer, peeler and slicer provided endless fun for the children and a lot of apples were eaten!  Alice, apple printing with the childrenPerhaps we have solved the problem of getting children to eat more fruit!

Alice Arnold our 'resident' local artist offered children opportunities to make brilliant painted cards with the use of potato and apple printing.  The children's imagination and creative skills were abundant.

Pumpkin lantern carving was a great hit with some very gruesome faces, but it was very messy and great fun.

And when we thought we couldn't get much wetter, the attraction to go apple bobbing was to strong a pull!  However all adults were grateful for a wonderful cup of coffee and delicious home-made cakes.

Thank you to all who came and enjoyed the day.  Whilst we are planning for our next year event calendar I think we may avoid Thursdays in the hope we will have a dry day!

Apple Bobbing Apple printingPumpkin carving

The end of July saw the launch, not only of our new shop here in the orchard, but also the Putley Wildlife Action and Advisory Group.Putley Wildlife Action and Advisory Group

Dormouse (from Herefordshire Nature Trust)Our parish of Putley formulated a "Parish Plan" several years ago, which among many other things, identified the need for a Biodiversity survey. This was undertaken a couple of years ago and identified many ancient hedgerows that would be the perfect habitat for dormice.

In fact several dormice have been spotted in neighbouring hedgerows, and so it seemed the perfect launch event for the group to encourage the proliferation of this endangered species by introducing "dormice tubes" into the wildlife friendly hedgrows of Dragon Orchard.

Nest box with blackberries nearby - dormice will love this!

With any luck, these nest boxes will help numbers increase around our orchard boundary, already home to a wide variety of flora and fauna.

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