Deadwood is Good Wood

One of the perks of the job is that we get to spend time in many traditional orchards. The mixture of feeling nestled under tree canopies yet still seeing the blue skies (weather permitting) and surroundig countryside imparts a feeling of peace and wellbeing. It’s not only us who enjoy traditional orchards though, wildlife does to. Mistle thrush can often be heard rattling over head when we’re out pruning and something we always love to see is standing deadwood.

Most people will be able to recognise a dead or partially dead tree. The greyish hue of the bark and lifeless branches are a dead give away (pun intended). However within the deadwood life prolifirates. It’s unfortunate then that many people will cut down and remove standind deadwood, especially in orchards where productivity can be an important driver.

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The noble chafer with its iridescent colouring © gailhampshire/flickr

Invertebrates and their larvae can depend on this microhabitat as a vital source of both food and shelter. The noble chafer, with it’s green metallic shine, lays its eggs preferrentially in old mature fruit trees, especially in cherry, plum and apple. Here the larvae consume the decaying wood for up to 3 years until they pupate into adults, afterwhich they fly out into the world to feed on pollen and find a mate. After 4-6 weeks they’re life cycles will be completed. These beautiful little beetles are classified as vulnerable and live in isolated pockets of populations. Their preference for older trees means they are under constant threat from the removal of old and less productive trees.

Under similar threat and for similar reasons the lesser spotted woodpecker also houses in deadwood. They feed on insects on and in branches which is also why they are so attracted to decaying trees. Of the three native woodpecker species in the UK they are both the smallest and the rarest. It is estimated that as few as 2000 breeding pairs live in the UK, predominantly in the southern part of the country. These aren’t the only woodpeckers that like mature orchards and we were lucky enough to find a woodpecker hole at one of the Herefordshire Wildlife Trust’s reserves at the sturts. Distinguishable by the size and height at which it’s placed, this hole likely belongs to one of the larger cousins of the lesser spotted woodpecker, either the great spotted woodpecker or the green woodpecker.

woodpecker hole the sturts

A clear woodpecker hole can be seen in this dying tree.

It’s undoubtable that deadwood plays a key role for biodiversity, especially when left standing as long as possible. It offers a home and sustanance to a range of vulnerable species. If you have the choice leaving dead or dying trees standing is a great way to help support wildlife. This is one of our goals when pruning, to ensure that trees can stay upright for as long as they can. That’s why here at Orchard Origins we like to say that deadwood is good wood.

It’s Pruning Season

The winter seasons brings with it new challenges. While the trees lay dormant waiting for the welcome return of spring, we at Orchard Origins are hard at work. This is pruning season for us.

Struggling with the big yellow saw

Deciduous trees live their lives in a yearly cycle. During the spring and summer they put on growth, pushing nutrients, energy and sap into their exterior extremeities. In the autumn and winter instead, they draw their reources back underground into their roots to be protected from the colder weather. This is why leaves fall when it gets colder.

This cycle creates an important distinction in the type of work we carry out. Summer pruning is often used to reduce growth and vigour, removing the nutrients and energy present in the exterior limbs of the tree. Winter pruning on the other hand has the exact opposite effect: it encourages growth. Cutting a branch off from a tree during the winter will see a growth response from the tree. Once the tree wakes up from its cold slumber and activates, it will realise it’s lost part of it’s crown and immediately work towards growing it back. Which king or queen has ever laid still when his or her crown was lost?

Added to this reaction is the fact that the tree now has an unbalance in ‘resource storage space’, it has more underground than it does does overground. This further encourages the tree to put on growth. It may seem counter-intuitive, but pruning in the winter can actually stimulate growth in the spring and summer.

Although it might not seem ‘natural’, pruning can actually be beneficial to the ecosystem. Old trees with their standing deadwood are vital for wildlife, but they can often be structurally weak, unbalanced and dying. A good prune can help reinvigorate the elder and create a more stable balance, prolonging the presence of standing deadwood. Similarly younger trees can be kept in good shape, effectively increasing the amount of time they can be standing and productive.

tree hollowing

Not all fruit trees are equal though. Apples, pears and many other ‘pip’ fruit trees can be pruned in the winter. On the other hand ‘stone’ fruits like plums, gages and cherries, are best pruned in the summer when damp weather is less common and a milder climate discourages the spreading of fungal infections.

These are only some of the considerations the Orchard Origins team has to make on a weekly basis, travelling across the county to traditional orchards, large or small. The more orchards we can help, the more wildlife we can protect, and the more delicious juice (or cider) we can drink.

Don’t hesitate to get in touch for any quesiton or if you need a hand. We are happy to have a chat and pay you a visit if you need some help taking care of your precious trees.

2019 was a Bad Apple

2019 saw our most productive orchard struggle. With the arrival of spring many fruit varieties begin the yearly cycle of blossoming. Shades of white, yellow, pink and more start to colour the landscape and bring that refreshing floral breeze into our minds. However, if this process is hindered, the trees risk cropping badly or not cropping at all. A combiantion of mild weather followed by frost in early spring and an infestation of winter moths meant no apples from our largest donor.

Full tree in bloom

Flowers and fruits are intimately linked. Flowers carry the genetic material, in the form of pollen, needed for the reproduction of plants. Similarly to humans and animals, fruit trees need to exchange this genetic material in order to become pollinated. Without flowers there are no fruits. In human terms it is the equivalent of the fertilisation of an egg, but in this case it is not an embryo and a baby that come out, it is a seed and a fruit. Seeds are the ultimate carriers of genetic material for trees, to such a degree that many trees have developed fascinating ways of propagating them far and wide. One such ways are fruits, with their bright appearance and sweet taste, they seem designed to attract insects, animals and humans who voraciuosly consume and consequently spread them. 

A spell of warm and mild temperatures in March encouraged the apple trees to grow, set leaf and flower, but soon after cold weather swept through the orchard, damaging the trees’ growth. The inital warmer weather encouraged more than the trees however. Winter moths lay their eggs on bark, often at the base of trees. These will typically hatch just before bud breaks. Once hatched the caterpillars climb up the tree in search for leaf and flower buds. As soon as these begin to break bud, the caterpillars will begin eating them.

An adult winter moth

Almost blending into it’s surroudning the adult winter moth will lay it’s eggs on a tree trunk so that the hatchlings may climb up and feed on its buds © Wikimedia Commons/Ben Sale

On a good year a tree might be able to sustain this as it can produce more leaves and flowers than the winter moth caterpillars consume. 2019 was not a good year. The poor apple trees were not able to produce enough strong leaves and flowers because of the cold and the winter moths finished them off.

Luckily this type of event comes and goes, with some years seeing the opposite effect and yielding massive crops. So long as the weather is more stable and the trees get a chance to grow healthily, the winter moths shouldn’t be such a problem. Here’s to hoping that 2020 will be the apple our eyes.

Make 2018 the Year of the Apple

Throughout 2018 we will be running courses on fruit tree pruning and what better way for all you fruit tree owners to start the year than joining one of our courses.

With five years of practical experience under their belts Julia and Laurence, from Orchard Origins, have developed courses to demystify pruning. It really isn’t that hard and their courses are aimed at the novice or those with a little more experience looking to refresh their knowledge. There is always a strong emphasis on practice to reinforce everything you are learning.

To find out when the next one day courses are then go to Herefordshire Wildlife Trust’s What’s On page or why not sign up for the day course being run in partnership with Aspire in Hereford city on 23rd January. To book a place on this Introduction to Fruit Tree Pruning, Please contact Sue Bucknell sue.bucknell@aspireliving.org.uk 01432 269406

Why not make this an Appley Christmas

We’ve had another bumper year and have finally found a few moments to raise our heads up from our apple presses. It’s non stop production at this time of year so we thought we’d take a bit of time out to tell you what we have been making and how you can get your hands on some of the appley deliciousness in time for Christmas.

The juices we’ve made

Sweetness and Light apple juice is a blend of the fresh, light flavours of Merton Charm, Chiver’s Delight and Red Devil with the fuller, nuttier Adam’s Pearmain and King of the Pippins to produce a sweet juice bursting with flavour. Our Lazy Days juice is crisp, sweet Merton Charm blended with just enough Bramley Seedling to give it a distinctive smooth flavour with a little kick. Pippin Marvellous, Orchard Origin’s current favourite, combines the sweet nutty flavour of Ashmead’s Kernel blended perfectly with the buttery acidity of King of the Pippins and Ribston pippin, creating a beautifully honeyed juice. And finally, our First Blush is pure and unfiltered McIntosh which presses to give the juice a subtle pink blush. It’s floral yet savoury and rumored to be great with Gin!

As well as our Juices, this Christmas you could buy a fruity friend our Apple Verjuice or our unpasteurised Apple Cider Vinegar. A visit to our online shop will get you started. Or if you are in Herefordshire pop into our gift shop.

Anything you buy from us helps support our work managing orchards throughout Herefordshire and supporting people with a history of mental ill health.

We are about wildlife, well-being and deliciousness!

What to do with all them apples?

It’s Harvest time
We at Orchard Origins have already picked and pressed our first batch of Apple Verjuice. We are keenly watching the the rest of our crop which will go into our apple juices.

Those of you with early season apple are probably already knee deep in baskets of the rosy sweet smelling bounty. Eaten straight from the tree and they’re delicious but if you have later varieties then they will need storing to develop the complex flavours that give them their superior (we think) flavours. Whatever you have, this is the time of year to really enjoy apples in all their regional glory.

Top tips
Picking – cup the apple in the palm of your hand and gently lift and twist. If you have to tug at your apples they’re not ready to pick.

Storing – store in single layers in a well ventilated, cool, dark place. Sheds are ideal but makes sure they’re rodent free. If you’re uncertain, hanging a small number of apples in bags with holes for ventilation will solve the problem.

Tasting – keep at it, every week. You’re tasting to see if your variety has reached optimum sweetness. i.e. once all the starch has converted into sugar. Over time, this will become second nature as too much starch makes the apples feel a little powdery in your mouth with an absence of flavour. In the meantime, you could purchase some iodine, cut the apple in half and liberally pour over the flesh. If it turns black this indicates an absence of starch.

If you have more apples than you know what to do with and live in Herefordshire then why not get us to press your apples and bottle the juice. That way you can enjoy the flavours of your apples throughout the year. click here for more information on this service.

Wild Cocktails in the Black Mountains

What better way to kick start July than sipping cocktails made with our delicious Apple Verjuice. The foragers Andy Hamilton and Liz Knight teamed up with The Botanist Gin to tickle our taste-buds at this enjoyable Wild Cocktail evening.

During the morning Andy and Liz led a walk of sixteen (including Orchard Origins Julia) eager to discover which wild plant they could safely forage. The Herefordshire hedgerows and verges were teeming with plants: Hogweed, Agrimony and Meadowsweet to name a few. Apparently, all good ingredients to add as botanicals to gin. The afternoon was dedicated to the art of gin making with Andy who led us sip by sip until we were all making our own blends.

The proof of the pudding came that evening as guests rolled up to a Wild Cocktails and Burger Night set on a picturesque farm nestled into the black mountains with views of Hatterall Hill and the Skirrid. Our Apple Verjuice starred in the Apple Rose cocktail, which went down extremely well.

We put a lot of love and attention into the production of our verjuice, managing the orchard in a wildlife friendly way, harvesting by hand and bottling with a team of dedicated volunteers.

We love our Apple Verjuice

20170202_161242Verjuice was certainly widely used across Europe by the Romans (and may have been used prior to this) and its use persisted as a cooking ingredient throughout the Middle Ages. Unripe grapes were thinned to increase quality and ripening, and with a waste-not-want-not culture they were pressed to produce a souring agent. Since the Romans introduced orchards as they travelled, we suspect that the same process would have been used to produce apple verjuice.

Using a select blend mix of apples from our very own orchard in Herefordshire, we have developed our own truly unique apple verjuice. Pleasingly sour, like lemon juice or vinegar, with a little sweetness to complement its intense fruitiness, the only thing it really compares to is tamarind.

We like to use it to add depth and sharpness to dressings, stews, condiments and soups, and an exciting substitute for sauces where white wine is called for (it is divine in a beurre blanc). It’s delicious in marinades for white meats and fish, gives a unique twist to cakes, and can really enliven cocktails and mocktails!

Go to our shop and list of stockists to find where to buy this and our other deliciously appley products.

Apples Old, Apples New

 

 

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Gala  is now the biggest selling apple variety in the UK and over the next few years production is expected to increase by another 40 per cent. With its sweet flavour and attractive, sunset-red stripes, it is perhaps easy to see why it is so popular.  Gala, like the equally ubiquitous Braeburn, is an apple of New Zealand origin.  They both  became popular  in the 1990s due to their availability in the UK’s off-season. Trial orchards of these antipodean apples were planted and the effect has been a revival of the English apple industry with figures from 2011 showing 39 per cent apples sold here were grown here. This is good news for apple growers, but many people mourn the lack of traditional British apples on our supermarket shelves.

Raymond Blanc, the two michelin starred chef,  believes that it is our addiciton to sugar that has led to the popularity of these New Zealand varieties. In an interview with the Sunday Telegraph in 2014, he suggested that consumers confuse sweetness with flavour. In his view,  the best tasting apples, such as the Cox’s Orange Pippin,  have a complex flavour that combine a mix of sweet, sour, acid and bitter. So, this is our guide to a few apples that  sadly aren’t available in our supermarkets but which we at Orchard Origins think are delicious. Continue reading