Sunday, 17 March 2013

New cider apple orchard planted at Tree Farm

I mentioned last month that plans were afoot to establish a new cider apple orchard here at Tree Farm, and over the last couple of weeks a lot has happened.

Planning the orchard actually began a couple of years ago when Mike first acquired the land. We  decided then to commit about four acres to cider apple trees and to go for a traditional standard orchard over a commercial bush orchard.

Obviously a bush orchard - smaller trees, closer together, intensively managed - would be the more economic choice, but there were other factors in our decision. We wanted to create something that would enhance the landscape and help preserve a tradition in Herefordshire. Standard orchards - bigger trees, more space around them, less need for pest control - are a huge part of Herefordshire's heritage and their survival depends on active planting and management.

Plus traditional orchards are visually beautiful and a haven for wildlife, and given we are planting the orchard right on our doorstep, we wanted to create something we could enjoy.

So, having decided on the type of orchard, the next job was to choose the trees. Cider apples fall into four broad taste classes - sweet, bitter sweet, sharp and bitter sharp - which reflect the sugar, acid and tanin levels in the fruit - and the trick in creating a great cider is to balance these properly. So this was the main factor behind the apple tree varieties we chose. Other factors were disease resistance, the 'juicability' of the fruit, and - crucially for us - the season of fruit maturity. We hope to be harvesting across the season (which runs from late September to December) rather than all at once so we were looking for a mix of early, mid and late croppers.

We settled on 10 different varieties and ordered 120 trees from John Worle Ltd, a cider apple and perry pear grower in Herefordshire:

Foxwhelp, Dabinett, Harry Masters Jersey, Kingston Black, Morgan Sweet, Knoted Kernal, Somerset Redstreak, Stoke Red, Tom Putt, Yarlington Mill.

As I said, this was all a couple of years ago, and with the trees now two years old and in a dormant phase they were ready to be lifted from the nursery and planted here at Tree Farm.

At eight foot tall they are already sizable trees, and given the scale - 120 trees across four acres - Mike decided to use John Worle and his team to do the planting, which took about three days in total - a day for marking out and drilling holes for the stakes, a day for putting the stakes in, and a day for the actual planting.

There's loads of great information on John Worle's website about how to do all this, including guides to planting plans and a great little film about the actual planting technique. Even on an eight foot tree, the roots are surprisingly shallow and don't need to be planted deeply - but there are certain crucial techniques.

And that's it! Two years on and we now have an infant orchard planted at Tree Farm. It's been hard to take decent photos given the gloomy weather (and all the wet days have of course delayed the planting itself - it has to be dry when this is done) but I have tried to track the progress as best I can, and over the next few weeks and months - and years - I am sure there will be lots more beautiful photos to come.

Measuring and marking

 Measuring and marking

Holes are drilled ready for tree stakes

Rain stops play
A sunnier day, and the stakes arrive...

Stakes go in

Holes are dug, ready for trees

First tree is planted....

...and then 119 more!

 Trees are protected

 And our field has become an orchard!

Do visit the John Worle website for more information on all this - John is an absolute expert in his field and there's loads to read about on his site.

And for more about orchards in Herefordshire and the value they add to landscape, wildlife and countryside life, there are a couple of interesting articles here:

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