Thursday, 5 December 2013

Late autumn, early winter...

First week of December. It has been mild so far, just a couple of light frosts. This picture shows one of the last cider apples, a Le Bret, hanging on.

Le Bret is a funny apple. We did not plant it on purpose, it was mispropagated as Sweet Alford in a West Country nursery some time ago (according to Liz Copas) and as the 2 fruits are quite similar in appearance and quality, by the time the error was noticed it had been widely planted. In fact, the 8 we have in our orchard were propagated from one we bought from Scott's nurseries of Merriot (now so sadly gone), which we no longer have.

Its a sweet apple, very annual and usually heavy cropper, forming great ropes of fruit. Insipid to bite into, making a nondescript although palatable single variety cider. It was a large component of perhaps the nicest cider I ever made about 10 years ago. I have made 10 gallons with about 40% Le Bret and wild yeast, will see how this does.

We are doing 2 Farmers Markets this weekend, Fareham and Winchester. This will be our last Winchester, we are pulling out of this market for 2014 although will go to the Cathedral markets. More on this later, mainly due to too much to do and wanting to have our Sundays back.

Thursday, 24 October 2013

picking the Sturmer Pippin apples

Picked a quarter ton of ripe Sturmer Pippins today, 24th October. It might have been OK to leave them on another week, they are about the last apple we pick, but they were parting from the tree with little difficulty and as this is the last opportunity I have to pick for 5 days and strong winds are forecast, I got on with it.

They have coloured up very well this year and there is very little fungal disease, doubtless due to the exceptionally warm dry summer.

They are a very sharp, firm variety and are at their best from December to February, possibly lasting as long as May in ideal conditions. Store apples cool and well aerated but not too dry, and check them weekly for rots. The variety originated in the village of Sturmer in Suffolk and was first noted in 1827. According to Rosie Sanders 'The Apple Book ' (highly recommended) the parents are believed to be Ribston Pippin and Nonpareil. I am prepared to believe this as the fruit has several similarities to Ribston Pippin which we also grow. I remember seeing Tasmanian grown Sturmers in the shops in May-it is a durable apple.

This heritage apple is a strong recommend as a late keeper, especially in areas of lower rainfall. It does not ripen as well as this every year. It also has a tendency to scab and often requires fruit thinning in early summer to avoid excessive numbers of small fruits. There are better looking and better flavoured apples, but few that store as well through the winter.

Sunday, 20 October 2013

Pressing the 2013 cider

I will try to update this blog more often in the future, although my main activity relating to the orchard will continue to be YouTube.

Yesterday, 19th October, I pressed 13 gallons of juice for a friend who usually has some, although I couldn't supply any last year due to the appalling harvest and my leg injury. Thankfully I am pretty nearly fully recovered from that.

Everyone keeps saying 'Its a bumper year for apples'. I'm not so sure, but it is certainly much better than last year, which I refer to as 'The long winter of 2011-2013'. The cider I made last year was disappointing but I had some yesterday and it seems to have matured to something quite nice in the 1 litre glass bottles with half a teaspoon of white sugar added to give some secondary fermentation. A bit of fizz definitely helps with dull cider. Last year's fruit just did not receive enough sunshine to achieve really good flavours or sugar levels.

This year I have been expecting some real vintage cider due to the summer sun. I pressed 25 gallons 2 weeks ago, adding just under 1 Campden tablet per gallon and some wine yeast. I know this is not completely authentic but I have lost more than one batch of cider to spoilage organisms before now and I don't want that to ever happen again. It was a mix of about 40% cider apples, largely Tremlett's Bitter, and apples like Sunset and Lord Lambourne which had gone very slightly soft. More on my bugbear issue of 'crunchy' apples later. A gravity of about 1059 was achieved and fermentation is ongoing.

Yesterday after pressing the client's order I pressed a box each of Kingston Black (about 16 kg, the whole crop from 15 trees. KB is a great fruit but a pathetic cropper) and Yarlington Mill. My friend Mike Gurman (check out his Atomic Shrimp videos) helped me and noticed how hard it was to mill these apples as they make such a stiff paste. The Kidd's Orange Reds we pressed earlier went through about 4 times as fast. The 4 gallons of juice came in at 1072, a very high gravity indeed.

I added some fizzing cider from the earlier batch but no sulphite as hoping for a very quick fermentation. The sulphite kills bacteria that can spoil the cider, very necessary if you are using fruit that has been lying on the orchard floor for a week or so but all the fruit we pressed was hand picked. Clean fruit and a rapid start to fermentation should obviate the need for sulphite.

Our next Farmer's Market is next Sunday at Winchester. We will have Orleans Reinette, Spartan, red Pippin, Egremont Russet, Suntan and maybe one or 2 odds and ends. We used to take unpasteurised apple juice to these markets but someone complained they had a loose bowel action 'gave me the shits' as she delicately put it) after drinking our juice. Also a Food Hygiene Police busybody presented us with a huge wad of requirements so we stopped it. Too bad for the many people who liked our '100% flavour in' fresh pressed raw juice, but there you go. I can't spend £10,000 complying with food hygiene regulations to sell £300 or £400 worth of fresh juice per annum.

Hill Farm Orchards make a perfectly acceptable range of pasteurised bottled apple juice which I recommend. I have pasteurised apple juice before now, I may do again this autumn and it can be a good product, but to me always tastes of stewed apple rather than fresh pressed juice.

Enjoy the autumn.

Monday, 19 August 2013

Late summer 2013 update

Hi everyone. As you may have noticed, I've not been around here much. Those of you who watch my YouTube channel will know I had a bad leg injury last year which led to our cancelling the Apple Day. I was a lot more mobile by Christmas but we had to cancel the Wassail due to the rain. This year I have been very busy teaching dermatology, my main professional occupation, and we never organised an Apple Day event.

Been a funny year, again. The late cold spring means plums and pears lost out again, we will have a few, and the apples are all about 3 weeks late and small due to the severe drought in July. Our light sandy soil does not retain moisture well and we cannot afford to irrigate.

I have just updated the list of our sales for this year at, mainly its Fareham and Winchester Farmer's Markets and the Winchester Cathedral harvest event on the weekend of 5/6 October. Oh and the Netley autumn festival on Saturday 12th October. That's it.

Hope to see some of you there.

Monday, 8 October 2012

Remaining 2012 markets

Belated details of our remaining markets for 2012 are as follows. These are all Winchester and Fareham Farmer's Markets, details can be Googled if you aren't sure.

Winchester Farmers Market Sunday 14th October 9-2. We will have Orleans Reinette, Kidd's Orange Red, Sunset, Egremont Russet, maybe a few others. We also have some nice Fruitwise Heritage Apples canvas bags which we are selling at £1 each, well below cost as we have a load left. Buy 3kg of apples and we'll give you one free.

Saturday 20th October Winchester Cathedral market 9-3

Sunday 28th October Winchester

Saturday 2nd November Fareham Farmer's Market 9-2

Subnday 11th November Winchester. We should have Sturmer Pippin and Winter King by then. As I wrote (8th October) they are still hanging on the trees.

Sunday 25th Winchester

Saturday 1st December Fareham

Sunday 9th December Winchester

Saturday 22nd December Fareham

Sorry we can't do any juice or cider apples this year. 2012 has been a very difficult year for us with my serious leg injury in June from which I am not quite recovered and with weather so appalling that its effect on agriculture of all kinds from honey to cereal has become a  major news story. We had no plums, no pears, drastically reduced crops of many apples.

We hope for better things and a much better information flow in 2013.

Saturday, 7 July 2012

Sad news, no Apple Day event this year

Bumzer! My right leg is in a cast following an Achilles tendon rupture 3 weeks ago. Tripped on a hotel staircase. Regrettably, I will be unable to walk without crutches and very great difficulty until at least October and by then will probably have lost so much calf muscle bulk I'll need another three months physio. So that's me out of action for the rest of this year.

Sorry, we have no option but to cancel the 2012 Apple Day exhibition and sale we usually hold in October at Durley Memorial Hall.

Also, there are no plums or pears this year due to sustained heavy rain on the blossom. In a normal year we'd be preparing for our first markets now, as it is we're debating cancelling our 'summer' holiday due to the prolonged filthy cold windy weather. It was going to be a walking and fishing break, now I can't do either. If we're going to stop indoors looking out the window at the rain, painting and reading, we might as well do it at home and save the drive to Cornwall and back.

When I know what markets we will have any apples for, I'll post a list here. Sorry.

I'm blogging about my injury and recovery on the YouTube channel, I hope to do a charity fundraiser for a third world orthopaedic and trauma charity, the British Palawan Trust to perhaps bring some good out of this.

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Orchard update 5th June

We took some time out from the long Jubilee weekend Monday and Tuesday mornings to spray glyphosate (a non toxic, non persistent systemic weedkiller which I call vitamin G) around the bases of the apple trees where the grasses and weeds were knee high. We had mown the grass the last time we were free and the weather was sunny, but no mower gets right to the trunk and this needs to be clear of weeds. Weeds and grass right up to the trunk not only competes with the tree for soil moisture (still scarce despite rain)  and shelters bark nibbling voles but also stops the bark drying out so promotes fungal disease.

While working my way round the orchard with the 15 litre knapsack sprayer I had the chance to get a good look at the fruit set. Too early to tell for some later blooming varieties such as cider variety Dabinett (which is still partly in blossom) but the fruit set seems better than I had feared. The plums are very poor and the pears disastrous, I already knew that (cold wet weather on the blossom, which comes earlier than apples) but most of the apples are set from moderate to superabundant. The Russets have a very light crop and the Ribston Pippin almost non existent, we will just have enough for our exhibition, but the Sunset, Lord Lambourne, Sturmers, Kidd's Orange Red and some others are very good. The Laxton's Epicure seem to have set almost every fruitlet and will require radical thinning. I'll try to do that this weekend.

The annual chafer beetle plague, at it's height 10 days ago, has passed with less damage than we had in the last three years. They bit holes in a lot of fruitlets before they died from the urgent pesticide application Julia and I applied the previous weekend. I posted a video on YouTube to show the true horror of our annual infestation of this extremely destructive pest and to underline the absolute necessity of effective crop protection when facing this kind of threat.

There is also some scab appearing on the leaves, it is worst on the Le Bret cider apples which are very susceptible. We omitted the usual combined fungicide and insecticide pre-blossom spray as the weather was so fine in March. Of course, it then rained for weeks! Wet weather both promotes scab (a fungal disease which likes the wet) and prevents spraying against it. This omission of the pre-blossom spray, often considered the most critical crop protection of the year, now looks like an error of judgment.

I've said more about spraying in this post than I usually do. I know its not a popular subject, and we both hate it, but I'm just trying to be real. Sorry I can't give details of actual preparations used, suffice it to say that Julia and I both have our pesticide application certificates after a course and exam at Spartsholt Agricultural College and obey all relevant regulations including keeping records which the authorities can inspect. The bottom line on spraying and health is that we are living much longer than a few generations ago, 10 years longer on average, and one reason for this whcih nobody disputes is better, fresher fruit, available all year round. The great health benefits of all this fruit would not have been available without pest control. Sorry, that's how it is. We use a lot less than the industry standard, not least as we have to hump and pump it by hand. A commercial tractor pulled spray rig would cost at least 6 years's turnover.

On that slightly sombre note, we have come through several significant challenges in the orchard so far and hope for a great year!

see you.