All posts tagged: orchards

CNN interviews Mike Johnson of Ross Cider and finds out what makes their collection of perry pears so special. The video also includes a brief tour around the orchards, and of course a tasting. Ross cider farm is located between the Herefordshire and Welsh borders.

To say that Cider has got a lot of attention over the last week would be an understatement.

We’ve had a lot of activity on the Real Cider web site, and it’s even been enough to bring the Wurzel’s back into the UK charts.

Producers and cider fan’s who followed Darling’s moves closely knew the tax increase was coming. However, the sledgehammer approach to crack a nut approach has seriously failed to support the vital contribution cider making makes to each local economy, and also the unspoken affects to the local wildlife.

To the future generations of families, many with ancient orchards – it must have been considered whether there are other businesses now that ‘bear more fruit’..

The only way to bring about permanent and environment-friendly projects is to make them financially viable. Alistair Darling has removed this chance at a stroke.

What he should be doing is encouraging the emerging new breed of artisan cidermakers who have recently breathed life into what was a disappearing craft.

Here are a collection of the best comments on the recent tax increase of cider:

“The artisan cidermakers are feeling sore. They think they are victims of their own success – that cider has become fashionable and profitable and the government has spotted a way to make money. And they think the rise is a way for Labour to signal that it is taking the problem of binge drinking seriously” – The Guardian

Britain’s new breed of cidermakers have revived a dying craft – but they say Alistair Darling’s tax rise could threaten their success Last year Keith Orchard produced around 10,500 litres (2,300 gallons) of cider and perry, which takes him above the 7,000-litre (1,540-gallon) mark after which duty must be paid. But the 10% rise in duty above inflation makes him wonder if he should cut his losses and take production back below 7,000 litres – The Guardian

Henry Chevallier, chairman of the National Association of Cider Makers, said: “Cider makers have invested millions to new orchards in the past decade. Orchards take years to yield a return and the loss to the rural economy and the environment will be enormous if sales decline – The Telegraph

UK apple orchards have been in decline since the 1980s, with Britain losing nearly two thirds of its commercial and private orchards in the last three decades.

With the market dominated by cheap imported fruit, a narrower choice of varieties have been available. Smaller orchards have been replaced by housing and business developments. But in Scotland, apple enthusiasts are working to create a more ‘fruitful’ countryside.

Dougie Vipond finds out how apple enthusiasts are ensuring the future of Scottish orchards, in an item broadcast on the BBC Landward radio programme in October 2009.

View the Video on the BBC.

The cidermaker’s year, like the school year starts in September when the harvest gets under way in earnest and the business of cider can begin.

Autumn

Picking apples in any quantity isn’t easy, especially in old-style orchards where climbing to the tops of the tree with a basket is required! The other alternative of waiting for the wind to do its work would be a long and unpredictable business, although windfalls can be and are collected for cidermaking.

Traditionally the apples would be gathered in heaps to mature and soften for a few days. They would be taken to the mill where they would be floated in troughs or even streams to wash away any leaves, twigs and insects, and to allow the apples to be inspected so that rotten fruit could be discarded.

More modern orchards, which can support 250 trees to the acre compared to the standards orchards 40, are harvested mechanically. They are planted in rows that are wide enough to allow machinery that clamps the trunks and then vibrates rather than shakes them, as shaking loosens the roots and damages the trees. The first machine is followed by a blower that drives tha fallen fruit from under the trees into the central lane, where its picked up by a third machine which flips the apples into collecting bags.

Cidermaking starts later these days than it used to – in old days early cropping sweet varieties were picked and pressed in summer to make a light cider that would be ready for christmas. Nowadays, the harvesting, milling and pressing takes place from mid-September to mid-November.

autumn

Winter

Winter is a time where the cidermaker has to be patient. The apples are all pressed and in their fermenters. So there’s nothing to do, but leave the yeast to get on with it.

However, out in the orchards there is plenty of work to be done. January and Febraury is time for pruning. All the the apples, not just those at the top of the tree, need sunlight. They need air too, to dry them after rain, and a space to minimise the spread of mildews and moulds.

Pruning is a big job, for a tidy tree is a healthy and productive tree. In Britain the acreage of commercial orchards fell from 150,000 in 1970 to only 50,000 in 2000. However, its on the increase now, thanks to the planting of thousands of acres of cider orchards mainly by the bigger manufacturers.

winter

Spring

By spring, the new cider should be ready for drinking. May is when the new season’s cider goes on sale at most producers.

This is also blossom time, that spectacular season when the countryside bursts with pink and white flowers. Perry pear trees blossom earlier than apple trees, and it quite a sight when you visit the countryside of Herefordshire or Somerset  – the main cider making regions in the UK.

However, for the grower, blossom time is a time of anxiety. A late frost could ruin the harvest by killing the blossom, and a wet spring can stop the fruit from forming.

spring

Summer

With a warm spring, the cider maker can afford to relax a little in the summer months and watch the apples swell and ripen.

However, pests thrive in summer as much as the fruit does, and some producers have to spray their fruit. In organic orchards, insecticides are based on natural plant extracts such as pyrethrum and nicotine are permitted.

For owners of old fashioned orchards, those with tall trees rather than modern bush trees, there also the potential of grazing for stockbreeders. Sheep, cattle and pigs all thrive in orchards on the grass, and windfalls. They also help control the weeds and brambles that may otherwise hinder the harvest.

summer

In 1938, PTH Pickford, Cider Orcharding Advisor to the National Fruit and Cider Institute [Long Ashton Research Station] wrote in an article:

According to many farmers, Dorset was the first county in England to make cider. It is claimed that the art of cider-making was first introduced into this county by monks from northern France who settled in a village near Bridport some time before the Norman Conquest. . . . Whether this be true or not, Dorset certainly ranks with the counties in the West of England which have produced cider for centuries.’ P T H Pickford

The Cider Institute was founded in 1903 largely through the backing of the Bath & West
Agricultural Society, with the main aim of improving the quality of cider. By the mid 1920s, much work had been done and much knowledge of good cider-making gained. Cider had become a purer more refined drink and had achieved the status of a wholesome national product and a prosperous home industry. Pickford’s survey at the time revealed that the custom of ‘cider as wages’ was dying out and the surplus farmhouse cider, usually a dry, often sharp beverage was only popular with the older members of the farming community.

The pressure to produce a more marketable product led Pickford to initiate a series of extremely popular and successful cider-making training courses in regional locations. His notes give us a clear picture of the extent of Dorset cider orchards in 1938, and also provide us with vital clues towards rediscovering those that survive to this day.

Although the acreage of Dorset’s orcharding is small compared with that of the other counties, it must be remembered that apart from the comparative size of Dorset, the soil in a big proportion of the county is of the type totally unsuitable for fruit culture. In those areas where the soil is suitable however the orchards thrive and are numerously planted and here the production of cider fruit is as much a business as it is in Somerset and Devon.

The largest cider orchard area lies in West Dorset towards the Devon border including and around the neighbourhood of Loders, Powerstock, Netherbury, Beaminster, Broadwindsor and Stoke Abbott. There are smaller areas around Thorncombe, Whitchurch, Wootton Fitzpaine, Chideock and Symondsbury. Most of these orchards are planted in medium loams derived from the middle lias, but there are also quite a number planted in the very light soil of the Bridport sands, in particular around Melplash.

In other parts of Dorset the orchard areas are smaller and widely scattered throughout the county. There is a considerable acreage around Leigh and Chetnole where a good proportion are planted in heavy loams from the Oxford clay. Scattered orchards are found around both Gillingham and Shaftesbury and again around Sturminster Newton, but cider orchards are more numerous in the neighbourhood of Child Okeford, Shillingstone and Hammoor where a good deal of cider is produced. Yet another area worthy of mention is that around Piddlehinton and Piddletrenthide where numerous orchards are found growing in the alluvium of the narrow valleys.

Unlike the other cider counties, Dorset has never had any major cider producing factories such as Whiteways or Showerings. Sadly, because of this and in spite of Pickford’s professional instruction, cider-making never re-gained a secure status in Dorset, but remained an extremely local pursuit. Orchards that once supplied the liquid requirements of many staff and farm workers have now declined to a skeletal echo of their pre-War status. Our visits so far in 2004 have shown us a little of their former strength. The remnants of some of the old orchards contain grand old trees clearly dating back to more prosperous times.

Typical West Country varieties appear; Crimson King, Woodbine and various dual purpose cider/kitchen apples. Interestingly, and perhaps because of Dorset’s rather inaccessible terrain, many of the cider apple varieties grown are peculiar to the county and are seldom seen across the borders into Somerset and Devon. Traditionally Dorset cider is soft, sweet and mild in astringency. This regional distinctiveness comes from Dorset’s own varieties, some of which we have already re-discovered such as Buttery Door, Golden Ball, Slack-ma-Girdle, Syme’s Seedling and Golden Bittersweet. Some will be the last remaining trees of these distinctive regional varieties and they deserve to be looked after and re-propagated before they disappear. The Long Ashton records reveal many other Dorset cider apples that could still be found.

Although by far the majority of Dorset’s orchards were primarily cider orchards, some such as Stubbs Orchard, were clearly planted [before 1890] to supply large quantities of ‘commercial’ fruit, eaters and cookers. Here we discovered growing together with the cider apple trees, a selection of excellent and popular Victorian varieties including Harvey, Ribston Pippin, Royal Jubilee, Blenheim and Lord Derby, all of which are still happily being used by the present owners to create an excellent home cider.

Reference: Liz Copas 2004 The Symondsbury apple project