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Dragon Orchard News

Simon Tests the Apples
Simon and the Sugars

Timing is everything in fruit growing and picking and was one of the main themes in Charles Bennett's Orchard Days poetry collection. He visited us for one day each month to engage with the annual round of the orchard. He said he could understand that we knew what to do but was never sure how we knew when. Much of it comes with experience but there is also a degree of intuition and also, it must be said, a bit of luck with some good picking weather. However Simon is a trained biochemist and is much more scientific when it comes to harvesting. He checks and accurately measures the sugar levels which is just one of many reasons that he produces some outstanding drinks.

National Trust Core PrinciplesNational Trust Core Principles
Browsing the latest National Trust Magazine, an article reminded me that about five years ago, Annie and I were part of a series of workshops held at two National Trust properties. The Trust was moving away from its visitors 'just looking' to have them being more participatory. Nowadays many of their properties are rediscovering their orchards and are making juice, cider and preserves to sell in their shops and using the fruit in the meals they provide in their cafes. We have also just found out that an orchard close to here that we have visited with Cropsharers has been donated to the National Trust. The National Collection of Cider Apples at Tidnor Wood has been given to the Trust by its owner Henry May and varieties from the collection are being planted at NT sites across the South West.

Worshipful Company of Fruiterers DinnerWorshipful Companies
Following the success of the Chapel Pleck becoming the Championship Perry at the Bath & West Show, we somehow found ourselves being invited to attend the Summer Dinner of the Worshipful Company of Fruiterers at the Haberdashers' Hall in London. The Chapel Pleck was used as the final toast from their ancient Loving Cup and we had to turn to guard our neighbour's back as they were partaking of the toast. All very traditional.


Worshipful Company of GardenersRecently we have had an orchard visit from the Worshipful Company of Gardeners. It was only as they were arriving that the penny dropped with Annie that they were all gardeners and might take an interest in the garden as well the orchard. Sure enough the early arrival asked about design and planting and seemed to appreciate the 'relaxed' edge of orchard ambience of the garden. Luckily it was on to the orchard tour and tastings and then they were gone. Off to visit Sir Roy Strong's garden near Ross-on-Wye!





Poets SupperCider Supper
In September 1914, just before the outbreak of the Great War, the Dymock Poets collective of Lascelles Abercrombie, Robert Frost, Wilfred Gibson and Edward Thomas and their wives were invited to the home of a Mr & Mrs Farmer for a cider supper. The whole event was recorded for posterity by the writer Eleanor Farjeon. 101 years later, the event was celebrated at Putley Parish Hall complete with a groaning sideboard of food and copious amounts of cider, as described by Miss Farjeon and re-enacted for us by Mary Fielding. A splendid time was had by all and Jackie Denman's rendition of Gibson's "A Golden Room" sent us into the night deeply aware of the plight of many people travelling across Europe in 2015, as well as a poignant reminder of 1914.

Ripest Apples by Roy PalmerSweet Cider Time/Ripest Apples
Soon after we moved back to the Shire, we were introduced to Roy and Pat Palmer, one of the most creative couples we have had the pleasure to meet. Roy died last year and a glowing obituary in the Guardian revealed what an extraordinary knowledge he had of folklore and music, especially pertaining to apples. When the Big Apple Association planned its publication of Ripest Apples, to celebrate the English apple, Roy was the obvious choice to edit the work. As a celebration of his life, there are two events planned over the Big Apple Harvest Weekend. On Saturday 10th October, the vocal group Serenata are presenting an evening of music and readings entitled "Sweet Cider Time" at 7pm at the Hellens Great Barn. The following morning there is a Ripest Apples Walk with readings from the book which leaves Westons Car Park at 9.30 am on Sunday 11th October.




Bin TipperBin Tipper
I'm not a bin tipper
I'm a bin tipper's mate
And I'm only tippin' bins
Cos' the bin tipper's late

This lesser known gem of Shire poetry reflects the long celebrated theme of moving apples from storage box to mill. For the last 7 years, the shovel has been the preferred method, and then this was improved by use of a small elevator. Mid season last year saw a radical change with bins being tipped using a forklift truck but 2015 sees the arrival of the Bin Tipper itself. This well handy piece of tack coupled with a conveyor belt is set fair to save many sore backs and arms. And give more time for creative poetry!




Getting Ready for Ben & Helens wedding

The Cuckoo-oo

The Cuckoo this year has been well on song and has apparently been paying heed to the old poem: The cuckoo comes in April, Sings his song in May,
Changes tune in the middle of June, and then he flies away.
We heard the first notes on April 24th, my Granny's birthday anniversary. She was always delighted if that was when the cuckoo made its appearance. We have heard the call every day since and noted the tune has made a distinct change. The 'oo' at the end of the 'cuck' is now an 'oo-oo' with a distinct uplift of the final 'oo'. It's probably on Youtube but for us it means the solstice is approaching.


Apple blossom with bee and bugsFlowering
Late April and early May saw a very good strong blossom and it was well timed for this year's Big Apple Blossomtime weekend over the May Day Bank Holiday. However the cooler temperatures since have meant that there is not a huge set. Perhaps just as well as a heavy crop might have needed thinning if they had all come to fruition. Note the precise meaning of the word in this context!
One thing that did come to fruition was the display in Putley Parish Hall of a set of portraits of local cidermakers painted by Jean Nowell, artist and perry maker extraordinaire. Jean spent time with them all in their natural habitat, took photos and made sketches before creating the large portraits. These were 'curated', as I like to call it, by Hugh and myself hanging them from the hall roof supports. So displayed, the cidermakers were looking down on their drinks arrayed on the tables below. Jean presided over a reception on Sunday evening with her typical modesty and erudite wit. The portraits may well go on display again elsewhere.


WeddingsTrees lit up in the evening
The middle weekend in May, when the Michelin cider trees behind the Big Hug were shouting their loudest, was the time when my godson Ben Godsall celebrated marrying his fiancé Helen Meredith at Dragon Orchard. The official legal bit had been held the previous Tuesday in St Faith's Chapel at Westminster Abbey, where Ben's father (one of my oldest friends) has been doing some part-time work. He is a priest would you believe. However Ben and Helen very much wanted their main celebration to be held here and 180 guests enjoyed a fantastic event with Weston's Shire horses and dray bringing the bridal party to the orchard. There were shotguns and blossom and many sides of beef and copious amounts of Once Upon A Tree drinks to wash it down. Ben and Helen have just completed doctorates at London Zoo, so had a quite a collection of conservation friends who delighted in the orchard setting and the shire ambience.


This week Annie and I are conducting a couple of Putley based walks for the Herefordshire Walking Festival. We will be celebrating the Herefordshire Pomona with a stroll around the parish exploring the links between Gladstone's Balance of Payments deficit in the 1870's, the Woolhope Club and my great Grandfather. Later in the week we are wandering over to The Wonder landslip site. We shall be sampling the Chapel Pleck sparkling perry, the Wonder dessert pear wine and the draught cider Tumpy Ground – all linked to the 1575 landslip. Now that really is what passes for a good time round here!
There will also be a summer solstice celebration in the orchard organised by walking artist Jess Allen. This will mark the end of her 'Trans-missions' walk following the power lines right across
Herefordshire and concluding here with the June 21st event. See


ShowingsNorman collects the Trophy for Champion Perry, Bath & West 2015
We have just been to the Three Counties Show and done a day on the cider stand at Malvern. It still retains its local agricultural flavour and it very much provides an opportunity for the coming together of the Farming Community to 'show and tell'. However we have also visited the Bath and West Show near Shepton Mallet a couple of weeks ago. A first for us and well worth the trip as we were able to pick up a cup. It is the largest Cider & Perry Competition and Simon had entered a number of classes. I was delighted to receive the trophy from Lord King for our Chapel Pleck, awarded the Champion Perry.
Our neighbours Brian and Fran Robbins collected an award for the Best Single Variety Cider for their Yarlington Mill and Tom Oliver received a well deserved Lifetime Award. So Herefordshire brought some prestigious prizes away from Somerset, where they seem to believe the best cider is made!  [We also had first place in sweet cider & gold award for our Blenheim Superb, although we didn't realise until a few weeks after! - Simon].


Harry Taylor's Thrown HatHarry Taylor
Harry was my great Grandfather who spent most of his working life planting up and managing the Putley Court Estate for Squire John Riley at the end of the 1800s. Recently we have been discussing the creation of a range of less alcoholic ciders to sell as a draught and also carbonated in 50cl bottles. Simon has just released the Harry Taylor range which includes the medium cider Thrown Hat and the dry cider Crooked Branch. The label quotes Harry saying, "If an apple tree is pruned well, you can throw your hat through it' and continues ' Harry's descendants are still here, throwing hats and growing fantastic fruit – with quality that is evident to the very last drop! So hats off to you Harry!'


Anna Beck 1946-2015Anna Beck
I first met Anna at a rugby match at Twickenham in the early 70s, having become friends with Roger during our teaching practice at Devonport High School in Plymouth. We not only remained firm friends from then on but they became fantastic supporters of Dragon Orchard. Anna, as a Management Consultant supplied wonderful advice for both the orchard and Wallwalkers over the years. Whenever we were musing on what to do, Anna was always available with wise counsel. We saw her just a few weeks before she died and even though she was in some discomfort, she remained keenly interested in everything that was going on.
Her Memorial Service was held in a wonderful woodland setting near Christchurch and fittingly the rain that had been heavy all morning relented and the sun shone as we sent her on her way.

Pear Blossom in the OrchardGood Friday was when farm workers had a rare day off from their unrelenting physical toil. They would often keep a pig and grow their own vegetables as well as snaring the odd rabbit for the pot. The reason they were given Good Friday off was so they could spend time sowing their vegetable seeds and getting the potatoes in the ground. This Good Friday would have proved quite a challenge as it rained hard all day and the ground is saturated. The high winds of over 70mph in the week were strong enough to blow over a tree at the front of the house even though it has not yet come into leaf. Some of the ancient perry trees in the area have also suffered especially those that have a heavy infestation of mistletoe, which provides a huge amount of wind resistance.

However wild, windy and wet....Spring is sprung and the Mirabelle plums are in early blossom, the quince in bud and much stirring in bucolic places. The winter has been good with cold nights and dry clear days and not the endless rain we experienced last year. This has held back growth, lengthened dormancy, storing up that all-important vigour until the days become longer and the temperatures rise.

Pruning and Orchard Work
The mostly clement weather has allowed us to make good progress on the pruning and winter work in the orchard. The cider apple trees have had their most severe pruning of the last 40 years. They are still producing well and had been mechanically pruned last year, shaping up the sides. However the tops were becoming thick again and there was a reduction of light levels lower down the tree. We obtained the services of 5 strong young East Europeans who worked 10 hours a day taking out some major branches just with hand saws. The piles of prunings between the rows looked as though they had removed half the orchard. Luckily the ground was dry enough for all the prunings to be gathered onto two burning piles which made short work of the enormous amount of brash they had created and we are fairly tidy again now. Hugh and I have been gathering up the final bits and pieces with our small tractor and buckrake.
A soil analysis has been carried out and the required replenishment of lime to reduce the soil acidity has been applied. This is put on in slow release granular form using a tractor mounted spinner which gives an even spread underneath the trees.


New Topper
We have just purchased for the new 2015 grass management season a 'new to us' Votex mower. You will be delighted to know that this model has overlapping, swinging blades so the aisles will look more neatly tended come the summer. We remember the excitement when we bought the previous mower, shortly after we started Cropsharers in 2001, as being the first major purchase we could afford from this extra source of income.


Charlotte's Survey
We are pleased to announce a fourth PhD student has joined our orchard entourage. My nephew Ben and his fiancée Helen have been housesitting for us while we were on holiday. They are due to be married at Dragon Orchard in mid May shortly after they have completed their doctorates in Zoology. Dr Jess Allen is working on her second PhD while living off-grid in her yurt and we have just made contact with Charlotte Selvey. Charlotte, along with Helen and Ben, is based at London Zoo but had no idea of their connection to Dragon Orchard. She is in her first year of a 4 Year study looking at the relationship between habitats in orchards and biodiversity. Once she is set up, we hope Charlotte will come and meet Cropsharers and discuss her work.


Herefordshire Walking Festival 2015Walking with the Dragons
We are once again involved in the Herefordshire Walking Festival in June and shall be leading two walks from the orchard. The first on Sunday 14th June at 2pm is the Herefordshire Pomona around the local orchards of Putley. The second is on Tuesday 16th June at 9.45am, The Wonder of the Wonder.
Jess Allen is undertaking her week-long walking event culminating at Dragon Orchard on June 21st.





As I drove out of the gate early this morning, the low temperature indicator on the car sounded for the first time this season, letting me know that it was 3 Centigrade. The mist had formed in the valleys and did not burn off until coffee time. Such mornings always remind me of returning to school for the new academic year. The smell of drying hops and orchards full of ripening fruit used to assail my senses as I stood waiting for the school bus with an air of trepidation hanging heavy. However no school for me this autumn morning. A quick visit to the gym and back to a very busy orchard.

Laying concreteConcrete and Drains – essential underpinnings
Production is increasing at Dragon Orchard so a certain upgrade in infrastructure is required to cope with all the processing. We have acquired new milling and pressing equipment which has necessitated more hard standing and a re-ordering of the drainage around the buildings. The groundwork contractors arrived last week and in 6 days have completed the job and are putting the finishing touches to the yard and drive. We have been blessed with good weather and positive problem-solving workers who took great pride and care on the project. I still find the skill of a practical digger driver a joy to behold and when it will result in a smoother operation, a real delight.


September Weather
Thus far, late summer/early autumn have co-operated to help alleviate the rancour of a wet winter and memories of a dark cold spring. By the beginning of May we had already had a normal year's rainfall with stressed trees and despondent growers. The orchard finally dried out and with some gentle overnight rainfall in summer and a warm September, the fruit has ripened nicely. However it is now falling early and we have had to do a sweep to pick up the cider fruit to clear the orchard floor before we shake the trees properly in a few weeks time. Simon reports the best quality grapes for years and pressing has already begun with high hopes of 2014 becoming a vintage year.

 Bin Shifter

Bin Shifter
I often reflect – as I often do – that much pleasure can be gained from the simple things in life. Our ancient and ailing Fordson Super Dexter tractor recently gave up the ghost and is now passing into the safe hands of Ken Traherne, our trusty agricultural contractor, to keep him occupied during the long winter evenings as he rebuilds the engine. Its demise left us with no means of shifting bins and pallets around the orchard apart from the very heavy and unwieldy Manatu. Cue Agricultural Engineer Don Harris who has a genius for small projects. Don reckoned he could sort us out and he has welded together a custom built bit of kit that works a treat. I asked him to put his sign on it and told him that when he passes from this world, it will become a collectors' item. When you are next at Dragon Orchard, look out for the lifter resplendent in British Orchard Green with Don's red signature.

 Handmade Scotch Eggs

Handmade Scotch Egg Company at Pixley
As you drive past the Trumpet towards Ledbury, 6 businesses have changed hands or been set up in the last couple of years. Is this following a national trend of new entrepreneurship? The Trumpet Inn itself has had a change of landlord. The Trumpet Corner Tearoom and Gallery goes from strength to strength and the owner Katie Rolfe has just entered a new partnership and recently got married. The pear orchard opposite Munsley WI Hall has been bought by Haygrove and half of the pears have been taken out and replaced with strawberries. Ledbury Real Ales are in demand at local pubs and Will Chase of Chase Vodka has acquired the Verzons country hotel The latest newcomer has taken over at what was Roots at Little Verzons, where we had a good visit with Will & Meg Edmonds a couple of years ago. The Handmade Scotch Egg Company who showed us round their factory at the Hop Pocket have moved in and opened The Nest with a café and small deli shop and invite customers to walk in the orchards. They are using the premises for pre-production to give them more space at the factory. Another visit in store for next year, I think.


Our most exciting Orchard event this year – well actually our most exciting orchard event ever – has been the wedding of our elder son Patrick to the delightful and gorgeous Emma in mid August. The bride and her bridesmaids stayed over near Eastnor and travelled to the wedding on the Weston's Cider tractor and trailer, visiting the Cider Shop in Ledbury along the way. After minor adjustments from a rather windy journey, they processed up the orchard through the aisle between the Blenheim Orange trees.
The ceremony itself at the Big Hug was wonderfully, thoughtfully and lovingly devised and delivered by our younger son Hugh, resplendent in a red top hat, bow tie and bare feet. The area was transformed with small marquees, bunting, sails, strawbales, fire logs and a firebowl. There was a Tea Tent, a "Chill" tent, a Photo booth and even an Enchanted Wood with flying paper cranes – all put together by Patrick and Emma and friends. It was a magical occasion and brought family, orchard, Shire, love and life in a most fitting and wonderful combination.

Wedding 2Wedding 1Wedding 3Wedding 4Wedding 5Wedding 6


A Peaceful Passing
Ann's sister Sue arrived to stay last week while we were up in Birmingham at a Hugh dance performance. She wanted to stretch her legs after her drive and took herself up to see the pigs. She found a very recently expired Ivy or Ivory, the cream coloured Kune Kune, just lying on her side in no distress. The other pig Sundance, asleep in the straw, hadn't even noticed. We looked up Ivy's registration and found she was 14 years old, so not a bad innings. I related the tale to the contractors the next morning and before I could ask, the digger driver said "You'll need a hole dug then won't you". So Ivy now resides peacefully under a damson tree near the hedgerow up above the pig shed snuffling in an even bigger orchard.

Also laid to rest in his orchard last weDoug Joinerek was the inestimable Doug Joiner. We have visited Doug and his partner, Gudrun several times over the years in Clissett Wood and Childer Wood and we saw Doug with his Heavy Horses at the Three Choirs Vineyard in May 2013. Doug has had heart problems but did not let that slow him down until his untimely passing on September 8th.



Dramatic Storm over the orchard!And Still it Rains.....
Orchard mowing early on a June morning is usually one of the most enjoyable of rural chores, chugging along between the rows of trees relishing the sunshine and sparkling air and the gradual increasing warmth with the newly formed fruitlets proudly peeping through fresh green leaves. This morning the task began under leaden skies and I soon had to return to base for a woolly hat and gloves. Instead of becoming lighter, the skies darkened, the clouds lowered and the heavens opened. In just a few minutes surface water appeared and torrents began to wash down the aisles and filled the still to be ironed out ruts. Time to return to the house and strip off soaked clothes and warm up with a reviving breakfast. During May over 100mm of rain fell and the first five months of this year have seen almost all of the "average" annual rainfall. This has meant that the orchard has been saturated for months and water has been holding in pools in places. We have had a ground engineer come along and assess the state of the land drains. He has advised that the big 'goat' willow that has established itself over the years behind Hearst shed has probably blocked the bottom drains. Acer Tree Services have now come along and taken it down in a very timely manner. All gone in a day.


bluebells-smlOrchid on Putley CommonOn the Brighter Side.....
In the last blog, I wrote about the fantastic Dymock daffodils. The warm, wet conditions have led to a profusion of wildflowers and the buttercups appear even more buttery. On the May Cropsharers weekend we visited Putley Common which is being managed to promote a wide variety of wildlife. Kate Woollen, who works for the Forestry Commission and is an active member of the Putley Wildlife group, opened our eyes to the many different things growing and residing on the Common. We walked back through the Dingle and into Lady Wood which revealed an extraordinary carpet of bluebells under the trees. The following day we drove over to Malvern to see the Well Dressing and were astonished by the intensity of the colour of the bluebells on the hillside. If an artist had painted a picture of them, you would think they had gone 'heavy' on the blue! People have been coming from 'far and wide' to enjoy the amazing display.


Hartpury Orchard CentreThe Orchard Centre, Hartpury
We have been aware of the Orchard Centre for a few years now and were delighted to have the opportunity to pay a visit in May. The Centre was set up and built with an HLF Grant by a knowledgeable group of enthusiasts as the National Collection of Perry Pears and a centre of excellence for cider and perry production in the rolling Gloucestershire countryside near Hartpury. The Centre has purpose built facilities for cider making and is used for cider and perry production for 'Out of the Orchard' and is the base for Peter Mitchell's Cider making courses. The centre is managed by Matteus, who showed us around and I was delighted to be able to inform him that Hartpury takes it's name from the Old English for 'hard pear', which he didn't know. After the visit, we called by Hartpury Church to see the extraordinary Bee Shelter, an ornate carved stone structure in the churchyard that houses a plethora of bee skeps. Not something one comes across every day.


Cider with RosieCider with Rosie
This has long been a favourite book of ours and we have a CD of Laurie Lee himself reading extracts from his iconic story of his early life in the Cotswold valley of Sladd. The Wye Players performed a fine version on the Big Hug at Dragon Orchard on May Day afternoon. Supposedly a read through performance but many knew all their lines and the costumes and set were just right. Our friend and neighbour Jake Herbst was the narrator as the older Laurie Lee but the star turn was the orchard itself. Resplendent in its blossomtime finery with the cuckoo producing noises off stage, it all provided the most fitting backdrop for such an evocative piece.


Golden Fire
'Golden fire...that first taste of summer....." is how Laurie Lee described the cider consumed so provocatively by young Rosie. Golden Fire is the title that has been given to a contemporary project being proposed by the Rural Media Company who you may remember produced the extraordinary 'Ledbury Lives' piece last year. There are plans afoot for a multimedia platform – you all know what that means, of course – to celebrate Cider, its culture and place in our county of Herefordshire. Part of the celebration maybe a pop-up restaurant at Dragon Orchard. Watch this space and keep your glasses filled with the golden fire.


Summer PruningSummer Pruning
In the winter we made a determined effort to prune the apples, pears and quince in Dorothy's Orchard to contain some of the vigorous growth therein. However the stone fruit needs to be left alone during the winter and pruning takes place post blossom and fruit set. Despite our best intentions this often escapes our notice until too late but this year it has been firmly on our TO DO list and we have now managed to get it done. It is really hard to cut off branches festooned with little fruitlets but we kept telling the trees it was for their own good. After the recent torrential rain, it was really muddy underfoot and under wheel and we have had to pile the prunings into bins on the edge of the orchard as it is too wet to haul them up to the burning pile. We hope it won't be too long before it is dry enough to make that move.


Dorothy Reigns SupremeAwards from the International Cider Competition 2014
The Hereford International Cider Competition held annually at the Cider Museum in Hereford has regularly seen some decent results for Once Upon A Tree and 2014 was no exception. Priggles Perry took a prize, as did a fine single variety Dabinett which Simon bravely let ferment with its natural wild yeasts rather than using wine yeasts. However pride of place was awarded to Dorothy's Orchard Draught cider which is made from all the dessert fruit in the sponsored orchard. There has been growing interest in recent years in making ciders from dessert apples and this one has a lovely soft flavour with a long finish but without the normal cider tannin. Against some stiff competition from some fine cider producers the first prize was awarded to Dorothy's Orchard. So well done to Dorothy's with a good bit of help from Simon and Emma.


onceuponatree RT @VigoLtd: And the Best in Show @3countiesshows @TCCPAofficial goes to @onceuponatree for their Sweet Cider - congrats!🤩
onceuponatree RT @onceuponatree: @Bushwhckr @Shacksbury OK, so Once Upon A Tree is now on sale in Portland, Oregon, USA! Big thanks to @Shacksbury & @Bus
onceuponatree @Bushwhckr @Shacksbury OK, so Once Upon A Tree is now on sale in Portland, Oregon, USA! Big thanks to @Shacksbury &…
onceuponatree RT @Bushwhckr: New to the shop: @onceuponatree & @Shacksbury bottles & cans!
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