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.
Concrete 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.
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.
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 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. www.trumpetinnledbury.co.uk. 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. www.trumpetcorner.co.uk. 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 www.ledburyrealales.co.uk are in demand at local pubs and Will Chase of Chase Vodka has acquired the Verzons country hotel verzonhouse.com. 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 www.handmadescotcheggs.co.uk 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.
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 week 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.