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Dragon Orchard News

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Mid February and it has finally stopped raining for a few days and the ground is beginning to dry out just a little, making the daily walk round the orchard with the dog less of a slippery slog through the mud. We did have some snow in January, by way of a change from rain, which gave the opportunity for a few seasonal photos, a bit of sledging and snowman construction. Ed Elliott of Trumpet Corner created an extraordinary Snow Angel. The melting snow just added to the general wetness. However it is now a good bit colder and drier. The cold is welcome as it keeps the trees dormant; the wet is not as it keeps their roots sodden. It is now time to get around the orchard for a bit of pruning which we put off while it has been so wet underfoot.

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Wassail 2013

If the purpose of wassailing is to ensure a good crop for the following harvest, it is devoutly to be wished that the ceremony held this year at Court Farm, Aylton, will produce a better result than the 2012 event held at Hellens House, Much Marcle. Last year was by just about every measure the worst harvest in living memory and the rainfall the heaviest since records began. The 2013 wassail was among the most memorable held as it was in the magnificent Manorial Barn next to the Church, where my father sang loudly and played the harmonium scratchily for over fifty years. The barn provided a magical setting for the Mummers play and wonderful shelter from the January chill, which was kept further at bay with mulled cider and Noggin Farm pork rolls. Surely a good year must follow!

Wassail photos courtesy of Richard Crompton
http://www.richardcromptonphotography.com/


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The Scudamores of Holme Lacy House
When one looks at the history of cider in general and of its role in Herefordshire in particular, a name that keeps leaping off the page is that of Lord Scudamore. His family seat at Holme Lacy House - largely regarded as the finest house in the county - is only just over the ridge from our orchard, so we decided it was time to pay a visit during our Cropsharers’ Winter weekend.

Lord Scudamore was Ambassador to France for Charles 1 and so a trusted member of the Royal Household. He entertained royalty and royally and was the patron of a Fownhope man, Tom Spring who became the bare-knuckle fighting champion of All England. Scudamore became convinced that the orchards of his home county could make drink to rival that of the vineyards of France and he eventually grew the famed Herefordshire Redstreak cider apple, which produced a drink of the highest quality. He wanted his cider to impress on the table so designed delicate fluted glasses engraved with the Royal Coat of Arms and his own insignia. His other and probably most important contribution to the industry was to put his cider into glass bottles. Local glass makers had been able to manufacture stronger bottles since wood powered furnaces had been banned to conserve this vital raw material and coal used instead, which burnt hotter and so produced thicker and stronger glass. So next time you pour a glass of sparkling cider make sure you raise a toast to Lord Scudamore of Holme Lacy.

jessAll in a Day's Walk is the title of a PhD performance and research project carried out by Jess Allen, who lives in a yurt at Caplor Farm near Fownhope. She has coined a new word ‘Tracktivism’ - ‘a field of activist performance that utilises walking and moving and talking in rural landscapes to address issues of environmental, social or political concern’ to describe her work. Jess, a dairy intolerant vegetarian, decided that in the long dark wet and increasingly muddy days of December, she would eat only what she could source within walking distance of her home. She told her story in our warm comfy house in January to an enthralled audience as she talked about different levels of activism and engagement. A fascinating project which you can read about online at http://allinadayswalk.co.uk/

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Rayessa's Indian Kitchen

Dragon House produces the most fantastic range of seasonal smells as Annie makes various preserves throughout the year. We are presently enjoying apple jelly with rosemary and apple chutney making has also been underway. However, recently the kitchen has had a visit from Rayeesa of Rayeesa's Indian Kitchen when we had a fascinating cooking demonstration from one immersed in the food of her culture. Rayeesa was born in the UK but spent her early years in India. She also learnt a huge amount about Indian food whilst a police officer in Southall, which re-engaged her passion for cooking from her childhood. She and her family moved to Herefordshire and we have met her at several food festivals. She cooked vegetable curry and dhal with the help of an enthusiastic audience and also made chapattis from scratch, finishing them off with aplomb on a naked gas flame. The simplicity of her ingredients, demonstration of her technique and love of her craft gave a great demonstration and wonderful tasty lunch. For further information about her products and workshops, see http://rayeesasindiankitchen.com/

2013-02-03 00.03.56-1Giant Jenga
The Flavours of Hereford Award ceremony has just taken place with a different format from previous years. The event has usually been held on the Friday evening before the Hereford Food Festival and this year's prizes were given for individual products rather than a single award for Drinks Producer. The actual awards were beautifully engraved oak boards, using wood left over from the construction of the Wye Trow, a replica of the 36' long flat-bottomed boats that used to ply their trade on the river. The Wye Trow, aptly named the Hereford Bull, was part of the flotilla on the Thames for the Jubilee celebration and is now a training vessel. Once Upon a Tree collected four golds and one silver so Simon ended up on his dinner table with a pile of wooden tablets, which Matt from The Crown at Woolhope immediately dubbed Giant Jenga.

oxroastLedbury Ox Roast Weekend
June 1st and 2nd 2013

An ox was roasted in Ledbury to celebrate the Queen’s coronation sixty years ago in June 1953. One of my earliest memories being the white clad butchers basting the beast with bass brooms, as wonderful a sight as it is alliteration. It felt as though a Jubilee celebration and re-enactment of the event could be a great way to put Ledbury on the map and provide a community event for the town.

So there will be another Ledbury Ox Roast over the weekend June 1st & 2nd. A date for the diary and details will be posted on the new website as plans develop www.ledburyoxroast.org.uk. I am off to view the selected animal next week to check its credentials. It will come from Awnells Farm at Much Marcle, bred by David Powell, who has a Hereford herd of the longest and purest lineage, 100% beef ...

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The orchard is empty of fruit and the press has fallen silent after the most difficult growing and harvesting conditions we can recall. It is with some relief that I write these words as it has been a very trying year for all producers, but as a potato grower said to me recently “At least your crops grow above the ground”. Many of the potato fields have had to be abandoned as the machines simply couldn’t work and the mud on the roads has been a real problem for all concerned. However, here at Dragon Orchard we are able to grow a good range of apple varieties and some of these were fine. Plums and pears were all poor but the Kidds' Orange Red apples are excellent, as are the Herefordshire Russet, Red Devil and Tydeman’s Late Orange. We were short of some individual varieties to make our usual single variety juices, so have combined the earlier ones to make a Summer Blend and the later ones for an Autumn Blend. These are now in the bottle, labels are away being printed and they will be available by the end of November. As the ground was so wet and we had a lighter crop, we altered the way that the main cider crop was harvested, by only making one pass with the harvesting machine down each aisle. The machine could get down once without causing too much damage, but the ground became churned up if we tried to go again. So, after the first pass, the remaining apples were blown through the rows with a fan mounted on a lightweight orchard tractor and thus damage was limited, apart from the headlands. Come the spring we will flatten these out with power harrows and roll it and hopefully do a good reinstatement job. Other orchards have had harvesting machinery so bogged down they have had to be towed out and the enormous holes will have to be filled in with a JCB or a digger. Not a pretty sight. In spite of all the work and worry, it did all get done and we are glad it is now finally, as it says in the English Hymnal, “All safely gathered in, ere the winter storms begin”, which have now begun with a vengeance.

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Three Counties Cider Shop

These mid-November Wednesday evenings have seen a series of gatherings at 5a The Homend in Ledbury to celebrate the opening of the new cider shop, right in the middle of town, directly opposite the clock tower. The Three Counties Cider Shop came into being as we have been supplying more and more produce to various other shops. The Bristol Cider Shop, the Essex Cider Shop, the Real Cider Company and the nicely named Merrylegs, have all increased sales and we realised that in the three counties of Herefordshire, Gloucestershire and Worcestershire there has not been a dedicated cider shop until now. 5a The Homend became available as the previous occupant, a sweet shop owner, has moved just across the alleyway to the other side of the Homend Mews. So after some debate and discussion, much crunching of numbers and scratching our heads, we decided to go for it. The licence was applied for and we undertook the fitting out and were able to go for a soft opening in time for the Autumn Big Apple and Cropsharers' Weekend in mid October. The shop looks stunning with the left hand wall completely covered with our wooden apple boxes, full of cider and perry bottles and backlit. On the right hand wall a fine dresser is arrayed with other local products. At the back, behind the counter, the end wall has a row of twelve wooden taps, dispensing draught cider and perry, the best the three counties can offer. Visitors seem genuinely impressed and positive and sales are on target and, like many good ideas, the simplicity and the elegance of design is what carries it through.

The Three Counties Cider Shop, 5a The Homend, Ledbury - where a warm welcome awaits.

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BBC Radio Four British Food and Farming Awards 2012

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In early October we had a call from Radio Four asking us to send some samples of our products to the Food Programme as we had been nominated and then shortlisted for the Drinks Producer of the Year Award. The shortlist had been whittled down from well over 100 nominees and we were delighted to have progressed that far in such a prestigious competition. We thought no more about it but then had another call to ask us to be sure to listen to the Food Programme the following Sunday. There it was announced that the three finalists in the Drinks Producer award category were Kilchoman Distillery on Islay, the Kernel Brewery in London and Once Upon A Tree from Putley, Ledbury, Herefordshire. The judges, Victoria Moore and Pete Brown visited on the last Thursday of October and we met them at Ledbury Station and immediately took them to visit the newly opened cider shop. We then toured round the orchard, having duly warned them to bring willies and visited the shed where pressing was going on and they were able to taste liquids dispensed straight from the tank. They then sampled the finished products, finishing off with soup and local cheeses for lunch and got them back into Ledbury Station just in time for their afternoon train. Now we are off to the Good Food Show at the NEC on November 28th to find out the final result. Whatever the result, we are absolutely delighted to be the only cider and juice producer in the final and have greatly enjoyed the whole experience.

winepressFurther pressings

Five years ago in 2007, just as my mother sloughed off her mortal coil, we had just begun our very first pressing of apples with the newly purchased Voran press. Now in 2012 we have pressed our first load of grapes from a vineyard in the Cotswolds with our newly acquired wine press. The equipment has come from nearby Coddington Vineyard, which has recently changed hands. Once Upon A Tree was able to purchase the wine making equipment so our green shed is now full of shiny stainless steel fermenting kit with all the caboodle that goes to turn grapes into wine. However, the press that we have acquired has also been able to crush perry pears, which are extremely slippery and difficult to do on the apple press. It has made it a much less messy and more efficient operation and Simon has been a very happy chappy playing with all his new toys.

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In complete contrast Annie, Simon and I recently visited the cider mill just outside Ledbury, which is owned by Heineken and is the largest apple mill in Europe. The scale of it is mind boggling and it can process 2,500 tonnes of apples a day. At that rate it would take two hours to process our entire cider crop this year. All the juice it produces is evaporated into concentrate, which looks, tastes and smells pretty much like thin treacle. It is so heavy that the road tankers used to transport it into Hereford where it is fermented, have to be reinforced with a massive steel frame. I always wondered what those massive tankers carried and now I know.

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Harvest begins

Recently we have had some perfect autumn days that linger in the memory, to make up for the lousy summer. Harvest has begun and activity around the cider shed is hotting up. Last week we started pressing our first juice of the year, the Discovery which although it has a fantastic pink colour, the sugars are 20% down on last year. This is due to the lack of sunlight and the poor uptake of potassium due to the wet conditions which all slows the ripening process and the starch is not converted to sugar. This week the next batch of Tumpy Ground cider has been sent off to be put into bags and hence into box, along with the Worcester apple juice for bottling. The grass keeps growing as if it were April and has to be cut often to get it short enough for the harvesting machinery. Another of life's little balances.

kayandchris
Shows and Stuff

The show season is also upon us and there was great excitement when Kay attended Carfest where she rubbed shoulders with Chris Evans. He was a very good host coming round to all the producers for a photo opportunity. Ludlow has been and went and the re-scheduled Welland Steam Rally was last weekend. These will be followed by The Malvern Autumn Show, September 29th and 30th, The Big Apple October 13th and 14th and then our local Hereford Food Festival on the last weekend in October.

5a the homendThe Three Counties Cider Shop
Once Upon A Tree trade customer base is growing with the Midlands Co-Op Group and Countrywide stores now stocking our products and quite a few who focus on Tumpy Ground Draught. Among these are two specialist cider shops in Bristol and Essex, who have been doing good trade in the last year or so but there is not a similar outlet anywhere in our region. Well there will be now - 5a The Homend in Ledbury recently came up for rent, a small double fronted unit in a prime position right in the middle of town. We signed the lease, have applied for the licence and have begun to fit it out. We will sell Once Upon A Tree products but also feature a range of draught ciders and perries and probably a Wye Valley beer as well as other local cider producers. We plan to open in early October. Watch this space.

The Winery
When we originally set up Once Upon A Tree, part of the plan was to offer contract wine making at some point as a service to small local vineyard owners. Three Choirs deal with larger amounts, but do not have the capacity for smaller producers so their grapes usually end up in one ubiquitous pressing. However Coddington Vineyard has just been sold and the winery there will be used for the new owner's vintage car collection. We have purchased the wine making equipment which will need to be moved over to Dragon Orchard very soon so we will be able to carry out the whole wine making process. As you can imagine, this has initiated a massive move around to sort out our storage capacity, rather like an elaborate parlour game with some crafty moves we are still contemplating.

The Legacy of Bees
As a group of people interested in fruit production we are all aware of the role of honey bees in our orchards. The challenges facing managed bee populations are understood and research is relatively well funded. We recently attended a talk organised Putley WI given by The Bee Guardian Foundation, which totally changed our perception of these creatures. There are over 20,000 species of bees, including many living underground and in cavities, as well as in nests made from petals and leaves. Over three-quarters of our food depends on pollination and wild bees are an essential part of this, especially bumble bees which are able to operate at lower temperatures than honey bees. The hypodermic syringe, the microscope, sweetness, light and modular building techniques all owe their origin to bee technology and our future on this planet is closely linked to theirs. We are planning closer links to The Bee Guardian Foundation and hope to organise a talk at Dragon Orchard in the New Year. http://www.beeguardianfoundation.org/

angelThere are now Angels in our Orchard as well as a pair of hooded figures and two interesting benches! Here at Dragon Orchard we are always keen to enhance the visitor experience and add value for the Rural Tourist - though I’m not quite sure what any of that really means. However, on a recent visit to nearby Trumpet Corner, we were very taken with the work of up and coming wood sculptor Ed Elliott. Ed’s work has been well acclaimed and when we suggested he might like to display some of his work in the Orchard he readily agreed. The wet weather delayed the flight of the Angel but he has now landed and taken up his place among the Blenheim Orange accompanied by a pair of hooded pieces and a wonderful ladder figure. We are also displaying work by up and come Dave Johnson who has lent us two of his fantastic benches. These are great for sitting on, providing succour for the weary and a place for enjoying the nearby sculptures. You don’t need to go to heaven to rest and see angels, just come and visit us at Dragon Orchard.

Study Orchards

Dragon Orchard is one of ten Herefordshire orchards to be used as a site to look at populations of birds and mammals and their reproductive performance. The monitoring teams have been here late at night and early mornings trapping, marking and releasing, searching, surveying and recording, often in very wet conditions. They also used endoscopic cameras, cavity searches and motion sensitive cameras which does make it sound rather like an uncomfortable hospital appointment. However, we now have more accurate information on the wildlife population of our orchard and its surroundings and know that we have high numbers of wood mice, bank voles and yellow necked mice. This is the first year of the ongoing study and we will keep information coming as the story unfolds.

Yellow Necked Mouse Bank Vole Woodmouse

Hydes and Hops

Were just two of the things that we learnt about during our last Dragon Orchard Cropsharers weekend held between the showers on a typical 2012 summer weekend in July.

hoverdTim Hoverd of the Herefordshire Archaeology Department led us on an eye-opening Putley Parish walk revealing the history of our area. Of particular interest were the line of Roman villas along the base of the Marcle Ridge, the Middle Age manors and the still visible remains of the marks of the great oxen powered ploughs. Putley has been an area of great agricultural endeavour over the centuries and it now feels even more of a privilege to be continuing that tradition. Interesting Fact: An acre - which you may remember from school - is a patch of land, a furlong by a chain - 220 yards x 22 yards - based on the area that a horse could plough in a day in medium ground. According to Tim, the area ploughed by an ox team in a day is known as a Hyde.

hopsWe also visited Town End Farm on the edge of Bosbury to see how Mark Andrews and his family are keeping alive the Herefordshire skills of growing hops. Hop growers are a dwindling band and there are now just some 40 left across the country. The Andrews still grow hops in the traditional way in Hop Yards as well as having some more modern varieties of mini hops. The wet weather has made it a very difficult time for all growers but especially so for hop producers as the hop flower or more precisely hop fruit is particularly susceptible to attack from weevils of every description. If when you drink cider you give a thought to the cider apple grower, next time you have a beer, give a nod to Mark Andrews and his like, without whom your drink would have a very different flavour.

They have a beautiful award-winning self-catering holiday cottage in a converted cornmill and also sell hop products in season.



anntweet

Whilst basking in a momentary spot of rare summer sunshine during the Olympics, Annie gathered in the plums and was inspired to 'tweet' to the online world ... "Even more gold. Picking Golden Sphere plums in a golden sunny Dragon Orchard on a golden afternoon". Most of the plum varieties have been very scarce but this one tree of Golden Sphere was prolific and there are some still available if anyone would like some. Greengages coming soon.


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Optimum Conditions for Growing Apples

We are often asked what it takes to produce a good crop of fruit and we often ask ourselves the very same question. Having come up with various responses over the years, we have now concluded that the answer largely divides naturally in half. The first half is to do with conditions that can be controlled ie selection of site, choice of rootstock, interstem and variety, care with planting, staking and protection and then skill in husbandry, pruning, mowing, fertilisation and picking. The second half concerns other variables connected with cropping, climate, flowering and set, conditions that are not easy to control. For a decent crop one hopes for good fruit bud to be set the previous summer, unstressed trees, hard winter ensuring dormancy and spring vigour, strong flowers, good pollination and enough fruit set for a medium crop.

Should you wish to choose conditions for a poor crop then 2011/2012 will turn out to be a text book example. We have experienced the following:

  • Heavy 2011 crop but drought conditions producing small low juice fruit.
  • Trees stressed as struggling for moisture
  • Poor conditions to produce fruit bud
  • Mild winter so minimum dormancy
  • Little vigour in spring
  • Weak flowering
  • Sunny March
  • Frosts in April and May
  • Exceptionally wet May with poor pollination
  • Damp and mild promoting growth of fungi
  • Heavy grass growth providing competition for nutrients
  • Thick leaf canopy cutting down light to existing fruit and making spray droplet penetration difficult

Cue lots of depressed fruit growers all consoling themselves with a pint of Tumpy at the Three Counties Show.


More Show Success

Kay Sally Vigo TrophyYou may remember that last year the Discovery apple juice won Best in Show at the Bath and West and was awarded the prestigious Vigo Trophy. Well this year the trophy was retained as the Spartan juice was judged Champion Apple Juice. Recognition indeed.

We also had some excellent results at the Three Counties in the middle of the month. Annie and I were there on the Friday, when the awards were made and I looked after the stand while she went off to the prize giving. She returned with a third for the Carpenters Croft Sparkling Cider, a first for Priggles Perry and the award for the Best Herefordshire Cider and Perry Producer. We had to rearrange the display to show off all our certificates and rosettes, plus a rather fine three handled tankard which we are still trying to figure out how to use.

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Herefordshire Walking Festival

The Herefordshire Walking Festival is now well established and gives an excellent opportunity to explore the lesser known corners of the county. We usually lead a walk but also try and attend a couple of others, especially if they are in our neck of the woods. The Dragon Orchard walk this year was "The Wonder of Pigs and Apples" and the idea was to visit The Noggin, where Sarah and Will Grant keep British Lop pigs. After a tour of the current herd of some 130 pigs and piglets happily residing in varying amounts of mud, we enjoyed a tasty hog roast accompanied with cider and juice. On our return journey we explored the delights of The Wonder landslide and toasted said event with some previously secreted Chapel Pleck, before returning home for tastings, cake and tea. We were delighted that the walk was fully booked, the weather was dry and nobody slipped over on the still soggy ground.

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The walks that we attended around Fownhope took us along paths less travelled.  We heard about the life of Tom Spring, the undefeated bare knuckle champion fighter of All England in the 1820s. He lived in the village and his fighting prowess brought him Royal Patronage, fame and fortune.

Our second walk was called 'Tasty Tarrington' where we visited Swan House, an award winning bed and breakfast, and had Waller's breakfast sausages served with apple juice made by Once Upon A Tree. We also met Richard Bradstock and his herd of pedigree Herefords at Freetown Farm. Their prize bull will meet The Queen when she visits Hereford on July 11th. The walk then crossed the River Frome (known to locals as the Frummy) which when the leaders had reviewed the walk two days earlier had been running bank high due to all the rain. We then reached Yarkhill Church and by chance met a man who was lime washing the interior of the tower. He told us with great enthusiasm that 8 new bells were to be hung soon to commemorate the life of Fabian Steadman. Fabian who was born in 1640 was the son of the Yarkhill vicar and one of the founding fathers of English Change Ringing and many of the peals that are still rung today were devised by him. We were invited to the top of the tower, past the old bells and out onto the roof which gave stunning views of the surrounding countryside. The church sits close to the remains of a medieval, fortified manor house and as the river Frome was in flood the moat of this former house was visible. A very fortuitous and timely encounter.moat

 

www.nogginfarm.blogspot.co.uk

www.swanhousetarrington.co.uk

www.free-town.co.uk

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