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Dragon Orchard News

Mr Ps BeesDuring the May Day Bank Holiday last year David Pealing of Mr P’s Bees took the first super from the hive and spun it in our garage, so that we could actually sample the honey there and then. This year, not only was there no honey to be taken, but David has actually had to feed the bees because there was not enough flower for them to feed themselves sufficiently. April 2011 was the sunniest on record, April 2012 the wettest. What a difference a year makes.

One thing we have certainly been talking about for a year is our Orchard Trail and on Saturday 5th May we were able to take our Cropsharers around it for the first time. There is a marked map showing the shorter Gobbits Trail and the longer, hillier Hursts Trail, both named after our two orchards. On the ground there are marker posts with snippits of information on each which give an overview of Dragon Orchard and Once Upon A Tree. Simon has done a fantastic design job on the information boards and we were delighted when our neighbours, who run an internationally recognised tourism company, told us they felt there was just the right amount of information on each board. There is a QR icon (quick response) on the first board, so that the cognoscenti with smart phones can simply point their device at it and up pops the website. The QRs are also on the drinks labels and being used by many more people.

Our Dragon Orchard Cropsharers Spring Weekend over May Day Bank holiday coincides with our local Big Apple event and came at the end of a period of really heavy rain. We had just got the pruning finished and the brash burnt before it became really wet. But since then we weren’t able to get on the ground at all. We erected the marquee and got all the flags up and left it as late as possible to try and cut the grass. Once up the side of the drive was enough to confirm that even the wide low-pressure tyres on our garden mower were going to make too much mess. However, we really did not want to complain about the rain because up until then it had been so terribly dry and the trees really needed moisture to get them ready to produce leaf and flower. Temperatures had been low enough to inhibit early growth, which is just as well as there had been several hard frosts. Jo Pardoe, who farms near us, has organic cherries on the side of the Cockshoot and spent a fortnight putting up covers to protect them from hail and frost. The gales at the end of April just about shredded the lot, so that now all that remains are tatters of plastic.


Hansnett Farm

Hansnett Farm at Canon Frome is a very interesting enterprise owned and run by a fantastically creative family. They hosted us for a visit with our Cropsharers and delighted us with their interest and enthusiasm. Sue Farquhar, who moved to the county some twenty years ago, keeps and shows Shropshire Sheep and Ruby Red Devon cattle. The Shropshire sheep are being increasingly used for keeping down grass and weeds in both conifer plantations and, more recently, cider orchards. Sue’s daughter, Jo Butcher, keeps rare breed hens which produce an astonishing array of eggs of many different colours. She sells her eggs and day old chicks, as well as point of lay and is dispatching her poultry at these various different levels of development all over the country. Her daughter also has her own business, called appropriately Ellie’s Eggs and although Ellie is still young, she is turning into an eggspert entrepreneur. Guy Butcher finds his creativity through wood and the quality and sheer craftsmanship of his work does need to be seen to be believed. He has both his workshop and gallery at the farm and it is well worth a trip to savour the sheer brilliance of the work. You can also look at it online at and

The Movie Bus

cropshare 2012 057A wonderful addition at Big Apple this year was the Vintage Movie Bus. In the halcyon days of the Labour government when Anthony Wedgewood Benn ran the Department for Industry, or whatever it was called then, he commissioned a fleet of specially built mobile cinemas. Resplendent in 60’s coachwork, they sped the length and breadth of Britain bringing information about current working practices to industrial sites. Putley Parish Hall was the venue for the sole remaining Wedgie Benn Movie Bus which has been carefully restored and now shows a range of local interest old films and newsreels. Each performance was fully booked and gave a real focus for the weekend. The Movie Bus spent the night at Dragon Orchard, snuggled against our shed, dreaming of more gentle days and glad to be back in a quiet rural community.

orchard photoSponsor A Tree Weekend

Our Sponsor A Tree Weekend was held on the second weekend in May. We were blessed with fine weather, having suffered cold and wet conditions for most of the previous month and experienced a very cold Bank Holiday Monday with Cropsharers. We had an excellent turn-out of enthusiastic tree sponsors who were able to enjoy the new orchard trail in the morning, sample a delicious Dragon Orchard lunch and then go on the walk to The Wonder in the afternoon. An excellent reunion of some 35 tree sponsors.


Other Orchard Events

The last Saturday in April saw Richard Crompton running another of his photographic workshops. Although it was a cold and windy day there was just enough early blossom to capture on film. In the afternoon, a local expert brought an amazing variety of birds of prey. It is difficult to know which is the most extraordinary sight - eagles and owls flying over our lawn or them being snapped by a myriad of intrepid photographers. It was also a good test of the photographers’ outdoor clothing and for them to find out exactly what to put in all their fantastic array of storage pockets in their especially designed waistcoats.

The following Monday we were hosts to a Bulmers Foundation 'Art in the Orchard' session. This is the second year the event has been run and Dragon Orchard was asked to be a venue. Various special needs groups worked under the wonderful guidance of Green Eyed Monster, a group who specialise in creative outdoor arts. The students all contributed to a fantastic piece of sculpture and spent a really constructive time in the orchard. The expert tutoring and their enthusiasm really blossomed at Dragon Orchard and we hope to welcome them back before too long.

International Cider Competition at the Hereford Cider Museum

Simon-with-Awards-May-2012Four years ago Annie and I were in Italy with our Cropsharers and received a text from Simon with the results of the very first competition that Once Upon a Tree had ever entered. He had done rather well and since then has not been out of the medals at the competition, which is held annually at the Cider Museum. This year was no exception for as well as coming third in the medium cider, Once Upon A Tree took two firsts. One for the best dry cider for 2011 Marcle Ridge and the other for the best single variety, The Dabinett. See the latest News item on our website for more details. The dry summer last year made it a particularly difficult season but when the going gets tough Simon Day gets going.

Bab’s Tree
Babs Tree

One of the great strengths of Bulmers has always been the link between the Orcharding Department and the Growers. Thankfully this was maintained throughout the takeover by Scottish and Newcastle and now strengthened under Heineken. The old bush orchard that was planted by my parents 40 years ago was supervised by a strip of a lad who had just started at Bulmers - a certain Chris Fairs who is now about to retire and one feels we shall not see his like again. However, as well as Chris, one delightful link that continues is when a grower passes on to the Great Orchard in the sky, Bulmers donates a standard apple tree as a memorial. My dear mother Babs hung up her pruning saw and picking bucket in 2007 but one does not wish to rush into memorials with unseemly haste. Recently I hitched up our trailer and headed to the Bulmers’ Nursery at Kinnersley in North Herefordshire. I collected a standard cider tree plus stake, guard and tie and tag and Bab’s BroadLeaf Norman is now resplendent between our drive and the Goose pen. It is a great joy to be able to continue this tradition and to keep alive such fond memories.

Soil Analysis

When one manages an orchard there are many factors which need to be taken into consideration on a regular basis. There are seasonal tasks on an annual basis beginning with pruning and ending with the harvest. Routine mowing and spraying are other specific matters, as are hedge trimming and drainage including sub-soiling. Machinery needs to be serviced and maintained and even boxes and bins made ready for the following harvest. All these items are fairly obvious but the whole operation is literally underpinned by what is under our feet and the medium from which most of our income is derived - the soil. Here in Herefordshire in general and in what I am often fond of saying - Putley in Particular - as it is a most particular place - we are blessed with rich moisture retaining soils which are well suited to fruit production. They are not easy to work for arable production as there are shorter times when they can be tilled but for fruit this is less of a problem. We apply small amounts of nitrogen and potash on an annual basis as we know how much is taken out of the ground per tonne of fruit. However there are many other elements involved, so every three years we undertake a detailed soil analysis. This is done by taking samples using a small hand auger at a variety of places in the orchard and then bagging these up and sending them to the lab for analysis. This is our result for 2012 and overall it is good news. Our soil has held up well and just requires an application of two tonnes of lime per acre. We will need about 30 tonnes in total but our neighbour Nigel Rolinson will need 70 for his orchard and as there is a useful discount for 100 tonnes we will buy this jointly and can also share the cost of the spreading. As the present custodians of the orchard we are pleased to be ensuring its health and vitality and doing our bit to keep the land in good heart.

A Balancing Act


Fruit trees are mostly interested in reproduction. They only want to continue the species and so left to themselves will produce lots of small fruit one year, have a year off and then repeat the process. Fruit growers over the centuries have learnt how to persuade them to be more co-operative by selective breeding, judicious planting, control of pests and diseases and talking to them on a regular basis. One of the key techniques is pruning which by cutting pieces off the tree makes it think it is under attack and so stimulates growth and vigour. The old boys and, apart from my mother, it was mostly males working in orchards, always used to suck their teeth and mutter that “wood follows the knife”. A dark warning that taking out too much will over stimulate the tree and produce more wood, not necessarily more fruit. The trick is to balance the root system with the framework and to keep it in balance and harmony - a sound principle for humans as well as trees. The balancing act is further enhanced by removing branches that are broken crossed or diseased and by ensuring that sufficient light and air can penetrate the canopy.

This year we have mechanically pruned the Brainge Patch which contains Browns’ Apple and Ellis Bitter and the contractors have given the rest of the cider a hard prune with chainsaws on poles and hand saws. It looked as though a quarter of the orchard was on the ground! Ken Treherne spent two days last week clearing and burning all the prunings. We are still tending the fire as it slowly subsides into a steadily shrinking heap of white ash. I have been speculating on diversification into carbon neutral funeral pyres but my idea has met with muted support so far.

Walk on the Wildside

There have been a few brushes with Nature in the orchard in recent weeks ...

Caught by the Cat

imag1153As reported in this month’s Putley Press “a live dormouse was found by a cat near Dragon Orchard last week and rescued and placed carefully in a dormouse box complete with nest as it appeared to be quite well after its ordeal”. The Days now have two young cats and one must have found the sleeping dormouse in the hedgerow and spent some time playing with it. Kate Wollen came to the rescue with a lovely wooden nest box and an old nest and we do hope the dormouse is resting quietly in its new abode.imag1154

Caught on Fire

Behind Dragon House is a line of trees, part of an old hedgeline that we kept when we built the house almost 20 years ago. As well as providing shelter, the trees are also a wonderful wildlife habitat and allow us a close up view of nature from the comfort of our bedroom and bathrooms at the back of the house. Recently we have been enjoying the antics of a very distinctive squirrel whose main characteristic is that it has no fur on its tail which looks more like that of a rat. We have been keeping an eye on ‘Rattail’ and sending reports of its progress to our son Hugh. The two of them had a close encounter when Hugh was lighting the wood burning stove. Hugh was actually keeping a eye on proceedings as a squirrel had fallen down the chimney and into the fire the previous week and been incinerated. He had just got the fire lit when, lo and behold, another intrepid explorer fell into the fire and was becoming rapidly blackened. Hugh managed to open the door and the singed and terrified animal jumped out into the sitting room. We then watched as the animal began a frantic wall of death run, bouncing off the walls, pictures, curtains, sofa and carpet leaving behind it a black sooty trail. It then hid under the desk and we managed to open a window as it took off again on its search for freedom. We were finally able to usher it onto the window sill, it smelt the fresh air and leapt out into the night.

We didn’t see it for a while after that and thought it might have been too badly injured to survive. Then we spotted it one day on the ground with its very distinctive rat tail. It has now progressed as its tail is growing to more adventurous activities back up in the trees.

Caught on camera

Simon has put some video footage on Youtube from a nest box in their garden at Orchard Croft. There is a blue tit that has taken up residence in the box which has a little camera in it and they are keeping an eye on progress as more and more eggs are being laid. Blue-Tit update - eggs spotted!

Erd Buying Group

French Cultural Institute

CSA Meeting in Godolo

Snowy Farm Walk

Snowy Walk

Meeting in Szeged

Ice on the carriage windows

Ice on the Danube

In the small but deliciously warm lobby of our Budapest hostel situated close to the Danube, lay a battered guidebook that had been thumbed by visitors eager to make the most of their stay on the edge of Buda itself. In the usual preamble of the best times to visit Hungary in general and Budapest in particular, the book laid lavish praise on various seasons but gave dire warnings against visiting in January and February. We arrived on February 1st as part of the European funded Gruntvig programme promoting Community Supported Agriculture to local farmers and consumers. Ann and I travelled over with Jade Bashford representing the Soil Association who have been the main body encouraging and helping to develop CSAs in the UK. Jade is an actively involved founder member of Stroud Community Supported Agriculture’. and we, of course, run Dragon Orchard Cropsharers CSA scheme. Both these initiatives have been running for a number of years. We were part of an eight strong delegation consisting of us three from the UK, a grower and a consumer from an AMAP (French CSA) in the south of France, an Austrian vegetable CSA scheme member and two enthusiastic eco-warriors from CSAs in Germany. Our programme had been organised by the energetic and industrious Zsofi who did a wonderful job of minding us for the four days of the visit. She had put together an excellent series of events in which we partook and which served well to increase our mutual understanding.

Our first full day began with an early tram ride to a market in Budapest to see what local producers were bringing into the city to sell. Early February meant that their wares were limited but we were still able to gain a good impression of their lifestyle and also their stalwart and stoic acceptance of the bitterly cold winter conditions. There used to be many sizeable markets in the city but these have been dwindling as supermarkets have taken hold. After much needed coffee and cake to warm us (and we had only been outside for a relatively short time) we travelled by train to the suburb of Erd to meet a newly formed buying group who have made contact with local farmers and growers to supply some of their food, to tell them our stories and to learn something of their hopes and aspirations. The final session of the day was at the magnificently appointed French Cultural Institute complete with impressive presentation facilities including a huge screen and simultaneous translation. The meeting was very well attended and we all made our presentations which led to some interesting discussion afterwards. We began to realise that Hungary’s past Communist regime had left a legacy of distrust for ‘community’ based ideas but there is a growing wish and need to re-establish contact between growers and consumers and the direct link that CSA provides was of interest to lots of people.

The next day saw us at a Conference day held at the university in Godolo where Zsofi had studied and had an excellent network of supporters. Our journeys on public transport were always an education and one thing that Jade Bashford learnt was that if you buy an apple from an outside stall in early February don’t be surprised if it is frozen completely solid. At the university the gathering consisted of the shakers and movers of the few existing Hungarian CSAs and our food was mostly vegan, raw and tasty in the extreme. This was another meeting with a real sense of purpose and helped us gain a much greater understanding of the issues facing CSA in the country. It also gave us understanding of the yearning for affordable, good quality food and a re-engagement and attachment to the land. As the afternoon drew to a close we walked across town and were treated to an evening meal in a newly opened café that had been set up to provide school lunches made from locally sourced produce for the children.

The temperature had been steadily dropping and snow was forecast for our last couple of days. We set off on our third morning on a suburban rail journey out to Harankaptor in the Danube valley. The snow was just starting to fall as we walked to an organic holding that had set up a vegetable based CSA the year before. The exertion was worth it as on our arrival we were revived by a colourless still liquid, which turned out to be home-produced Palinka and we were able to appreciate just why it is so popular in the winter. We felt very much at home in the farmhouse kitchen and among kindred spirits with a common purpose and again related our stories and held our discussions in a much more informal setting. Our walk back to the station became increasingly wintry as the snow deepened around us. On our return to Budapest Zsofi guided us through the wonderfully lit and shrouded in falling snow triumphal Heroes’ Square. We passed a magnificent ice-rink with a backdrop of a fairytale castle and ended up in the marble reception hall of one of the ornate thermal spas. We were soon floating on our backs outside in the heated pool, gazing up through steam and snow to a starlit sky and the moon and then walking barefoot, in our bathing suits through the snow, up ice-encrusted steps to other indoor pools, saunas and hot pots. All we lacked was the Palinka to render an extraordinary experience totally sublime.

On our last day we travelled some 150 kilometres south to Szeged. As it had snowed so much overnight the proposed road trip had to be shifted to a journey on the train. The two hour ride to the university town of Szeged through a snow covered landscape was followed by a half hour walk through foot-deep snow on the streets to a gathering at a Steiner School. Here was a fine grassroots gathering of like-minded souls who had braved the extreme central European weather to come and exchange information and thoughts, dreams and aspirations about running their own CSA. Our train journey back was enlightened by the build-up of snow and ice on the inside of the windows which gave a Dr Zhivago atmosphere to the proceedings. We had one final meal of Hungarian specialities before taking the tram from Pest across the river to Buda as the ice flowed majestically down the Danube past the impressive Parliament building. Better not to have Palinka in those conditions one felt.

So what did we learn apart from February being a fine time to visit Hungary?

  • We learnt that in Hungary and in other countries there are an increasing number of people looking for good healthy affordable food of known provenance and wanting to reconnect with the land.
  • It confirmed out belief that CSA can help people achieve these aims.
  • We learnt of rich soil and considerable enterprise in Hungary and we found out that it will take time to rebuild trust following a communist regime.
  • We enjoyed an energetic and hospitable community who were bursting with ideas and enthusiasm.
  • We were reminded that informal discussions and personal contact are the meat that fleshes out the bones of more formal and structured gatherings.
  • We found out just how good outdoor spas can be on a wintry night.
  • We learnt to enjoy the vagaries of ancient public transport in Budapest in the winter and the warmth of Palinka, the bite of good coffee, the comfort of a pastry and the honesty of their pork.
  • We learnt to relish a somewhat overheated bathroom when you come in from the cold and that winter travel can lift the spirits and inform the senses.


Further reading: - CSA near Freidberg, Germany

"I'm not an Orchard Blogger

nor an Orchard Blogger's son

and I'm only Orchard Blogging

till the Orchard Blogger comes"


Actually, as far as I am aware, though many generations of our family have worked and lived on this Orchard here in Putley, just outside Ledbury in Herefordshire, none of them has knowingly or otherwise blogged about it.

Jubilee Mug

New Year is always that time for a fresh look forward, following a largely token glance back as the previous one rapidly recedes into faint memory. How did we do last year? What can we learn from it? What could we do differently in 2012, the year of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and the Olympics? I still have my coronation mug up in the cupboard - where will it be in another 60 years I muse?

Well one new thing we are going to do is a Dragon Orchard Blog. Who will read it? How many others are out there? Who is doing them? Does it matter, or as Ford Prefect from The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy would have said, “Does it matter that it matters?”

So here goes ...

One would expect an orchard to be quiet in the first month of the year. Dormant trees [Dormer - to sleep, of course], no leaves, no insects, but when we were out walking with friends yesterday there was a great sound of birds. The Fieldfares make the most noise, a cacophony of very loud chips and squeals as they feed upon fallen apples and the remains of some old pomace left over from the last cider fruit to be pressed. Not really cold enough so far this winter. No real frosts. But this week might redress that balance. However, good weather for fermentation, unlike late 2010/early 2011 when the yeast died off in the cold and many local cider makers muttered many local coloured oaths - Tom Oliver, a maker of fine cider and perry and facilitator of fine music with The Proclaimers - the undisputed champion of the oath of the Lamenting Fermenting.

Noise was also experienced in a Much Marcle Orchard at Hellens Manor a fortnight ago. Here the Big Apple Association held the Wassail of Wassails. A bitterly cold clear starlit night, the stark outline of an ancient perry tree lit by 12 fires, the tree was sprinkled by the Leominster Morris with a libation of cider, an offering of Christmas cake to feed the tree, lodged in a convenient hole in the first fork, dances danced, songs sung, cider drunk, roast pig relished, mummers play savoured and a community coming together to celebrate an age old pagan ceremony as relevant in 2012 as it ever was.

The Wassail FireA Leominster Morris ManThe Wassail ProcessionNorman Wassailing
So Blog begun, orchard coming alive, light increasing. My Granny always said “New Year’s tide a cock’s stride Candlemas an hour wide” referring to the extra daylight to which she so looked forward, especially as, until the Lister generator in the mid fifties, the house was still lit by oil lamps and candles.

Pruning calls, bird feeders need topping up, geese need clean straw, three piglets for slaughter this Friday need ear tags, we all welcome more light.
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