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Dragon Orchard News

blossom-to-big-hugWet Wet Wet

Even though it seems to have rained almost constantly through the winter, Spring comes around regardless and the blossom is starting to appear in the orchard. Now that the rain has finally stopped and the orchard has begun to dry out, we are somewhat anxiously awaiting to see if there will be any lasting damage to the trees. However it may be sometime before any effects begin to show. The last long wet spell was in the winter of 2000 and following that we lost a good number of the young cider trees that had been newly planted behind the house. While the trees are dormant, they survive quite well but if their roots are in water when they begin to grow again, they become starved of oxygen and nutrients and can suffer badly. Sometimes the roots on just one side of the tree are damaged and die and the tree then becomes unstable and keels over. Julian Temperley of Burrow Hill Cider & Somerset Cider Brandy Company has been in the media a good deal recently saying the cider crop could be adversely affected this year. He had cider trees standing in a foot of water for quite sometime which does not bode well. An additional problem over the winter was that there were hardly any frosts and the trees did not go into a proper dormant period. This will mean they have not stored up so much vigour for the spring and will be more susceptible to pests and disease. To be a grower of any description, one does require a certain degree of optimism coupled with a healthy dose of realism, so we remain our usual upbeat selves and hope for the best.

Dymock Daffodils


 

The Dymock Daffodils

The difference between the last two winters is well illustrated by our contrasting Daffodil walks. On Easter Day at the end of March last year, Annie and I went round the Poets' Walk at Dymock and found only a few very short stemmed hardy blooms trying to raise their heads out of the cold ground to be blasted by a bitter wind. This year we set out at the end of March on the Daffodil Walk which takes you through Dymock Woods We were overwhelmed by the prolifically carpeted woods and fields and delighted by the 'hosts of golden daffodils'.


 Machine Pruning in the Orchard

Pruning

The pruning has also been delayed this year as it was not expedient to trample the soaked ground around the trees which would have become a muddy compacted mess. Once the ground started drying out, we were trying to catch up and have made good progress in March and have been quite severe in Dorothy's Orchard to keep the burgeoning trees within bounds. With help from Bill Smith, we have lifted the skirts of the cider trees behind the house and the mechanical pruner has now been through all the cider to side them up. Two machines visited the orchard last Saturday and the pruned the whole 15 acres in a morning.


Orchard MonitorsMist Net 

Monitoring continues

Another sign of Spring, besides blossom and daffodils, is the return of the Orchard Monitor. This species has been an early visitor for the last three years recording all aspects of orchard wildlife. They are recognised by huge amounts of warm clothes, a waterproof outer layer, wellington boots and a woolly hat. Two appeared recently while we were pruning and proceeded to bang posts into the ground and erected a mist net between them so they could capture and ring birds visiting the orchard. They then follow these birds with listening devices and the monitors are often to be found lurking near hedges with their aerials. Between sessions they retreat to a van to eat and doze before the next bout of activity.


 Simon & Emma Cidermaking

Major Cider Producers

I recently attended a Chamber of Commerce Food & Drink Group Breakfast meeting at Westons Cider with a presentation by their Commercial Director, Roger Jackson. Having taken some 100 years to push their turnover to £10 million, they have increased that to £50 million in recent years. It is their intention to hit £100 million by the early 2020s and are mounting a huge marketing campaign to promote Westons at home and abroad. They are sponsoring English Cricket, Gloucester Rugby, the Cheltenham Literary Festival and the Bristol Balloon and Harbour Festival as well as numerous stages, bars and VIP areas at other events.
Heineken who own Bulmers have just announced plans that they will be investing £60 million in new facilities in Hereford and moving production and packaging from the UBL site at Ledbury. This has caused some furore locally due to the loss of jobs. Hereford's gain is Ledbury's loss. Apple milling and processing will continue at UBL, Ledbury but this is highly mechanised, very seasonal and requires few workers.
Meanwhile, the Once Upon A Tree ciders are fermenting nicely and Emma, our Production Assistant has been very busy racking them off and Simon is pleased with the early indicators. Last season the fermentation was very slow due to the cold weather through the winter of 2012/13. This winter has been wet but much warmer and the higher temperatures have resulted in quicker processes and results. You might enjoy Emma's blog as she learns the ropes of cider and wine making at Dragon Orchard..........


 Big Apple Blossomtime Beer Tasting!

Upcoming Events

Loins are being girded as we transition into Spring, with our first orchard visit of the year by the Orchard Network for Excellence (ONE) study group at the end of the week.
Our Tree Sponsors Day will be on Saturday 26th April and the following weekend is Cropsharers' Spring weekend and Big Apple Blossomtime Festival. The Big Apple Cider and Perry Competition is held on the Saturday 3rd May and tastings of all the entries on Sunday 4th & Monday 5th May at Putley Village Hall. There will be a special event put on by the Wye Players of a read through of excerpts from Laurie Lee's 'Cider with Rosie' on Monday afternoon at the Big Hug. See Big Apple website for Programme details at www.bigapple.org.uk
The Ledbury Food Group are holding a beer tasting event "Appreciating Great Beer" at the Burgage Hall with Derek Orford also on April 26th. www.ledburyfoodgroup.org

Empty Orchard, Full Vessels.

Our early December daily walk around the orchard furnishes major sensory input. This time of year seems to embrace more change than any other. There are few apples to be seen now and the views down the aisles and through the rows of trees become longer and more defined. The smells change from a rich fruity aroma to a slightly earthy tang with a damp leaf finish. The leaves are gently rustling to the ground after the first frost and there is a background chatter of fieldfares and blackbirds. The sodden earth from a very wet October has been slowly drying out during November, leaving us with firm bottomed muddy ruts and crisp tractor tyre tread marks. The only apples remaining are on the orchard floor over by Orchard Croft and these are supplying excellent food for the pigs and visiting birds. The fruit keeps really well in these cool damp conditions and will provide sustenance for some weeks before the remains gradually disappear in the detritus of the under tree world as the season inexorably turns.

In contrast to the almost empty orchard and after a very busy harvest period, the new shiny vessels in the Production Shed are all completely full with another 10 x 1000 litre containers currently standing outside. This has been our largest crushing by far as we have almost tripled our capacity.
Shiny tanks arrive at Dragon Orchard

 


Zeiki with DiscoveryZeiki's Farewell

 

Our circular orchard walk or 'the round' has been a significant part of our daily routine that has gradually become a little slower as Zeiki, our German Shorthaired Pointer has got older. She had reached 16 1/2, a good age for the breed and we always said we would keep her going as long as she could get round the orchard and enjoy her walk. After a little collapse last week, we decided the time had come and on a sunny morning the vet came to the house and she sloughed off her canine mortal coil and made a peaceful and dignified entry to the great kennel in the sky to bound about unfettered and free. Zeiki now resides quietly under an oak tree at the back of the house where she has spent her whole life. She is at rest while we still listen for the sound of her toes tip tapping across the floor and miss her unfailing loyalty and enthusiasm for life in the orchard. The two cats, Edith and Simone seem to catch our mood and rub against our legs, snuggle into our laps and purr gently and tell us it is alright to miss our lovely dog and for our eyes to mist over every now and again and to swallow a little harder as we remember her life well lived.

 

 


Ledbury Real AlesThe Brewers' Art

 

Although we grow apples and make cider, I am not averse to a decent beer and thoroughly enjoy many of the drinks produced by the local breweries. In October we visited the Ledbury Real Ale Company based at Gazerdine, opposite Roots at Little Verzons and were shown about by Anthony and Kate Stevens. They run a microbrewery and produce three cask ales that they sell to local pubs. They work incredibly hard to balance other part-time work and a young family but are passionate about their brewing and have just expanded production so that the process takes less time. They gave us a real insight into the process, looking at different yeasts, malts, hops and discussing the economics and minute margins of this scale of production. Not for the faint hearted we felt. Simon and I saw a much larger operation when we visited the Wye Valley Brewery last month for a Chamber of Commerce Breakfast meeting. We went there with Cropsharers some years ago and it was fascinating and illuminating to see how they have grown in the intervening time. They now turnover £4.5 million a year and all this from a standing start behind the Barrels pub in Hereford in 1985. Once again their attention to detail and belief in their product shone through. I have also recently enjoyed the art of brewing in medieval times shown on the BBC2 series the Tudor Monastery Farm. The process is still fundamentally the same. Apparently ale and bread made up nearly 80% of the daily calorific intake for many at certain times of year. I have mentioned this to a couple of beer aficionados and they commented that it sounded like a perfectly balanced diet to them!

 


Black BeeTudor Bees

 

The format of the Tudor Monastery Farm works really well as it takes the techniques developed by the Tudors and illustrates how they have evolved over the centuries. There was a section on Tudor Bee keeping that was covered by our very own Paul Hand of Bees and Trees. Paul gave his usual instructive and entertaining insight into skep bee keeping of which he has a deep and intimate knowledge. The original bees would have been the British Black bee which preceded the exotic golden bees imported from the continent. An early import replacing a national treasure! Paul feels the black bees are more reliable pollinators as well as being less prone to Sudden Colony Collapse and will soon play their part again. In fact we have just read in the latest NFU Countryside magazine that there are Black bee colonies in the Hebrides which have been made the subject of a Bee Keeping Order. This will create a black bee reserve and it will be an offence to keep any other species of bees on Colonsay and Oronsay. The order will protect the native bees from hybridisation and help ensure that the species remains strong and healthy for future generations.

 


 

Worlds Best CiderWorld Book of Cider

This is the ideal Christmas gift for the Cider lover in your life. The World Book of Cider has been produced by Pete Brown, who was one of the judges for the BBC Food & Farming Drinks Producer Award, in collaboration with Bill Bradshaw, a cider loving photographer. They have combined to create a beautifully written and photogenic tome that is informative and entertaining. They believe that "Herefordshire represents ciders' intellect and ambition" and that "Once Upon A Tree Cidermaker Simon Day works in partnership with orchardist Norman Stanier in a business that takes painstaking care of everything from how the trees are planted to how the ciders are sold". You can't ask for better than that. (Signed copies now available at our shop!)

 

 


 

iNigel Rollinson helps to install our new tanksShacksbury Cider, USA

This is a new business from upstate Vermont that is seizing on the renewed American interest in craft cider. Shacksbury Cider has been set up by two young and very enthusiastic guys, David Dolginow and Colin Davis, who want to revive cider growing and making in the US. They are planning to grow cider apples and make their own cider but this will take some time to put in place and they want to have product to launch and grow the business. Both Colin and David have been to visit us earlier this year and Once Upon A Tree is their new UK partner and we have already shipped 3,500 litres of cider stateside this summer. We will send 50,000 litres next year in two large shipping containers and the cider will be pumped in directly from the fermenting vessels. The US Cider is now in 3Third tank in place - Norman is sent up the ladder to release the fixings beautiful shiny stainless steel containers standing outside the green shed. Each of these holds more cider than we created in our first 2 years of production! Dave and Colin have been working through the fall, gathering cider apples and are testing them to select the best to be planted in due course. Do have a look at their website http://www.shacksbury.com which gives a fascinating glimpse of this new, young vibrant business. During the last few months we have also had a visit from their local fruit farmer Barney Hodges from Sunrise Orchards who is going to be planting up the cider apples for them and from another of their friends who is a Sports Correspondent for the New York Times who came to take photos and create a promo video for them. It has all been rather exciting.

68e72d7a196411e3a4d822000a1f924b 7After one of the the worst years for apple production in living memory, there has been a great deal of uncertainty about the 2013 season. A late cold spring led to much anxious speculation about the set of the blossom. However there are now predictions of a ‘bumper’ harvest in 2013 … whatever that may mean. The Ledbury Reporter rang Annie a few weeks ago to seek her views and for once actually managed to accurately quote her as being ‘cautiously optimistic’. Early signs are encouraging but we won’t count our apples until they are all in. My Mother used to wisely remark ‘there’s many a slip twixt cup and lip’.

We have been able to pick a good few plums and have just finished making jam and chutney with the Czars. There has been another excellent crop of greengages and we had enough to send 75 x 10 kgs trays off to a local wholesaler in Evesham. Their flavour is really intense this year with the right balance of acidity and sweetness. We have also gathered in the Kirks’ Blue and Yellow Eggs. We are often away when the plums ripen as one never knows exactly when this will happen. It is good to be here and be able to pick them at the right time and get them into the cold store so we can extend the time we can make use of them for making preserves.

We are now picking the Discovery for juicing this week. The mill and press have been dusted off and made ready for a busy crushing season over the next 3 months. With a good bit of sunshine this summer, the sugar levels in the apples are better than last year. Despite that last year’s Discovery juice did win top prize again at The Bath and West Show in June.

apples

czars

greengages

Feline assistance

This summer we have had two new additions to the occupants of Dragon House in the shape of ‘Simone’ de Beauvoir and ‘Edith’ Piaf, both Snow Bengal cats. We have adopted them from a young itinerant cello playing friend of ours who has had to move to London Town to seek ‘fame and fortune’. She performs with Emily Barker and the Red Clay Halo and has just set up a quartet (yet to be named) with three other women. They have already secured an advertising engagement with Cadburys, so should be making an appearance on our screens at some point. The cats have settled in very well and have rapidly made the orchard their home and are even helping out with the apple picking. It seemed a little unfair to inflict this new situation on Zeiki, the aged German Pointer, but they seem to have sorted out their differences and mostly ignore each other.

catladder

catbox

cattractor

repairsThe Big Hug receives running repairs

Two horrible wet winters and a soaking summer in between have not been kind to the strawbale wall known as the Big Hug in Dorothy’s Orchard. It has taken quite a battering and has developed some large cracks and the odd hole which has been expanded and extended to create temporary living accommodation for a rodent or two. We called upon the expertise of Steve, our wonderfully adaptable orchard worker and Jack of Many Trades. He along with his son and daughter had an end of summer day in the orchard and have done a sterling job raking out the cracks, filling the holes with straw and applying a base layer of plaster. This has now been covered with a smoother top coat and will be ready for limewash in another week or so. This may have been accomplished around apple picking but we might need a work party at the Harvest Weekend in October.


Ledbury in the news

On Saturday 7th September an article appeared in the Weekend section of the Times entitled 'A Weekend in … Ledbury'. The author Richard Whitehead wondered if this was just what David Cameron had in mind when he appointed his ‘shopping czar’ Mary Portas. He liked the bookshops, delis and butchers but was particularly impressed with what he deemed the "magnificent Three Counties Cider Shop that lets you taste from a huge range of local varieties before you buy”. So on your next visit to Ledbury remember to enjoy the rustic magnificence that is the Three Counties Cider Shop.

dorothys orchard box labelTwo new draught ciders

Of particular interest in the Cider Shop are our two new draught ciders. Following the success of Tumpy Ground, there has been demand to widen the range which Simon has now answered. The blend of Kingston Black and Somerset Redstreak known as Kingston Redstreak is now available on tap alongside a new cider which is our first attempt to produce a cider from a blend of dessert apples. Known as Dorothy’s Cider, this is a fine dry cider made with fruit from Dorothy’s Orchard. Simon has created a lovely label with the geese of which my Mother was particularly fond. She would have loved it.

 

spainCider Club - up and running

Following the launch at the Crown at Woolhope at the last Big Apple in May, the Three Counties Cider Shop Cider Club is up and running. The inaugural meeting tasted the winners of various competitions and Simon devised a tasting and scoring matrix to be filled in by the participants. A fascinating evening and the Once Upon A Tree range featured highly in the overall ratings. The next meeting is on September 18th when they will be visiting Dragon Orchard and walking through the excellent crop of cider apples and discussing harvesting and production techniques. This will be followed by a tasting of Spanish ciders brought back from Simon's recent excursion to the Asturias and the Basque country in search of the esteemed ciders from Spain. Olé!

june dropThis doesn’t refer to Wimbledon, but to the turning of blossom into fruitlets. There was a good flower on most of the trees and especially on the cider, although it was all very late. However, pollination has to take place but due to the continuing cold, damp and windy conditions in May there was very little insect activity, so not ideal conditions at all. Even if there is a good number of fruitlets there is often a significant June drop when lots of these fall off. We think that there is a good enough set for a reasonable crop, which after last year, is a huge relief.

Photo (Simon Day): "The "June drop" is happening in July this year. Pritt sticking these back on the tree isn't working!"

 


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Saint Dorothy


We have hosted a number of orchard walks recently and one was with Woolhope WI. We of course visit the Sponsor A Tree orchard and explain that Dorothy’s Orchard was named after Norman’s mother. Beryl Walker who is the wife of David, our local Haiku poet and sculptor told us that her mother was also called Dorothy and that they had recently visited Burford Church. There she had found a stained glass window commemorating Saint Dorothy, and discovered that she just happens to be the patron saint of orchards and small gardens. I feel Mother must have known that.

 

 

 

Ledbury Ox Roast - June 1st and 2nd

The Ox Roast Weekend to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II was blessed with wonderful weather and turned out to be a fantastic event. On Saturday, the Ledbury Community Day, more than fifty local groups strutted their stuff in a massive open day and in the afternoon the Beast arrived in town in a trailer mounted mobile oven. We went into Ledbury in the evening for a jazz performance and the whole of the High Street was filled with the smell of roast ox.

On Sunday the day dawned sunny and bright and the streets were closed, a stage was set up, the Hereford Trow arrived on a low loader to be offloaded by two huge telehandlers and installed next to the Market House.

The Ledbury Reporter said that over 5000 people came out for the event. The sun shone, the bands played and the Food, Drink and Craft Festival celebrated local talent and producers. A full programme unfolded throughout the day with appearances from Charles Martell’s Coach and Four, vintage cars, a Grand Opening of the event by Dolly Tow and the hounds only snaffled a few ox rolls as they passed through town. The Ledbury butchers did a fine job carving the ox and hundreds got to enjoy the tasty rolls. Many of those who remembered the original event in 1953 pronounced 2013 even better than the original. The whole day was hugely entertaining and a great Ledbury community occasion and very much as Norman had envisaged it just a few months earlier.

There are lots of lovely photos at www.ledburyoxroast.org.uk

onceuponatree thewonderInnovation Award

The Three Counties Show for this year had a new category in its Cider and Perry Competition. This was to encourage and recognise new and innovative products and attracted some strong entries. Simon entered The Wonder, the dessert pear wine, but was not told until just before judging that he was required to make a Dragon’s Den style presentation. He received quite a grilling from the panel, but obviously convinced them and came away with the first First Prize for Innovation. He has also picked up another first prize for this year’s Discovery juice at the Bath & West Show.

Bird Life

Recently, almost every time we go out into the orchard, we find someone holding a large aerial standing or lurking by a hedgerow. This is happening on all days of the week and in all weathers and is part of the Orchard Survey which is being carried out to look at the effects of orchard management techniques on wildlife and especially the birds. Individual birds have been caught and tagged and are being tracked, so that their every movement is recorded. They have no privacy at all, but some really useful information is being obtained.

az cuckooEvery year we avidly await the arrival of the cuckoo and expect that according to the ancient rhyme that “He’ll whistle his tune ‘til the middle of June and then he’ll fly away”. However with this late late year, here we are at the beginning of July and the cuckoo is still ‘cuckooing’ and not flying away. An excellent illustration of this particularly strange tardy season.

Apple blossom looking strong this year
May Musings

"Orchard Days" the Dragon Orchard book of poetry featuring poems and photographs from each month of the year, is a focus of seasonality like no other. We often use it during orchard tours, but this year we are seeing the largest discrepancy we have ever had between what is in the book and what is in the orchard. For the Spring Big Apple Blossomtime Weekend at the beginning of May we only had a little pear and plum blossom to show, but now the dessert apples are in full flower and the cider just coming on song.

Due to the late season, an item about it even appeared on BBC breakfast television and I ended up doing three pieces live to camera in the orchard early one morning. The satellite truck appeared in the gloaming and erected its dish and the reporter arrived later by taxi. In between takes we nipped in to Dragon House to warm up and eat breakfast and by 9am we were all done and dusted. That was my second consecutive early start as the previous day had been May Day itself. The forecast was good so I went up the hill on the evening of April 30th and, as it was cold but clear and still, I slept out just below the top. The following sunrise was fantastic and I was able to admire the Morris sides, return home and go for a bike ride all before breakfast.

Jean Nowell and Jackie Denman are presented with Wassail BowlsSipping Cider

The May Day weekend is when the Big Apple Cider and Perry Competition is held and this year marked the 20th anniversary of The Three Counties Cider and Perry Association. The two organisations have done much to raise the standard and profile of craft cider making and Jackie Denman and Jean Nowell who have been key players in this process, were presented with traditional wassail bowls made from local sycamore. However, the unusually cold spring meant the competition entries were down as producers struggled to ensure the cider and perry Cider Club Posterhad finished fermenting. Even now temperatures are 10 degrees below the norm but maybe a long slow fermentation will produce high quality drink.

The Cider Club

One way to keep abreast of all things cidery is to "Taste, talk, meet, eat, make and drink" the alluring strap line of the Three Counties Cider Shop Cider club which was launched at the Blossomtime weekend during a Cider event at The Crown Inn at Woolhope. Full details are on line or contact us direct for further information.

Victoria Westaway Willow SculptureWillow Sculptures

Over the last few weeks Dragon Orchard has been enhanced by some wonderful willow sculptures designed and made by Victoria Westaway, a willow worker from Cradley. Her giant cider apples, Dabinett The Ram, Willow Wassailers and Children at Play and Reading Boy sitting on The Big Hug have added a superb creative element and have been hugely enjoyed by all who have visited. Do have a look at Victoria's website www.victorawestaway.co.uk

Visits East and West

One of the many delights of our Cropsharers' Weekends, besides the fantastic food and marvellous company, is the variety of enterprises that we are able to visit. The MayWorking Horses at Three Choirs Vineyard Day Weekend was no exception and we ventured both east and west. Our eastern foray was over the county border to Gloucestershire as far as Three Choirs Vineyard. This is where our Cider Maker Simon Day was brought up and he still has family connections. We went to see a demonstration of horses working in an English vineyard which they believe is a first in this country. The display was part of the British Festival of the Working Horse and headed up by Doug Joiner, who we have visited at Childer Wood in the past. The demo raised many environmental, sustainability and green issues and could prove to be a serious future trend. Doug reminded us of the old saying that if you leave a tractor out for a year it will rust away, but if you leave a horse out for a year you might possibly get another one.

Martin Sobell with his Big Apple AwardOur western perambulation led us along the meandering Wye Valley, past Holme Lacy and the wonderfully named Cottage of Content to Whitethorn Farm, home of Carey Organics, run by Martin and Rachel Sobel. They have transformed what was a potato field into an Organic Farm producing an amazing range of fruit and vegetables with a newly planted cider and dessert orchard. Martin went to great lengths to explain his philosophy and gave us a fascinating and absorbing visit. He freely admits he would be more efficient and profitable if they were to specialise but that is not what they choose to do. We all left full of praise and admiration but fully aware of the need for total attention to detail, of small profit margins and the large amount of risk and other uncontrollable factors at work. We were delighted to be the bearers of the good news that he had won first prize for his medium cider at the Big Apple competition.

The new goslingsAnd then there were four - but now there are three

Our goose population has fluctuated over the years from natural wastage, fox attacks and the vicissitudes of life on the pond. We acquired a new goose earlier in the year as a companion to our Brecon Buff gander and they have been happily hanging out and she has been sitting on four eggs. Well, now two have hatched and the family of four have just popped out for an evening constitutional. Parents are being properly protective, we have just invested in a bag of chick crumb, so watch this watery space.

STOP PRESS. The four are now three - the missing one we think the victim of a predatory raid from a carrion crow. However the remaining gosling is thriving although the crow is not as I got out the 12 bore to even up the odds and reduce the threat.

Ledbury Ox RoastLedbury Ox Roast Weekend June 1st & 2nd

Sixty years ago in 1953, Ledbury was one of only a handful of towns given Parliamentary permission to roast an Ox to celebrate the Coronation of Elizabeth 11. This year 2013 there is to be a whole 60th weekend given to commemorating the anniversary. Saturday 1st June is Ledbury Community Day with over 50 local groups strutting their stuff and showcasing what they do. This is to be followed on Sunday 2nd June by a Food, Drink and Craft Festival right in the middle of the town with the Ox Roast as its centrepiece. The full programme is on the website www.ledburyoxroast.org.uk and it promises to be a truly memorable occasion. To be sure of a slice of the beast you will need to purchase your ticket in advance either in person in Ledbury or online.

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