Main Promo Images
Ann & Norman Stanier - owners of Dragon Orchard help bring in the harvest. Our juices are all made from tree ripened, hand picked fruit.
Winners of BBC Food and Farming Best Drinks Producers
From left to right
Simon Day, Norman Stanier, Hannah Day, Pete Brown (Judge), Ann Stanier, Valentine Warner (Awards Presenter)
A sharp cider variety, ready for harvesting!
Three Counties Cider Shop
Our store in Ledbury is stocked to the rafters with not only our own produce, but cider and other drinks from 25+ other local producers from Herefordshire, Worcestershire and Gloucestershire (and occaisional guest ciders from further afield!)
We run two novel orchard schemes - Dragon Orchard Cropsharers and a Sponsor a Tree scheme - click on the menu for details
We host a number of tours and events throughout the year, from orchard walks and cider tastings to poetry festival events and more... See our events page for more details.
Ellis Bitter cider apple.
A full bittersweet variety, with lots of tannins and rich flavours - a lovely component in many of our blended ciders
Cool autumnal mornings are perfect for picking. Here, our Blenheim Orange trees are mostly harvested.
Cider apples ripe for harvesting. We allow the fruit to fully ripen on the tree for maximum flavour in the finished cider.
We take great care with our juice apples. These Egremont Russet are destined for our Russet & Bramley juice.
Pressing the apples
Golden juice runs from the press - a modern take on the traditional rack and cloth press. We press about 4 Tonnes per day.
Some of our range photographed in the orchard at blossom time.
Three Counties Cider Shop
Our Three Counties Cider shop can be found right in the centre of our pretty market town of Ledbury - a vibrant town with loads of unique interesting shops, cafés, pubs, and attractions.
Willow Sculptures in the orchard
We offer various events throughout the year, and we regularly host artists and sculptors during The Trumpet Art Trail and H.Art
Winter in the Orchard
Orchards can be beautiful places in snowy conditions!
There 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.
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.
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.
Tim 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.
We 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.
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.
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:
Cue lots of depressed fruit growers all consoling themselves with a pint of Tumpy at the Three Counties Show.
More Show Success
You 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.
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.
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.
During 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 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 www.hansnettfarm.co.uk and www.guybutcherfurniture.co.uk
The Movie Bus
A 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. www.vintagemobilecinema.co.uk
Sponsor 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
Four 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.
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.
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
As 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.
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.
http://t.co/z8DsXOaV Blue-Tit update - eggs spotted!
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?
www.gartencoop.org - CSA near Freidberg, Germany