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Our Blog

"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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Pear Blossom in April

This year our orchards enjoyed a wonderful spring & blossom time, giving us one of the best fruit sets ever – Norman feels there was at least twice the number of apples than normal – but the orchard endured a dry summer (at least the first half). Our deep Herefordshire clay soils kept the trees functioning, but the apples were very small. Over 300 Tonnes were harvested, a good yield, but what was really interesting was the concentration of flavour and sweetness in the cider fruit.

Our first pressing was Discovery as normal, bottled as juice in late August.  Our first cider fruit were the Somerset Redstreaks. The juice tasted intense, sweet and full of character. It was essentially the normal juice minus the rain!

The Ellis Bitter, Brown's Apple, Dabinett and Michelin all followed with fairly high sugar levels, but the highest recorded was from the small crop of Kingston Black which came in at 11.5% potential alcohol!

We finished pressing on the 30th November, with Bramley the last variety to go through the mill.

As many reading this will know, unlike many other "cider" producers, I do not add water to our cider, which leaves me with a dilemma – most of our ciders will be wine strength from this harvest – which will take them perhaps somewhat off balance, but also into wine duty levels, so much more expensive. To counter this, I have fermented a fair amount of Bramley juice this year, which is naturally lower in sugar, and therefore alcohol, to blend back into the likes of Putley Gold and Marcle Ridge, to make something that is more consistent of what has gone before. However, I am seriously considering bottling our new Kingston Redstreak at 11.0%! Time will tell as they're still fermenting at the moment.

This year's big experiment, was to use dessert apple fruit to make a new cider for next year. "Dorothy's Orchard" Cider (as it is tentatively known, as the fruit came from the 30 odd varieties in our young orchard named after Norman's mother) is tasting vibrant, fruity and crisp, and those who tried it on our cider making day, thought it tasted fantastic. I'm not quite sure how it will finally end up – we are considering a 500ml crown cap carbonated cider this year, so maybe this will be the one. I need to start to work on a label design, as we would like to launch this in time for the Big Apple Blossomtime festival in May. I've spoken with Vernon from the excellent Wye Valley Brewery about the name, and he's happy for us to call it "Dorothy's Cider" as long as we don't make the label look like Dorothy Goodbody's! From the scandal they had a few years ago about her state of dress, I think it best to avoid short skirts anyway...

Vital stats:

• 70 Tonnes of apples and pears pressed this year (+some contract pressing)

• 17,000 bottles of apple and pear juice made

• 35,000 litres of cider and perry in fermentation

• Aiming to produce about 35,000 bottles cider & perry and 8,000+ litres draught cider

• Lowest potential alcohol 6.5% (Bramley using for blending) normally below 5%

• Highest potential alcohol 11.5% (Kingston Black) normally around 7%

• 17 Tonnes of Pomace fed to pigs!

Cider apples ready for harvest
Hand picking Michelin apples
Loading the cheese on the press

Apple pealing and tasting!The rain didn't dampen spirits at our Autumn Children's Orchard Day on Thursday 27th October 2011.  Flags were flying, the men were crushing the apples and children turned up prepared to explore all that Dragon Orchard had to offer!!

A simple apple corer, peeler and slicer provided endless fun for the children and a lot of apples were eaten!  Alice, apple printing with the childrenPerhaps we have solved the problem of getting children to eat more fruit!

Alice Arnold our 'resident' local artist offered children opportunities to make brilliant painted cards with the use of potato and apple printing.  The children's imagination and creative skills were abundant.

Pumpkin lantern carving was a great hit with some very gruesome faces, but it was very messy and great fun.

And when we thought we couldn't get much wetter, the attraction to go apple bobbing was to strong a pull!  However all adults were grateful for a wonderful cup of coffee and delicious home-made cakes.

Thank you to all who came and enjoyed the day.  Whilst we are planning for our next year event calendar I think we may avoid Thursdays in the hope we will have a dry day!

Apple Bobbing Apple printingPumpkin carving

APigs eating pomace on Noggin Farmpples are between 60 to 80 percent juice, which means, after pressing, we have between 20 - 40 percent of the original weight of apples as used pomace.  Over the full harvest we end up with around 30 Tonnes of waste pomace.  This waste is difficult to compost, and posed a bit of a problem as our production levels increased, with the majority going to a composting facility at considerable cost.

Since last harvest, we have teamed up with nearby Noggin Farm who keep pigs up on the Marcle Ridge.  Fortunately the pigs love the pomace, which still has considerable nutritional value, owners Sarah and Will get several trailer loads of pig feed for free, and we get rid of our waste - everyone wins!

For the latest Big Apple Harvestime festival, we also supplied our Tumpy Ground to the Noggin, for a special apple & cider sausage recipe. One of 5 different cider sausages - all very different, but all excellent!

(photo credit: Noggin Farm)


Cropsharers gathered for the toast!

In 2001 Dragon Orchard Cropsharers was launched in a post foot and mouth diseased Herefordshire countryside. Last weekend some ten years later, over 120 people gathered in the orchard to celebrate a decade of Cropsharing and to enjoy the links between people, place and produce. Orchard activities included bee-keeping, budding and music-making with poetry walks and cider production also included.

Pouring Carpenters CroftOnce Upon A Tree’s fabulous new Tumpy Ground Draught Cider provided excellent lubrication and Carpenters Croft celebratory sparkling cider was the perfect drink for the toast to the next ten years.

onceuponatree Just donated the first couple of cases of Wild Flight #cider to @ICBPNewent in celebration of their 50th anniversa…
onceuponatree Cider Hustings Sat - find out which party supports #realcider #localbusiness #ruralenvironment @3CCiderShop 1pm -2pm #GeneralElection2017
onceuponatree RT @ajurkiw: Every time we see #EnglishWine producers, we discover. Yesterday ice pear #wine & cider from @16Ridges: what in store today @l
onceuponatree RT @pilangocider: Food question of the week : #cider to go with lamb? Kingston redstreak by @onceuponatree from #hereford . Robust and full…
onceuponatree RT @3CCiderShop: Mix cider and politics this Saturday - promises to be a very lively debate!
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