Ninety apple seedlings

At current count, I have 90 little apple seedlings, including the three Braeburn pippins from last year, which may or may not have made it through the winter. The new seedlings are still very tiny; I have moved them outdoors so they can get more light and air than the kitchen windowsill can provide, but am putting them in the unheated greenhouse overnight. The weather isn’t frosty but they still might not like the unaccustomed chill. Yes, that means lots of to-ing and fro-ing with pots, twice a day! I think they are also not up to withstanding torrential rain yet, they need to get more developed.

Apples are dicotyledons, meaning two seed leaves. However several of the seedlings have three, meaning they are mutants I guess. I have no idea if this will correlate with apple quality, but will have to mark the tricots so that I can find out in due course.

So far they all look much the same, though perhaps the Gala are skinnier and taller.

Back row: two pots of Discovery. Middle row: Egremont Russett. Front row; a seed from the tree behind the forge at Murton Park (Yorkshire Museum of Farming).
Back two rows: apples from Scotland described as “cox like”. Middle row: one Gala at the left, then two pots of alleged Cox from Aynho at the right. Front row: Gala.

A second seed from the “Hauksby forge” tree has germinated, it is in solitary state in the kitchen as it has not yet started to grow above the ground. There are another dozen in a tub which may yet germinate. But otherwise, I’m done! This is the trees!

Russet, Cox and Discovery

The apple seeds are germinating like anything! I now have three or four boxes with five seeds each of the Gala apples, which have proved especially keen to get going. There are at least 10 more that need planting up – but every trip to the garden to put soil in pots is a bit of a big deal while it’s so cold! I’m managing to nip out and fill about two pots a day.

The Egremont Russets started to germinate a few days after being taken out of the fridge, so around 5th February, and I have got about 15 seeds in total germinated – pretty much all the ones I’d collected, which is an impressive rate. The Cox-like apples that I took from a doorstep in the nearby village of Aynho, and the Cox-like apples my friend Emma brought me from Scotland, are also sprouting and I have a couple of pots of those. The Discovery apples have also got going. Only the apples taken from the tree behind the forge at the Yorkshire Museum of Farming have yet to germinate. These are the ones that I was most doubtful of – the apples were picked very early in August, and the seeds at that time were soft and pale green. I kept the apples for a month or so and the last ones I ate had developed dark brown seeds. I still have hopes of them, after all they’ve only been out of the fridge for a week.

Apples are of course fully hardy, but it seems harsh to put them out right now with daytime temperatures around freezing, which is why they are lining up on the window sill for the time being.

The flooded meadow is now partly frozen over, thin ice that would not support a well-grown cat, but it’s quite dramatic when the sun is shining and the snow settling on the ice.

Gala seedlings
I don’t think the ice would be good for my coracle!
The “old Roman well” is well frosty
And the Cherwell valley is…timeless


One of my historical re-enactment societies ran an online workshop on how to make and use a quill pen. With the help of kindly neighbours I scrounged up lovely white goose feathers for people, and had a go myself.

Freya showed us authentically made books, parchment, pen, penknife, ink and pigments, before guiding us in making our own pens. We also referred to this very useful online guide to making quill pens, with bonus cat.

The right-hand page is where I started, with huge letters, then I cut the nib finer.

I’m pretty chuffed with how I did! I had no real expectation of being able to make something usable on my first go, but by following Freya’s instructions carefully and taking my time, I made a genuine, functional pen and wrote some Anglo-Saxon texts. To practice writing, Freya provided a selection of quotes from the Old English poem known as Maxims II which I found curiously reminiscent of Hávamál in style.

Maxims II is a collection of statements about the world and how it works – from the social order to the weather, from the habits of different animals to the works of God. Probably written down in the mid 11 th century. It is found on two pages of the manuscript known as Cotton MS Tiberius B I (f.115r-v) and you can see it in magnificent high resolution here:

You can also find the transliterated OE text in a free ebook of the Anglo-Saxon Poetic Records from the University of Oxford Text Archive, which is where the transliterations here have been copied from:

These are the maxims I tried to write:

ellen sceal on eorle . ecg sceal wið hell
me . hilde gebidan
Courage must be in the noble warrior, blade must be against helmet, be in battle.

draca sceal on hlæwe . frod, frætwum wlanc.
The dragon must be in the barrow, wise, magnificent (proud?) with treasures

wulf sceal on bearowe . earm anhaga.
the wolf must be in the forest, wretched loner,

tungol sceal on heofenum . beorhte scinan . swa him bebead meotud.
The star must be in heaven, (must) shine brightly, as God ordered it.

Is seo forðgesceaft . digol and dyrne . drihten ana wat
The shape of the future is obscure and hidden, the Lord only knows (it).

fyrd sceal ætsomne . tírfæstra getrum.
The army must stay together, a troop of glory-firm (men).

Writing with a quill is an extremely physical process, so it’s very easy to lose track of where you are in a word – or sentence. I also tried my hand at marginalia.

February Gala

At the start of December 2020, I put six boxes of apple pips in the fridge to impose a fake winter and encourage them to germinate. Two months later, on the Feast of Saint Wærburh (that’s today), I hoiked them all out and inspected them. They all look fine, a bit of mould but still shiny damp apple seeds. And the galas from the Co-op have started sprouting! This made getting into the old privy where the plant labels live an urgent job, and Al manfully tackled it. Hurray! He opened the door! I thought we wouldn’t see the inside of the privy until spring, given how wet it’s been and how much the door had swelled up. And there were my labels, neatly packed in an old Chinese takeaway box.

Yesterday I enquired of all my friends how best to permanently label plants, given that “permanent marker” faded quite rapidly; I received a number of very interesting suggestions. At one point I thought I’d have to split hazel rods and write on them with lead pencil (not a bad option), suspecting that I wouldn’t realistically get round to collecting and cutting open aluminium cans and then punching letters into them (a cool idea but time-consuming), and feeling that buying paraloid to use as varnish was also not going to happen. So I hunted up an HB pencil from my craft box, before discovering that the plastic labels had come with a soft lead pencil that was far more suitable. I may take the time to go back and scratch the letters in with a compass or leather awl (whatever comes to hand first) as an extra step, but this will do for now. And I’ve stuck labels into the three Braeburns that I planted last summer, now that I have two different types of apple that need to be differentiated.

I’ve put 5 seeds in each pot; I hope that the roots will grow mainly downwards so it won’t be too hard to separate them when they are larger. However, if this germination rate keeps up I could easily find myself with 50 – 100 young apple trees to deal with. We can squeeze a few more into the orchard, and maybe another one in the garden, but 50? Hmm! Really it’s enough to plant a fair-sized wood!

Gala seeds from apples bought at the Kings Sutton Co-op, many starting to sprout
Gala apple seeds in soil, next to the hyacinths that formed part of our rent last year…