Protecting the harvest

The heritage apple trees are still not producing much fruit and I’ve scoffed what there was. But the old Bramley in our garden has given us many fine apples. Last year, we stored a good number but the rats, not surprisingly, made a bee-line for them (surely you can’t have too many animals in a metaphor) and deprived us of several trays of good apples.

Al, being the hero that he is, has reinforced the apple store, which lives in one of the guard-rooms in the gatehouse, with wire mesh. This is of course not historically authentic! Vermin-proof food storage will have been a perennial problem, with grain stores raised on ‘mushrooms’, sealed pits and other strategies used with presumably varying degrees of success.

I almost filled the store with the best apples, as they should keep for longest. We still have a good number in the kitchen that need to be used up asap. Stewed apple for breakfast, crumble for supper…it’s a rough life.

Clearing up windfalls

Some of the Bramley apple harvest
Apples going in to store
Let’s hope the rats can’t open a bolt…

The lone Hambledon

The orchard continues to be a mystery to me…the apple and pear trees planted in 2018 are still not producing significant fruit. This year the pears flowered profusely, there were no late frosts, but nevertheless, the fruit that set all fell and we have no pears. The Wyken Pippin has a few apples, and the Hambledon Deux Ans produced one solitary apple – but it was large, much larger than its few fruit last year.

Reluctant to pick it before it ripened, I left it on the tree; the Hambledon is supposed to be a great keeper. But the other day, it had vanished off the bough, and I found it on the ground – fortunately intact. I therefore cut it up and ate it. Some of the flesh was already discolouring, so it clearly wasn’t a great apple and wouldn’t have kept any longer. But the flesh that was ok tasted nice; it’s been described as a cooking apple, and I found it a bit sweeter than a Bramley but quite tart.

What’s up with the trees? I don’t know. The mature eating apple tree in the orchard (variety unknown) has some excellent fruit but many small and malformed fruit. Is this a disease? Is it too warm in the winter? It’s not been a drought year, nor has it flooded, so it’s a mystery to me. I keep hoping that *next* year, the new pears and apples will start to produce.

In the meantime, there are many medlars!

Tree pruning

An orchard in February doesn’t look like much, but there are promises of spring appearing – snowdrops, catkins, and swelling buds on the trees. High time to prune those apple and pear trees!

Our first task was to prune the older tree, which we’ve been gradually reshaping to a proper ‘tree’ shape (it had grown very siiiiiiideways due to the light from the south being blocked). We went at it somewhat cautiously, pruning a bit at the ends, and removing branches that crossed each other, or went too much straight up.

The variety is unknown but it produces nice eating apples.

The unknown variety mature apple tree, after pruning

The Hambledon Deux Ans got a bit of a trim, as did the Wyken Pippin. This latter is such a sturdy tree now, and has kind of gone sideways, so Al removed the protective frame around it. We’ve kind of decided to keep livestock out of the orchard now, as it’s clear that the fruit will always be low enough to be munched even by sheep. And the frame was very rickety. But it may be reused later.

Hambledon Deux Ans apple; still the smallest tree in the orchard
Wyken Pippin apple, now released! And a good tree-shaped tree it is.
Uvedale St Germain pear, just a few bits trimmed as it’s a pretty good shape already
Portugal quince; seems to have no main trunk, just lots of twiddly branches! I clipped them in a bit.
Pears planted nearly two years ago: Jargonelle and Winter Nelis. They didn’t grow much, being swamped with nettles, so I didn’t take anything off them. We’ll try to give them more light and hope for better growth this year.

The Hambledon Deux-ans

Last year for the first time we got a couple of apples from the young Hambledon Deux-ans apple tree, planted nearly five years ago now. It was the tree that was most munched by enthusiastic young cows in its first year and I’m honestly chuffed that it’s alive at all. I put the apples in the dining room and kept meaning to move them somewhere cooler but never got round to it, and finally decided to just eat them!

All things considered, I think the apple didn’t do too badly; more than half of it was eatable, though very tart. I can see why it’s described as a cooker. Fingers crossed the tree will do better this year, though with the hazards of drought and late frost, it’s an absolute unknown quantity.

Introducing “ginger nun”

We are still rich in apples, they are literally falling off the tree now…we picked all the good apples from the “eater” in the Rumwoldstow orchard, but the Bramley in the garden continues to provide windfalls from above even after we picked the low-hanging fruit. To this end I am road-testing what I call “ginger nun”, a variant on “peasant girl with veil” (a traditional Danish recipe of stewed apple topped with fried, sweetened breadcrumbs, cream and grated chocolate).

I’ve left out the chocolate, and instead of sugar, I’ve mixed honey and ginger with the butter in which the breadcrumbs were fried.

Will “ginger nun” prove a winner or a sinner?

This made use of a good-sized colander full of the better windfalls, which had a good amount of usable fruit on each. We then picked up and sorted today’s windfalls – three buckets full! – and took them to the cows on Lake Meadow.

I was lazy and didn’t break all the apples up. Cows find whole apples hard to bite into…
And easy to drop!
Brother Alf took pity and stomped the apples into submission

The three trees of February

The tree specialist in the next village sold me three new fruit trees for the orchard. They had to sit in the shed with their lower appendages swathed in bubble wrap for two days until we had time to get out and plant them. What have we got?

Pear: Winter Nelis. This is a heritage variety known from the early 19th century and its pears are apparently not a super pretty fruit, but sweet with a good flavour. And they’re said to keep into January. On the down side the tree prefers a sheltered spot and our orchard is quite exposed with the chilly meadow to the west.

Pear: Jargonelle. First recorded in 1629 but thought to be older, so a great pear for our early mediaeval orchard. It’s an early pear but to my surprise, our existing Louise Bonne and the new Winter Nelis are apparently all suitable pollination partners. The tree man knows his stuff!

Plum: St Julien. I found very little on t’internet about the St Julien as a tree in its own right, as it is so widely used as a rootstock. But the tree man said it produces a tasty green plum, and is actually one of the earliest cultivars around, so a great fit for us – and unusual, which is part of our thing. One forum post suggested the fruit is best dried, but another described the fruit as complex, sweet when perfectly ripe but potentially acidic. I am excited to let this little tree develop naturally and do its thing, whatever it turns out to be!

The trees as they were delivered!
Al digging a hole for the Winter Nelis
The neighbours’ pony taking an interest
Is that a very small grave? No, it’s a hole ready for my tree!
And here is my Winter Nelis all planted!
The Jargonelle in place
Both new trees!

The Jargonelle and Winter Nelis are quite close together, and to the quince and the Hambledon Deux Ans apple, but the I couldn’t choose between these two and had to have them both, and they needed to be planted further from the place where they diseased Victoria plum was removed last year, which restricted my options somewhat. I will need to keep them relatively small but that will make it easier to pick the fruit. Anyway, more trees for the win!

The St Julian, free to grow its own canopy

Finally, the St Julien plum is so small that I decided to stick it in a pot for a year or two to gain some height, otherwise we’ll lose the poor thing in the undergrowth. This pot had dwarf beans last year which didn’t do well and anyway are an annual, so there was a handy pot with soil and no plants. I might try beans around the side this year and hope for a better harvest. They actually did better in 2019 even though the sheep got out and had a munch at them before exploring the road (and then retreating swiftly when they saw the cars).

Apple seedlings – potting up

I have finally potted all my apple seedlings into individual pots of at least 1 litre capacity. And counted them.
I have 112 seedlings, some tiny, some being munched by various parasites, some growing with great enthusiasm. I lost one seedling to what I think was silverleaf fungus, and disposed of it carefully, but overall it’s a pretty encouraging collection.

Cox from Aynho village (back row), Murton Park (front row)

Above, the back row is from apples that I found in a box outside somebody’s house in the nearby village of Aynho, labelled as Cox’s. The front row is seedlings from the tree behind the forge at Murton Park (Yorkshire Museum of Farming). Some I grew from apples that I collected last August (2020) and kept while the apples ripened – I am amazed how many germinated. Some I found as seedlings in the “village brown” and area around the tree. The tree itself was badly damaged in a fire last winter which burned down the forge and fence; the tree was alive in April but I don’t know if they’ll keep it or replace it. So I’m very happy to have scions, especially as the tree produces very tasty early apples.


Above we have the Royal Gala seedlings, grown from apples that I bought in the supermarket.


Next up (above) are the Egremont Russets, an English apple bought in Morrisons. Two at the back seem to be dying but the rest look pretty good.


Braeburns (above) again from supermarkets. The larger ones were planted last year, from seeds which had germinated inside the apple – I assume false winter experienced while being shipped in cold storage. The one at the far left is a mystery seedling which I found growing in the patio. It looked very much like an apple seedling but is now developing rather shinier leaves, so I’m going to have to wait and see what it is really!

Kittyfields part I

My friend Emma brought me “Cox like” apples from Kittyfields orchard near her home in Galashiels. Above and below – they proved very enthusiastic!

Kittyfields part II
Discovery (back), Cripps Red France (front)

And finally, at the back are the Discoveries, and the front are Cripps Red which are bonus apples – the others are mostly ones I gathered in autumn 2020 and refrigerated for a month before germinating them. The Cripps Reds are all seeds that I found already germinating inside my breakfast apples in spring 2021.

July jungles

As you can tell from the photos, the garden at Rumwoldstow has got away from me. Where are the energetic nuns and monks when we need them eh? But the plus side is lots of flowers for bees and butterflies.

Al busy working on a spear shaft. Look at the elecampane!
Brother Aethelwine took a turn at digging but it was TOO HOT
There’s a small clear patch…
The wormwood is taking over
Green Lane is very green
One pear! On the Louis Bonne of Jersey.
The Wyken Pippin to the right has some apples growing for the first year ever, but the Uvedale St Germain pear (left) and Hambledon Deux Ans (middle) did not set fruit, despite having plenty of flowers.
Looking up towards damson, plum, medlar and cherry (left to right)
The black poplar is doing well
We have lots of meadowsweet
Damsons on the Shropshire Prune
Alas, very little fruit on the medlar this year
Can you see the plum? In fact there are plenty more lurking in the undergrowth; the Rivers Early Prolific is starting to live up to its name.
The first ever plum from the Rivers Early Prolific! Small but tasty
Rachel’s rowan, self seeded from Kennington in Oxford, is just about keeping pace with the grass. Planted out this year.
The old apple tree has some fruit
I think the quince tree is in there somewhere? No fruit this year, in fact I didn’t see any flowers either. But the tree is growing.
Lots of habitat for white butterflies and small beasts generally
Looking back into Rumwoldstow from the orchard

Returning to the elecampane, it appears to be a plant with many medicinal uses and also an edible potherb known to the Celts and Romans. It was known as ‘elfwort’. The roots can be candied or used as a flavouring; they contain up to 44% inulin, a naturally occurring polysaccharide that humans do not digest well. The leaves are apparently bitter but edible, preferably cooked; I have not yet tried this! Medically, it appears to be extra good for lung function and coughs, which is of particular interest in these days of COVID-19. Of immediate benefit is the fact that the bees are all over it.

Elecampane flowers
Elecampane flowers
Elecampane flowers

I put in the two elecampane plants last year, and this is the first year they have flowered. I had no idea how vast they would be!

Elecampane is huge!

Flood and well

April was a drought; May was a series of rainy days! The apples, pears, damsons and plum have all flowered. The pears seem to have lost almost all their fruit, perhaps due to the frost, but the apples run a bit later and are still in fairly full flower, and the frosts *seem* to be over, fingers crossed. At present there are damsons and plums growing – better than last year when I harvested exactly one damson! The quince and medlar have yet to flower. The orchard is super full of cow parsley and looks very pretty.

The orchard in the (finally) merry month of May
Next door’s field

The cloister garden is a bit of a jungle, but I’ve started to weed out the central area and moved some things around. I originally planted three sorrels, trying to fill the space, but they are monsters and not pretty. So I’ve moved two great clumps into my regular garden and have put in their place some of the self-seeded cornflowers and viola tricolor that I weeded out. The madonna lilies are looking good, and I have hopes that the elecampane will flower this year (didn’t last year).

Yeah, the borage is not shown to be authentic, there’s no Anglo-Saxon word known for it. But it self seeded, the bees love it and it’s gorgeous!

I have planted some things in the “old Roman well”. Sadly only one of them (the veronica) is native but the blue flag iris is a generally European-looking thing, and the Saururus cernuus “Lizard’s tail” is one of the few plants in the shop that looked like it might cope with the situation and poke its head above the parapet in due course. Al put some scraps of pond liner on the base of the pond bucket, then concrete blocks on top, to allow the plant pots to be put in at a sensible (not too deep) level.

First planting in the well

And we had flooding! In May! It looks different to the winter because the dock in in full growth, but there was plenty of depth for my trusty and beloved coracle. This time, I took my phone out with me, wrapped in a double layer of ziplock bags, and took some snaps from out on the water. Amazingly, I didn’t even get bitten by flies…

Simply messing about in boats
One day I will try to carry the Bootle-bumtrinket over the bridge and explore the far meadow…but not today.
Al waiting to steady the boat as I get out

Bonus apple seedlings

I spent the last week on pilgrimage to the North, staying in the Viking village at Murton Park. It was a wonderful escape from everyday life and was topped off by the discovery of apple seedlings sprouting in the area around the old apple tree behind the site of the recently-burned-down forge. I rescued a good number of them, and have added them to my apple tree stash. One seedling is a second-year survivor, which has been chopped off at some point but is sprouting well. Of the rest, four look pretty good, and three very feeble. The parent tree was badly damaged by the fire but is sprouting on one side.

In the round pot, a seedling from the tree-behind-the-forge that is in its second year. In the square pots, sundry new seedlings scavenged from the Village Brown (originating from the same tree)

On my return home, I found that one of my Braeburn pips has sprouted, which brings me back up to three after one of last year’s seedlings mysteriously died. The seed came from a pack of six apples that I bought in April from Morrisons, and unlike the first batch they are from the UK.

Braeburn pip newly planted with the root sprout in the ground.
The two surviving Braeburns from 2020
Five Gala seedlings now split into individual pots
All the remaining apple trees!