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.

Gala

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

Russets

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

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!

The wintry feel of April

After six months of rain over the winter, followed by a few days of blissful warm sunshine, we’ve returned to icy blasts of north wind and drought conditions. All the trees in the orchard are alive, except for the old (probably Victoria) plum which had to be removed last year because it had silverleaf fungus right down into the roots.

Last year, most of the trees lost their fruit due to May frosts. Will the current frosts be early enough that the trees won’t mind? Only the plum and damsons are really in flower yet.

Everything is pretty shaggy, or as we like to call it, “nature friendly” ahem
Left to right; Louise Bonne of Jersey Pear, Wyken Pippin apple, and Uvedale’s St Germain pear all getting ready to flower
The Hambledon Deux Ans apple tree is still tiny after having been munched by cows in 2018. But it’s now taller than its protective frame, at last, and fixing to flower.
In the frames, the Fairleigh damson foreground, preparing to flower properly for the first time, and the Portugal quince, coming into leaf but not flowering yet.
The old apple tree, which we’ve been pruning each year since the wall of leilandii was taken down and it’s now almost a proper fruit tree! And to the right, the new quince again.
In the protective fence, the native black polar tree is way taller than me now.
In the protective frames, left to right, Shropshire Prune damson, Rivers Early Prolific plum, Nottingham medlar and finally the cherry tree from Morrisons, planted by the previous owners. The damson and plum are starting to flower; the medlar is coming into leaf.

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

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…

Fake winter

During the summer, I planted three braeburn seeds that had germinated in the apples (perhaps because they’d been shipped over from New Zealand in cold storage). And thus I embarked on the Quest for the Pippin of St Rumwold – to grow a variety of apple unique to Rumwoldstow. As apples don’t breed true, this will be a numbers game and will take probably five years to show results.

I wanted to try some British apples as being more likely to tolerate the climate and perhaps closer to traditional varieties, so collected seeds from various apples over the late summer and autumn. After October, British apples pretty much vanished from the shops, and I felt I had a pretty good number to be working with – if even one in ten germinates, I’ll have a lot of trees! I learned from t’internet that apple seeds need a period of cold to break their dormancy, and that 30 – 60 days in the fridge should do the trick.

I kept the seeds in plastic boxes, meaning they dried out which may not have been a good thing. On the 3rd December 2020, I gave them all about two hours soak in cold water, then drained them and laid them on moist kitchen towel in plastic boxes which I put in the back of the fridge. The plan is to leave them there until perhaps February 2021, checking them every week or so to make sure they aren’t dried out and in case any are germinating already, then take them out and see how many germinate.

Six types of apple seed ready to be refrigerated

August 2020
Apples from behind the forge at Hauksby. The forge burnt down a month or two after I collected the apples, and I don’t know if the tree was damaged. The apples are an early variety, green and red, and good to eat.

August 2020
Discovery apples from Morrisons. I didn’t note whether these were British, but it seems likely.

September 2020
Gala apples from the Coop. Similarly, I didn’t note if these were British but that’s my guess as to why I chose them.

September 2020
Apples I took from a box outside somebody’s garden in Aynho. They looked like Coxes.

October 2020
Egremont Russets from Morrisons; British.

October 2020
Apples brought by my friend Emma from Scotland. She describe them as Cox-like.