Cherries in Jerte Valley

On my travels in Spain in April I came across an amazing horticultural enterprise on the border between Castille y Leon and Extremadura.

I took a bus from Avila at !200m elevation, down to Plasencia at 400m, which takes you off the high plains and winds down between the heights of the Gredos Mountains.  And it is here that my eyes were astounded by the numbers of flowering cherry trees that line the valley for the next 40 km!  Lots of terraces well up the mountainside allow cherry planting almost to the summits on either side! Hundreds of thousands of trees! One website suggests there are 10,000 ha. and as many as 4,000 growers. The orchards spread east and west on terraced land.cherries jerte valley

Further investigation took me back up the valley to a Cherry Museum where I learnt that these trees are part of one big co-operative and make their way into a variety of products. I was very lucky to catch the end of the flowering season, the hot weather shortening this somewhat this year.

So i wonder, has anyone come across Jerte Valley cherries in this country? The variety grown is the Picota though judging by some late flowers, a few others are planted too. The co-op supplies Lidl so look out for the fruits later in the year. One of the production sheds processes 40,000kg per day!

This is horticulture on an industrial scale!  Maybe we can learn something here relevant to Scotland?  I am passionate about the loss of horticulture in the Glens of Scotland, a result of hundreds of years of depopulation, yet here in rural Spain it has survived and thrived despite a similar history of emigration to the Spanish colonies.

I often get cars stopping at the field to ask what I am growing in one of the Perthshire Glens and always get a surprised look when I say it is apple trees! Just imagine if it was a whole valley of apple trees from Pitlochry and Aberfeldy to Perth!

See: http://cerezadeljerte.org/en/jerte-valley/ for more information….you can even spend a few days picking fruit with the farmers if you want! A great place to see the real Spain, with many mountain biking and hiking trails too. And the Albergue Santa Anna in Plasencia is one of the nicest hostels I have ever stayed in!

Andrew May 2016.

 

Tonight’s the Night. For Wassailing.

We wassailed on Saturday at Gowanhill in Stirling, where Transition Stirling have created a community orchard. It was an icy, searing, brilliant, sun-soaked morning, with snow underfoot and the tracks of rabbits, deer, foxes mingling with the human and dog ones. Claire’s  mulled apple juice was zinging, and we all toasted the young trees (which had just been pruned under Andrew’s guidance), and bellowed our wassail to the ancient and productive apple tree, relic of an older orchard, at the centre.

By rights it should have been tonight, but there’s no tradition of wassailing in Scotland and therefore we can bend all the rules and make our own customs. Tonight is Twelfth Night in the “old” calendar, which had Christmas Day on January 6th.

Wassailing (making a lot of noise, singing to a load of fruit trees and drinking a lot of cider at its simplest) is steadily insinuating itself into the calendar of the Scottish winter party which begins on St. Andrew’s Day at the end of November, and continues through yule and the midwinter solstice, Christmas, Hogmanay and New Year’s Day, to stagger to a halt around Burns night – technically January 25th  but tends to stretch to incorporate the weekends before and after it. Aside from the obvious gap in excuses around mid-January, the growth of wassailing is largely thanks to the huge number of new community and private orchards planted in the last decade that are now blessing us with copious harvests.

The thing is, you have to keep wassailing to ensure the harvests continue. Grab a jug of cider and a slice of toast, choose your King Apple (or whatever) Tree in your garden or nearest orchard and get out there!

Wassail! Drink Hail! Sing!

(https://dochub.com/andrewlear/63bBXm/wassailing1  AND  https://dochub.com/andrewlear/8p3NL6/wassailing2  will take you to our favourite wassailing songs. You’re on your own finding the music!

cider

Morning sun gets the cider bubbling

 

Walnuts in Scotland

walnuts

The nice thing about Catriona’s walnuts is how easy they are to crack open. Christmas childhood walnut memories for me are of battles against wee brown rocks, broken nutcrackers, bruised fingers and mashed nuts I could never pick out of the remains of the shell.

Maybe in Scotland the shells don’t get quite so granitic. Anyway, Catriona’s walnuts break neatly and easily along the centre line and come out whole. Little wrinkled ovals of russety-brown, rustling with the papery bit that divides the cotyledons. Not the biggest walnuts in the world, but they taste fantastic. Any thoughts of making another nut roast (like the Christmas one I made to offset the goose) dissipate because they just go straight in the mouth like sweeties.

The variety is ‘Buccaneer’, and it’s about 10 years old, certainly not much more. It started bearing nuts the year after planting. Contrary to everything I believed about planting walnuts for your grandchildren! We once saw a massive walnut tree in a square in one of the east Sutherland towns – maybe Dornoch – and assumed it was very old. Since then we’ve found quite a few around the country (Scotland, that is) – all thriving, but I doubt many are as prolific as Catriona’s ‘Buccaneer’. There’s another variety called ‘Broadview’ which is said to best for the UK. I wonder?

At a Hogmanay party, we tried Ann’s pickled walnuts. Never realised it is the whole immature fruit (nut and its embryo shell and its thick green seed case) that gets pickled – or that several steepings in brine are needed before the actual pickling. Wow – amazing flavour and texture. Catriona’s walnut tree needs to be raided next year before the nuts start to ripen!

Andrew’s sowing some wild walnut seed, with a view to grafting with ‘Buccaneer’ scions….one day. How long for the straight Walnut tree-lets to germinate and grow? How long for my very own, pickled and unpickled, walnuts?

It isn’t Spring. Really it isn’t.

The clouds hang low across Birnam Hill in the sulky twilight and the air is turgid and heavy. Patches of pinkish light to the north, but the grey, oozy mist soon covers them. The oak and the sycamore on the lane stand out indignantly, black and convoluted against the gloaming.

I’ve been cleaning the wee greenhouse ready for seed sowing, unsurprised by the enthusiasm of shamrock spreading greenly in the gravel, but ecstatic to note that my Caucasian Climbing Spinach – the one in a pot – is already shooting. Alive! No sign of the outdoor ones yet, though they were more vigorous last summer.

In the garden. the rhubarb is up, leaves unfurling. Including the Lochgelly Miners’ Rhubarb. Little weeds everywhere I spread the compost rampage like they’ve never heard of frost. ice, snow, winter…. When I clear a border of overgrown perennials for replanting in spring, marching armies of daffodil shoots stand to attention.

Darkness deepens, I come in, the television news blares an icy message, not the latest pish from Trump this time, but of snow in Greek islands, temperatures of -30 degrees and freezing blasts and storms from Turkey across to Georgia, USA.

I wonder  if it is coming this way, any time soon.

Isle of Mull

I have just made a brief foray to Mull to give a lecture on apple growing, and have been so impressed with the horticulture I saw that I am tempted here to record some of it.

I stayed in Dervaig on the northwest of the island, which stands near an inlet not far from the sea. In several of the back gardens i could see some mature apple trees, two of which were codlins, probably Mank’s Codlin, and a rather russetty small conical apple. This was reminiscent of D’Arcy Spice or Duke of Devonshire. A hint of sweetness, i’m guessing it would make a good cider. Also came across a golden hop plant with ripening hops in abundance….now there’s a business idea?

Hops Mull

Hops on Mull

A visit to the private Quinish Estate walled garden revealed a collection of some 30 year old apples, many of them Scottish varieties. , unfortunately much overgrown by other trees and too poorly fruiting to identify with certainty. Simon, the gardener there, was well on his way to opening up the garden to its former glory again. I look forward to the day when this garden is open for visitors again.

One of the residents in Dervaig shared with me some photos of  their fruit trees in a polytunnel, a good option if wind and rainfall levels are just too restricting for top fruit.

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Heading north and east, I then stopped by at the Isle of Mull Cheese factory, and was very impressed with their wee garden. Nicely laid out. There is also a fine black grapevine in the cafe. On down the Glen is a large walled garden next to the Castle, where a young couple are producing a full range of vegetables outside and in tunnels for a local box scheme and the farmers markets. Its four miles down the Glen, but well worth seeing. They should be up and running with some walled trained fruit soon this winter too. Fab to see some young people getting into gardening in a big way, and i can see much potential in what they are doing.

Artichokes

Artichokes

On the way back up the glen I scrumped some Gaultheria fruits from the hedgerow! Surprisingly yummy.

Gaultheria Shallon

Gaultheria Shallon

 

 

My final visit was to the Isle of Mull tea plantation ( well i presume it’s the only one) in Lochdon, a few miles south of  the ferry terminal at Craignure. Surprising how small the plants are, yet deliver such a valuable crop. On the way out i stopped to marvel at the row of pear trees ( and an apple) in the front garden of the school, absolutely weighted down with fruit. They are Scottish pears, on pear rootstock, and very productive. Have a glance into the school next time you drive by! I have seen big apple trees on Colonsay this year too, and remember well the fruit at Achamore Gardens on Gigha where i once worked.

Pear Trees on Mull

Pear Trees on Mull

We can can grow very good crops in the islands and glens of Scotland so long as we use the available shelter and microclimates. Getting the varieties right is an important factor, and looking to what does well in Canada, the Baltic states and Scandinavia will help.

Many thanks to those who showed me around, and i hope to be back to see the rest of the island soon!

 

 

 

 

Dunkeld Community Orchard

It’s a good idea to know what fruit is doing well locally before committing yourself to buying fruit trees.  One good local orchard for me is at Blair Castle, where a good number of plums and damsons, and many apple varieties can be seen. It is also nice to wander through the sheltered orchard just before the bridge in Dunkeld. At this time of year it’s great to see what that fabulous spring blossom has delivered for the community. And it is a good example of what can be achieved with the dedication of some keen volunteers.

Dunkeld orchard

Dunkeld Orchard

The orchard must be 5 or 6 years old or more now and should be coming to its maximum productivity. It is a rather too well sheltered spot, right by the Tay, but fortuitously on very good soil. It used to be a market garden. That early sunshine this year has started reddening up the apples.

George Cave

George Cave

The variety of trees planted was based on what was available from a nursery in England, and it has been good to see which trees have been worthwhile. In the initial years, the whole orchard suffered very badly from deer browsing, and probably rabbits, so many of the trees have a congested centre where shoots initially struggled to get away.

Mostly apples, with a few plums and pears, plus a productive soft fruit patch.

All the trees are nicely labeled, and mostly correctly so.

This year I have noticed Edward vii, a late cooker doing well, and Scots Dumpling, one of the few horizontally trained trees doing very well. It is a very early cooker as is Reverend W Wilkes near the houses. More horizontal branches would mean more productivity overall is the lesson i think.

Red Devil, and Herefordshire Russet seem to be doing well, with Tydeman’s Late Orange and Red Windsor not far behind. Pixie lives up to its name, and is not worth growing. Red Falstaff and related James Grieves are doing well but slightly prone to scab as is Scrumptious, which rules it out of many damp areas of Scotland.

The Bramley’s seem to be doing ok, but should have been on a dwarfing stock as they are very vigorous. Discovery doesn’t seem to be so good this year, maybe a result of poor pruning, but my favourite, George Cave is exceptional as in most years.

One of the most productive appears to be Ellison’s Orange and Winston, a Cox relation. Sunsets and Charles Ross justify their inclusion in my top 10, and Worcester Pearmain, but some other very good varieties for Scottish conditons are missing such as Howgate and Newton Wonder, Jupiter and Scots Bridget.

Of the plums, as usual Opal near the river is doing nicely, but several others must have had poor pollination this year. Some Victorias have had broken branches in the past here, so do thin your plums! Of the pears, Beth does well, and this year Concorde seems to be doing ok.

This is a fantastic orchard to visit if you are planning to plant a tree yourself an want to get the measure of things, or to get involved…there are regular work days.  The trees are now rather vigorous and tall, and would have benefited on being on a more dwarfing stock such as m26 or m27.  Easy with hindsight!

Edward Vll

Edward Vll

Berber Artisans and City Life

My trip from mountain to City was very eventful, but that’s for another day….I love to see people who can make things! I watched a leather worker in Chefchaouan make me a wallet, but in the maze of Marrakesh you can see gates being welded, chickens gutted, bed heads being carved, banjos being stretched, fabrics being woven and all within a few hundred yards of each other….well I did get lost and spent a happy 2 hours or so looking for the exit! If you have been there you will understand!  What a rich den of skilled people, they are highly inventive and recycle lots of odds and ends as part of their craft. The very narrow alleyways are surprisingly cool in the 34 degrees of last week. But watch out for the caleches, donkey carts, motorbikes and the sort of one way system of people!

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In contrast I visited the Yves Saint Laurent Jardin Majorel. I was told it was a major tourist attraction…I was there at daybreak so saw no-one else, but wow what a place! I’m not surprised it’s popular. It is the most perfectly manicured garden I have ever seen and very stunning in design and colour. And there’s a very good Berber Museum within.

Majorelle

Majorelle

Cacti Forest

Cacti Forest

So my intention to see horticulture here was more or less achieved, at least in the North, seeing the contrast of home vegetable gardening, small farms and large commercial farmers. It is a rich productive land wherever water allows in the mostly dry and rocky landscape.  Some dusty French hikers told of rich valleys in the High Atlas and Walnut groves, and where are these Argon trees…….mmmm next time…..oh and did i tell you about the air display at the airport, and the Romans at Larache, and the El Djemma Fna Concert show?

Djemma Fna

Djemma Fna

A Berber Way Of Life

Peaches

Peaches

Well where to start! I experienced a week or so of life with a berber family at  Ribat El Kheir in the Middle Atlas Mountains of Morocco. On route I passed a large commercial Apple Orchard, apparently 200 hectares or so of very closely spaced dwarf trees, all for export.  They have many deep wells to support the parched terrain and the workers are paid bonuses, so work very hard I was told.

The peaches were in flower in one of the smaller orchards around me. All the trees in this plot were headed back at about 30cm to make an upright open framework.

My week was very relaxed, looking after a few cows, many types of poultry, rabbits,  doves and pigs. And a lot of time relaxing and drinking tea with neighbours….and of course delicious tagines! All food is shared, there are no separate plates, and it is most often scooped up with bread with your right hand. The bread is flat and unleavened in Morocco and made fresh each day. We ate it a lot.The mint tea is very sweet and refreshing in the heat.

Tagine Dindons!

Tagine Dindons!

We also ate omelettes and dipped bread in olive oil, as well as a semolina in a sour milk, butter milk maybe? The daughter made it in a plastic bottle, rolling it on the floor for an hour or so. Also side dishes of sweet broad beans and a fennel paste from the buds of the wild fennel around us.

Fennel

Fennel

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The Berbers lived simply, and ate what they grew or farmed mostly. They had a bottled gas cooker and oven, but no electricity, though new pylons at the end of the farm lane forewarn of a change to come. It was very amusing to see Berber shepherds using mobile phones to communicate with each other across the hill! Samsungs are ubiquitous!

Berber Brebis

Berber Brebis

A stunning landscape was my daily view, often with these Berber sheep which are kept on the move all day to eek out the few weeds. This field will not be sown because it is too dry this year….incomes are so precarious here! The puit ( well ) is a vital element in life here; the French Colonialists in the 1920’s chose these areas to create commercial farms as they had a reliable source.

Le Source

Le Source

I saw these wooden ploughs being used behind mules and oxen in many areas. Such is the contrasting extremes easily seen in this country twixt the traditional ways and modern city life. And so to the city….

Wooden Plough

Wooden Plough

Olives and more in Chefchaouan

Chefchaouan

Chefchaouan

Yeah, its the blue town and full of tourists. And hash punters. My wee hostel was run by some  permanently stoned guys, what a waste! But what a pretty little souk of narrow blue painted alleyways, lovely at night. A wee boy put the finishing touch to a wallet I had made for me.

Leatherwork

Leatherwork

The market day drew in rows of Rifian men and women, here to sell a few cabbages and onions and buy their own shopping before returning. It’s a very hard and simple life for these people…other larger traders had oranges and apples, olives or spices. These palm shoots intrigued me.

Palm Shoots

Palm Shoots

One of the wee squares was piled up with firewood for the Hammam Public Baths, a pleasure I didn’t find time for on this occasion.

Market Day

Market Day

Hammam Baths

Hammam Baths

Heading down from Chef to Fez, I was struck by the oranges,  and beans and others cereals sown underneath the Olive groves. At lower altitudes, there were larger fields of cereals and co-operatives with a more commercial layout of large fields. Almost no hedges or fences exist in Morocco. The sheep are constantly herded to prevent straying; even the motorway verges are grazed between Fez and Rabat!

Espagnol in Morocco

I have just spent a few weeks in Morocco on a farm and travelling around and thought i would record some of the events here. Those of you who have visited this fascinating country will be familiar with much of what is to follow!

English Breakfast

English Breakfast

I failed to secure a hostel in any of the Spanish enclaves so plumped for the longer ferry from Algeciras in Spain to Tangiers Med port.A lovely way to enter Africa, but not without a last breakfast of Eggs and bacon on the ferry.

Then refusal to pay 200 dirham for a grand taxi toute seule, ( thanks Lonely Planet my trusty companion ), and eventually got crammed into one with 4 others for a mad dash to Tangier bus station for 30 dirham. And there I enjoyed my first chaotic experience of the bus stations in Morocco, albeit with a few exceptions like the lovely CTM one at Tetouan. Anyway, I now knew to look for shared lifts, and waited patiently for a cheap shared grand taxi to Assilah. There’s always a headman ready to guide you …its actually quite a good system. But good to get away from that busy place and arrive at the wee town of Assilah by the sea ( though crammed in with 6 others this time! ) .Miles of beaches along the coast en route.

Mint Tea

Mint Tea

My memories of this place are of children moving to and from school at all times of the day, great mint teas, Spanish being spoken, prayers called at 5am, and the one shop with beer for sale!

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