Cox Apples

An unusual occurrence this year! Well not the drought, but I am genuinely astonished to see little Cox Apples growing this year on an M26 open grown bush tree. In it’s 7 years this is by far the most productive season.

Cox Orange Pippins, to be correct, are a very well known late ripening sweet, with a hint of acid, apples familiar to us all in the supermarkets. We have been developing this fruit in Kent for a century, to the neglect of many more easily produced varieties. Because in fact it is notoriously difficult, even in good summers, needing a lot of spraying and watering. And for the commercial grower, it just isn’t as remunerative as other moderns.

But, hey, we like to munch this little apple in January don’t we? It is the “crisp’ that all my customers refer to in their choice of variety. It is thought to be derived from Ribston Pippin, which is altogether a much more vigorous tree though not that productive in Scotland either. Except for this year with a good number of fruits appearing on my trees. I look forward to tasting this highly esteemed Parent of Cox!

If you have a nice south facing wall, then yes go for a Cox, preferably the self-fertile clone. Otherwise, go for Sunset, the nearest option. Again quite small, but productive in my garden and elsewhere.

Charles Ross has some Cox parentage, but it is larger, and really a dual purpose apple. It has that characteristic russetting though.

Jupiter is the triploid version, its big, ribbed and very colourful. It makes for a spectacular sight in September.

Kidd’s Orange Red has many similarities, its larger too and a late ripener, and a lovely flavour.  Tydeman’s Late Orange is another Cox hybrid, being crossed with Laxton’s Superb it makes a nice late dessert.

Happy munching 2018!

Kidd's

Kidd’s Orange Red

Codlins and Pies

The Codlin apples are of  very great interest to us in Scotland as I come across them growing successfully in odd places.  They are remarkably hardy, albeit not the most attractive or the longest keeping of fruit, nor usually sufficiently large for a really good pie. Always yellow or green skinned, and rarely any coloured flush except for a bit of pinky-brown! They are always long and narrow.

The season with me starts with Early Julien, the most yellow skinned of my trees, and then Keswick Codlin, an early thin skinned cooker that saw its heyday when New Zealand apples stole the late apple market. It makes for one of your earliest pies, and is very pretty in flower. If you are able to cope with the rainfall of The lakes, then you must be of worth!

I have come across a hedgerow of Emneth Early trees in Falkirk, and only realised as the fruit was ripening! Again, a bit small, light yellow and well ribbed, but can make a wee snack too.

Another Codlin that I have happened across is Mank’s Codlin or Eve Apple of Scotland.  Oh my how many apples can you get on a small tree! These varieties are certainly precocious!  I can munch on these fruits when one falls off the tree in the orchard. The “Eve” probably refers to how many centuries these apples have been cultivated.

The neatest little almost weeping variety is Golden Spire, a good many that still survive of 80 to 100 years old in our village. Someone must have been grafting it and offering it around!

The bruiser of the group is our Tower of Glamis, a triploid and a giant! We have a little spindlebush on the pathway which produces a dozen or so massive apples. I constantly wonder how it manages to produce them from such a small tree.

Other contenders with Codlin parentage could be Liddel’s Seedling, and they are not so different to the Costards, such as Lord Derby and Catshead. Lord Derby is the deepest green of the group, medium sized and the one branch on my family tree is always strung with excellent mid-season cookers.

I also have a Burr Knot apple, one that roots from cuttings, which also has green ribbed little fruits. I suspect if we sowed the seeds of many of our apples, over time they would all revert to little Codlins!

Keswick Codlin

Wild greens worth doing

So, there I was sitting at the picnic table with a mound of burdock stems in front of me, ready to set about the tortuous job of peeling away all the stringy, indigestible outer layer, to leave the delectable, succulent inner core, which would be sauteed with butter and water for dinner.

An hour later, or thereabouts, I stopped.

The huge mound had dwindled to a tiny portion which would degenerate further on cooking. The problem is, when you take off the stringy bits, there sometimes isn’t much burdock stem left. Moreover, when it arrives on your dinner plate you find that you never got them all in any case, and only 50% of what you’ve cooked is tender. Nothing wrong with the flavour, but was it really worth the hassle? Especially the hour peeling away, while gazing longingly across the garden at my wee plantation of Sutherland Kale, whose tender green sprouts and leaves could have been gathered in 3 minutes!

So I thought, given you can grow really delicious vegetables pretty easily, how about listing my Top Ten really worthwhile wild greens – the ones whose flavour, abundance and/or ease of preparation make them worth the effort. Opinions will vary, but here’s my choices:

  1. Nettle tops. Obviously. No shortage, and the number of things you can do with them easily counterbalances the need to wear gloves.
  2. Ramsons (wild garlic). Equally obvious – easy to pick and packed with flavour and many uses, raw and cooked.
  3. Good King Henry. Anything in the spinach family is good, even better when it’s so packed with flavour.
  4. Garlic Mustard. You can’t go wrong with the attributes of both garlic and mustard, and the leaves are big and available so early in the year. The biggest ones are nice stuffed with rice and beans and things.
  5. Bistort (Pudding Dock). Easy to pick and use, and essential for Dock Pudding of course.
  6. Hogweed flower buds. Big round balls of unopened flowers, delicious fried, with or without batter. Dead easy.
  7. Comfrey. Some people say it should not be eaten. I love the young leaves as a tender, succulent vegetable or soup. Not much toxin in them at that stage, if any.
  8. Sea Beet. Another spinachy thing, and easy to find and pick if you are in the right part of the country. Wish I was! (In some ways.)sea beet
  9. Solomon’s Seal. Caution, because it’s not so common in its true wild form, though there are plenty of garden escapes. Another one to take in moderation, but as a wild asparagus substitute, the flavour is superb and it isn’t even stringy.
  10. Ground Elder. Oh I know. But I am not winding you up. The flavour is great, the abundance is legendary, and it’s always good to east your weeds.

Before anything’s ready in the veg plot, a combination of nettles, bistort, ground elder , ramsons and comfrey provide us with spring greens that are a joy to taste.

What are your favourites?

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, 2017

 

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