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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Spotting the first Hazel flowers

I realised the other day that I now need my reading glasses if I’m going to be the first in the family to spot the 2016 female hazel flowers. I have to be a certain distance away from the tree to be able to focus on the bulging, pink-flushed flower buds. But, at that distance, I don’t stand a prayer of spotting the flowers, on account on them being so minute – not much more than pin-head sized. In their favour, they’re bright red, and very pretty, like tiny wee starfish.

corylus contorta

Hazels are monoecious (male and female flowers are separate, but borne on the same tree), and the male catkins have been there since before Christmas. Up to now, they have been tightly furled, but are showing signs of opening. Wind will blow clouds of ripe pollen onto the female flowers, and nuts will follow! Wild hazels are self-incompatible, so you need more than one bush to get a harvest and generally the more the merrier. Our local hazel copse – which we don’t own but just act as though we do – has a hundred or so, and many seedlings coming along. I planted a single wild hazel in my garden 12 years ago, and have never seen a nut on it – not surprisingly!

Named hazelnut or filbert cultivars like ‘Cosford’, ‘Hall’s Giant’ and ‘Nottingham’ are often claimed to be self-fertile, and we’ve now added a couple of these to the vicinity of my first, barren attempt at nut growing, so things should change! But the one variety in my garden that’s started producing nuts is the one I least expected to – my Contorted Hazel (Corylus avellana ‘Contorta’). I know “Harry Lauder’s Walking Stick”, as it’s also known, is a bit of a Marmite shrub – but I love it for the sheer weirdness of the twisty branches seen from the kitchen window in winter – and its precocity in producing real, home-grown hazelnuts!

Meantime, must remember the specs on the next walk round the hazel copse….

The Book Of Pears By Joan Morgan

The Book of Pears by Joan Morgan, Ebury Press 2015. Priced at £45 hardback.

This book has been long awaited by those of us in the fruit world….so here are my initial observations.

Grey Benvie

Its 304 pages long, and takes more or less the same format as her previous book on Apples. There are 182 pages of general information about pears, followed by a directory of pear varieties. This directory is much shorter thean the same section for apples. This reflects the fewer numbers of pear accessions at the National Fruit Collection at Brogdale in Kent, from where the information was gleaned. There are one or two varieties listed here however which are not currently held in the collection e.g. Achan om page 194.

The number of Scottish varieties and those varieties very much associated with Scotland are of most interest to me. This includes the aforementioned Achan, and also Ayrshire Lass, Craig’s Favourite, Crawford, Green Pear of Yair, Hessle, Jargonelle, Laird Lang, Maggie, Summer Bergamot, Winter Nelis. The last one was apparently recommended only for under glass in Scotland!

This leaves a big gap as no description of Grey Benvie, Seggieden and many more of the Carse of Gowrie pears receive no treatment here.

There is a brief mention on page 67 of Gold Knaps, and on page 119 a drawing of 5 different varieties grown in the Carse of Gowrie. Unfortunately I have never seen a description of the ‘’Busked Lady of Port Allan’’. It may well still exist!

The early chapters deal with the Monastic connections, and later French influence on our pear culture, equally relevant to the areas with surviving pear trees today in Scotland. I havn’t seen any reference to the Double Fleur, either in the first section or the descriptions., and I know of at least one of these surviving in the Carse of Gowrie.

The pear key at the back seems a bit too large,taking two pages, but is simple enough to comprehend. We do have to take ripening dates with a pinch of salt for Scotland.

Without doubt to my mind, the record of flowering dates and relative vigour of all the varieties is of immense value to me in determining pollination compatibility. The apple directory is a pretty accurate record of successional flowering here in Scotland, and I would expect the pear records to be equally so. This information is reinforced on page 191.

As before , the fruit paintings are superb and painstakingly accurate, it is very enjoyable just turning the pages to view these alone. Use a finger to blank out the names, and you can test yourself!

I have yet to read the whole book, but couldn’t help my excitement to comment here…

Grey Benvie Pears in Dr. Hulbert’s collection, Longforgan

So Joan, when are we going to see the definitive Plum book to complete the trilogy?

Walnuts In Scotland

Walnuts

Walnuts were highly valued as a timber tree centuries ago, but 2015 was a good year in Scotland for the nuts too…our neighbours ‘Buccaneer’’ produced a good crop of nuts. So I thought I would do a bit of research on varieties and their relative merits. Maybe we should be growing more in Scotland? They can even be grown as a hedgerow system, not unlike many apple orchards around the world today.

I know of a few very big old walnut trees in Scotland, so I imagine a need for a less vigorous cultivar would be very useful for most of us. My neighbour’s tree is 8 years old and already romping away at about 12m and growing a meter a year!

It is presumably self-fertile as there are no others in the area.

We have a few seed sown trees for sale here at the nursery.

 

Walnut Tree

Walnut Tree

The Common walnut is Juglans regia, the black walnut, and is native to Persia, Juglans nigra. Is native to North America. Both can produce edible nuts.

The fruits are actually a drupe not a nut! You can expect cropping from 3 to 5 years from many varieties.

Romania is the biggest producer with production of up to 23 tonnes per hectare, but there’s a wide distribution of production from China, through India, Iran, France, and increasing production in Morocco.

( see: http://www.highatlasfoundation.org/).

Over 30 varieties are listed in Wikipaedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Walnut ), but here are the most commonly available varieties in UK and abroad:

Buccaneer – A self-fertile Dutch round nut variety. Good for pickling. Upright tree.

Fernor – A new precocious flowering French variety.

Franquette – an old variety, a tip bearer! Doesn’t need much pruning.

Rond De Montignac – another old French variety with smaller nuts and late to leaf out.

Broadview – supposedly less vigorous than others.. self-fertile, precocious, and reputedly frost hardy. From Canada.

Saturn – A Czech variety 1971

Rita – From Carpathians, a smaller tree with thin -shelled nuts.

Lara- a commercial French variety, compact, needs a pollinator

There are many varieties more in France and around the world!

The RHS suggest taking out the central leader if you want to keep the trees in check. Also avoid pot bound plants as the tap -root will be damaged and they hate transplanting so don’t move them once they are planted.

Do not plant them near to apples as the roots exhibit allelopathy – preventing other trees growing. Most need at least 7m spacing between trees.

Grey squirrels, leaf gall, anthracnose and Codlin moth can all be problems with Walnut trees.

So is there anyone in Scotland interested in growing and trialling varieties for a commercial crop of walnuts, i.e. a hedge of them?

 

 

Aronias

You may have come across Aronia juice, a new superfood full of anti-oxidants, but are you aware we can grow them here in Scotland? Aronias have the common name ,Chokeberries, a name which doesn’t do it any favours!

It is a small deciduous shrub, several of which I have been growing in my field for the black fruits and lovely white flowers in spring.The fruits are  about 7mm wide, similar to blueberries or even blackcurrants, and with no big seed inside like a damson.

There are several species and varieties. The Black Chokeberry is A. melanocarpa, A. arbutifolia is the Red Chokeberry, the hybrid of the two is the Purple Chokeberry, prunifolia. I haven’t tasted the red form, I wonder if there’s one in a botanic garden somewhere?  They are reportedly sweeter.

They are all native to North Eastern United States. though some naturalization has occurred in Europe. They have a long history of use by native American Indians as a food, medicine and a dye plant.

They are very hardy, and equally heat tolerant in the US zones from 3 to 8.

The varieties “Brilliant’ , ‘Nero’, ‘Viking’ and ‘Autumn Magic’ can all be found in Garden Centres and have been selected for their fabulous autumn colouring. They are however all strikingly attractive wee shrubs for the shrubbery or woodland edge. Viking can grow to 6 feet, Nero is shorter, at 4 feet, but has larger fruit.

The leaves are reportedly used to make a tea, but it is the slightly earthy tasting, mildly sweet black berries in summer which are of most interest. My two year old little black chokeberry bushes produced a really nice crop last summer. Eaten straight off the bush I rather liked them ….so many apples and pears these days are too sweet for my taste.

The native black chokeberry is only 1.5m high and spreads by root suckers to about 3m wide, so it forms a nice compact little bush. The red form is a touch taller.

Aronias have been grown in Europe for a long time now, but only recently been considered a commercially viable crop. In Poland, many thousands of hectares have been planted for juicing. They use a selected form, Galicjanka, a tetraploid Nero form specially chosen for planting in rows and for harvesting by machine. It was selected at the Institute of Pomology in Albigowa, South East Poland for its productivity and evenness of ripening.Despite being of the rosaceae family, they are all reported to be relatively pest free and tolerant of a wide range of soil conditions, though preferably not too wet, and definitely not too dry. Not a problem here! Watch out for powdery mildew though.

Varieties are all propagated by root suckers. We have a few to sell here at the nursery ; more varieties will be sourced and trialed in future years!

A.Lear. 2016.

 

 

 

 

 

Grafting – A Manual – my New Book

Books: The Manual of Plant Grafting By Peter T. Macdonald

ISBN 978-1-60469-463-5 Timber Press, London, Portland.

 

This is great addition to my library of practical horticultural books – no it is not a coffee table glossy, but 228 pages of really good advice on why, how and when to carry out grafting.

The author, Peter Macdonald, has travelled widely in his research for this book, and brought together 9 chapters covering the history of grafting, the biology of plant union processes, as well the more practical ways of carrying out grafting.

He has been able to cover both old techniques and current thinking and practises, as well as ideas where horticulturalists may go in the future. The photos used throughout are excellent, the diagrams well drawn.

As a producer of fruit trees I find almost every aspect of my operation is covered here, bar a few peculiarities which each propagator has. The relative benefits of different techniques are well recorded so no lack of information here for the aspiring student or amateur.

Of particular relevance to me is the techniques used in fruit production: whip and tongue and chip budding. On page 131 the whip graft is rightly recommended for new grafters, and a good starting point once competence with the knife is achieved. Whilst there is no substitute for seeing the techniques mentioned being carried out, on pages 133 to 136, Peter’s lengthy description, photos and diagrams of the whip and tongue are a great asset. The danger to fingers and hands is obvious in the top drawing on page 135….do get this demonstrated before you try it is my advice!

On Chip Budding, it is stated that the tapes need to be removed in 6 weeks after budding( page 153). In Scotland, I have found that no detriment occurs to the percentage bud-take even if they are left till late winter, and it fits into my work schedule to do this task later in the year.

The Appendix, ( appendices?), pages 179-203 are a very useful resource in a tabular form listing the methods of grafting for over 220 scion  / rootstock combinations plus top worked combinations and a list of current fruit tree rootstocks.

The 4 pages of references and 14 pages of index just finish off this book nicely.

The Grafter’s Handbook by RJ Garner has been the trusted grafter’s bible for 50 years, now this is a very well produced and edited additional resource for the keen horticultural students and amateurs of the future wanting to know more of the subject. I thoroughly recommend this book to these students!

 

Andrew Lear

2015.

Cider Apples

Whiteways Cider factory was about 5 miles from my home in Devon and we used to scrump rather horrible apples from their orchards as kids….probably Langworthy, and Dunkerswell Late among many others. And as a teenager of course I drunk some pretty rough ciders from big round barrels! As there is a great buzz in Scotland surrounding cider making and cider apples this year I thought I’d post a few thoughts on the subject. We have in the past grown Morgan’s Sweet, Tom Putt and Fair Maid of Taunton….and I have really enjoyed browsing through Liz Copas’s ”A Somerset Pomona” over the Xmas break. In this book there are some varieties reminiscent of my childhood climbing and scrumping trees! Cider apples come in different categories according to their taste….so don’t worry about what they look like in the books as it is the cider making qualities that are important here. In a nutshell they are categorised as Sharp, Bittersharp, Bittersweet and Sweet, and may be early mid or late ripening. At our cider sessions last year it was possible to catch these elements in different Scottish apples; getting a mix of these flavours is how to make a good cider.  Going for say a sweet and bittersharp mix would be good. Or you could make different single variety ciders and then blend before drinking. A bittersweet and sharp mix would in my mind do the same. The tannin content (the browning) of an apple is useful and the specific gravity content of the juice is important to cider making, giving you the necessary ingredients for alcohol production! Of equal importance to us here are the productive qualities of cider varieties, as there is no point in planting a cider tree that just isn’t going to produce anything under Scottish conditions; many won’t even ripen properly, and are just too late for our climate.  So, over the following year I will be propagating a small range of specially selected scab resistant, early, and precocious trees, ready for sale in winter 2015. A small amount of scab is acceptable for juicing, but not so much that the trees and production suffer. There are a few examples of cider trees in Scotland that I know of, and most are large and relatively unproductive. Growing central leader trees on a semi-vigorous stock is probably the way forward for us. Don’t be fooled by the unpruned large Herefordshire trees as a system, it would not suit us all here, unless you have a large acreage to play with. Our likely mix of sharps and bittersweets, sweets and bittersharps will be among the following: Langworthy, Porter’s perfection, Stoke Red, White Jersey, Brown’s and Slack Ma Girdle and  others.  Traditionally cider apples are grown as very big trees and they are shaken free of all their fruit. OK if you can wait 5 years for a crop, but most of our customers want to be making juice sooner. So we will be grafting some mm106 semi-dwarfing trees as well as vigorous M25 trees for sale in a year’s time. 79 Watch this space! And best wishes to all you apple tree growers for the new year…. and remember to Wassail your trees on January 17th!