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

 

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.

Tree Orders

We are making preparations to lift bare root trees in 3 weeks time, so please get your orders in soon for fruit trees and soft fruit ! Our catalogue can be found on the website or just send your enquiry by email.

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.

IMG_0267 (1).jpg

 

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!

 

 

 

 

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

1461249440561

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

Read our 2016 Catalogue

Hurrah! Our 2016 Catalogue is Out!

Inside, you’ll find lovely lists of purposeful plants to choose from this year, from ‘plants on the wild side’ to ‘how to be soft on fruit’! Also, look out for Wild Flower Plugs (new!), Fruit Trees, Workshops and Consultancy.

PLUS, as it’s our 15th anniversary, we’ve got some special offers for 2016. Skip to the back page to find out more.

 Read the catalogue below or click here to download a copy (700kb)

 

Happy browsing!

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….

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?