Andalucia and a Million Olive Trees

 

 

Last year I reported on a trip to  the Jerte Valley in Extradamura where I saw many Cherry trees. And in fact upon my return i found them for sale at a farm shop in Angus! Last month ( March)  I was again in Spain and visited both Madrid and Cordoba Botanic Gardens. Both had collections of herbs and fruit trees, but Cordoba also had splendid indoor displays of Olive, Vine and other traditional crops used for making baskets. However my best experience was seeing the extent of Olive growing in the south of Spain as I literally cycled through 200km of Olive Orchards! I am beginning to get the impression that Spain does its horticulture at a big scale. If ever there were a disease to hit these trees, then the economy of the region would collapse overnight.

The last of the trees along the Via Verde del Aceite were being harvested as i cycled by in early March; I scrumped a few, and was surprised to find them bitter and producing a red stain on my fingers. So much for olive green!

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Apparently ( according to wiki) they all need to be partially fermented to make them palatable. I saw men using sticks and a Stihl machine with a long vibrating pole to shake off the last fruits, which were then raked up by hand.

Surprisingly few varieties are grown commercially, and the dozen or so countries growing them tend to have their own favourite varieties. It is a growing industry, olives as we know being associated with healthy diets. Spain is by far the biggest producer, followed by Italy, Greece, Turkey and Morocco, with US and China all getting in on the act it seems.

It is suggested that they are not self-fertile, so a mix of varieties is necessary. I couldn’t discern a mix of trees myself, but there were orchards with a slightly greener leaf colour. The pollen can cause considerable irritation and it is windblown to boot. Glad I don’t live next door to an Olive Farm!

My biggest concern was the fact that there was no ground flora beneath these orchards, or very rarely a patch of yellow flowers, and as a consequence the heavy rains have caused a considerable amount of erosion on the hillsides. The area I travelled through was predominantly limestone and I would have expect to see a good number of flowers.

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Pruning was being carried out in many orchards, and seems to be quite brutal with big limbs being cut out of the middle of the trees with chainsaws. Presumably this is to let light in, and to facilitate easier harvesting with many horizontal branches. The spacing between the trees was very wide, well over 8m. Only later from the train window did I see some intensive orchards, with trees planted very close together in lines 3m apart or so. These were quite possibly pruned with hedgetrimmers. I wonder what the productivity is of these trees compared to the more extensive systems? Unfortunately i couldn’t find anyone to ask.

However i’m now back home and enjoying some big Olives Margaret bought at the Deli in Dunkeld. Alas I don’t know where they came from but I will be taking more interest as to where they originated and the variety in future!

 

Andrew March 2018.

 

Wild Crabs and Runaways

Crab Apple

 

What an amazing harvest this year, ‘bushelfuls’ of apples and some very big ripe pears too! Our apple masher and press has been put to very good use, the record probably achieved at a busy Blairgowrie Market with over 350 litres of juice produced. Many people are noticing that a mix of cookers and eaters makes the best juice, the extra acidity giving it a wow factor.

The William’s pear tree opposite the cross roads at Caputh was hanging with beautiful ripe yellow pears just last week. Glad to see someone has picked them now. And many a pear on a south facing wall have done well this year.

However, our heritage pears in Scotland can often be like little bullets for weeks, then suddenly go soft in the middle! Very different to shop bought pears. You need to keep testing them and get them on the right day.

The warm weather in May really got our fruit expanding well, my James Grieves and many others being a good size and colour this year. Despite the wet weather in August, scab lesions have been relatively low this year.

Here at Middlebank we have hardly been able to keep up with the falling fruit….and many have rolled down the hill to the delight of our neighbours! There are disadvantages to planting trees on a hill! Also our Worcester Pearmain has been underplanted with various perenials and roses, all making collecting windfalls impossible. So the lesson is, plant your trees in your lawn ideally!

Budding percentages were very high last August, resulting in a very good crop of trees for sale this winter. And they have continued to grow in the warm summer, so feel free to come and inspect before ordering, though some popular varieties are now almost sold out.

Foraging ( and scrumping) has been very rewarding this season too, ranging from Seaweeds from Saltcoats, Mirabelles from Murthly and Birch Boletes from Birnam….. but note we only take a few for our own use. We saw a forager waltz off to a local chef with what he thought was a basket of Chanterelles in Dunkeld, and no protest from Margaret could dissuade him otherwise of his catch! Beware a little bit of knowledge can be dangerous! We have avoided the local hotels as a consequence!

My favourite little Crab Apple high up on Birnam Hill was fabulous in flower, but alas produced a poor crop of crabs. I have saved a few from the voles, and intend to sow them for replanting somewhere wild in a few years!

Happy foraging and harvesting all!

August Sales Fortnight

AUGUST SALES FORTNIGHT
at Plants with Purpose & Appletreeman

Middlebank Cottage, Smith’s Brae, Bankfoot PH1 4AH

VISIT US ANY TIME BETWEEN

14th August and 31st August 2017

and pick up some bargains in potted fruit trees, edible plants and herbs!

SPECIAL OFFERS on EDIBLE HEDGE PLANT COLLECTIONS!
DEALS & OFFERS ON SELECTED HERBS & EDIBLES!
VIRTUAL GIVEAWAYS ON MYSTERY APPLE TREES!
HALF-PRICE TABLE!

We will be OPEN each Sunday afternoon and all day Monday anyway – but ring or email to visit any other time. Here’s directions on how to get here.

You can also pick up a hardcopy of our 2017/18 BARE ROOT FRUIT TREE LIST and pre-order trees for Winter!

www.plantsandapples.com
email@plantsandapples.com
Tel: 01738 787278 / 0774 998 7213

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.

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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!

 

 

 

 

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