Robert Donald, on Clamp-Storing Apples

…permit me to inform you, for the benefit of your readers, how I keep my apples. Six years ago I had a large crop of the apple we call Golden Knob ; it is known at Covent Garden by the names of Old Maid or Old Lady, and is the best bearer of any I know. A neighbour of mine, Mr Woods, on the 9th Nov. 1819, gathered from one tree the immense quantity of 68 bushels and a half, not including what fell prematurely, so that there could not have been less than 70 bushels ; the tree is about 45 feet in diameter and 125 in circumference … That year I tried an experiment to preserve some apples in a ridge of earth, in the same way we do potatoes in this part of the country. I had a trench dug five feet wide, one foot below the surface of the ground, and 12 feet long. I covered the bottom and sides with turf, the grassy side upwards and then filled the space with Golden Knobs, and some French Crabs, about 2½ feet deep in the centre, sloping a little to the sides ; I then covered them close with turf, the grassy side next the fruit, to keep them clean. I next had the ridge covered with mould a foot thick, to keep out the frost, and exclude the external air. In the end of April 1820, I had them taken out in fine preservation. I again last Autumn kept 50 bushels in the same way with equal success.

Robert Donald, Woking Nursery, April 1826
From a letter printed in The Gardeners Magazine and Register of Rural and Domestic Improvement, volume I (1826)

I’m not saying a clamp is necessarily a better idea than a computer-controlled, refrigerated and atmospherically-optimised storage unit, but it’s going to be a hell of a lot cheaper.

Clearly though, Mr Donald didn’t have half the problems with ground-dwelling slugs that we do today. I have a strong suspicion that if I buried a supply of apples anywhere on our allotment I’d return to find them tunnelled into, hollowed out and mostly gone.

By the by, I ran a couple of calculations and I reckon that 68½ bushels of apples roughly equates to 5,480lbs, or 2,485.5Kg, or 2.5 Metric tons, give or take. From one tree. 45 feet in diameter. Wow.

If anyone has a spare bushel or two of apples and wants to give clamp storing a go, I’d love to know how you get on. Please do take plenty of photos and feel free to email me with the details. Or, if you post the results on your own blog, please let me know and I’ll definitely give you a shout-out.

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