Wade Muggleton’s The Orchard Book (Permanent Publications, October 2021, r.r.p. £12.95) is both a practical guide to orchard management and a very personal insight into one orchardist’s permaculture-rooted ethos, methodology and long experience of growing fruit trees.
The book offers a blend of entirely sensible advice, ideas and guidance, along with clear examples of when and how the same knowledge has been applied by the author to establish and develop two very different scale orchards: one a garden-sized permaculture demonstration plot of mostly trained forms or suitably sized garden trees, and the other a field orchard of orchard-sized heritage varieties and cultivars; a living archive of vintage fruit trees: apples, pears, plums and more.
The author, Wade Muggleton, is a long-serving member of the Marcher Apple Network, a dedicated group of fruit enthusiasts whose aim is to preserve and continue the orcharding heritage of the Welsh Marches counties of Wales and England. He has been growing orchard trees in his home permaculture garden for two decades and both worked in and taught agriculture and horticulture years before. Wade has drawn on those all years of experience and his deep interest in permaculture to distil his knowledge into this volume. The result is this sensible, easily applicable guide to orcharding methods that goes beyond the traditional setup of neat rows of fruit trees in neat-mown grass sward and highlights the wide range of ecological, and environmental benefits that permaculture orchards can provide.
After the introductory chapters on the history and vast variety of orchard fruits, the practical advice begins with sections on thinking about the purpose of your orchard, and maximising the usefulness of the available space – whatever its size – by considering intercropping the trees with soft fruit or vegetables, or keeping suitable livestock, such as chickens or geese, which can also assist with pest and weed control. Then there’s some good information on successful tree selection, including cross-pollination requirements and the importance of appropriate rootstock choice, and a look at some of the potential alternatives to apples; such as the more obvious pears, plums and cherries, but also quinces, medlars, damsons, bullaces, gages, figs, mulberries and more.
Wade follows up with a section of solid advice on sourcing your trees by purchasing them – sourcing them from a specialist fruit nursery is recommended and I definitely couldn’t agree more – or by bench-grafting your own young trees, or converting a mature tree by field-grafting new scions onto the existing stock. Then we move onto planting and early establishment of new trees, including the need for regular fertilisation and irrigation, and managing grasses – which do need to be controlled in order to avoid the development of potentially tree-smothering scrub plants – in a larger orchard space. Wade has his own small flock of three sheep who are kept in his field orchard and certainly get the job done, although they might not be an option for everyone, and do come with the added requirement of reasonably heavy duty tree guards to prevent them nibbling the bark of the trees. Alternatives to
The last few chapters cover harvesting and processing the fruits of your orchard labours – making juice, cider, dried fruit, preserves and more, along with an honest appraisal of the economic potential (or, sadly lack of it) for selling your heritage fruit varieties – and managing the orchard long-term, which includes a section on pruning techniques, as well as the importance of encouraging wildlife into your orchard. Finally, there are chapters on getting involved with the wider community, whether that’s a community orchard group or an organisation such as the Marcher Apple Network, whose members undertake research into historical varieties as well as growing them on for preservation and posterity.
I hugely enjoyed a visit Wade’s home and field orchards last November and as well as a full tour of both, I was given a copy of the book, in return for the promise of an honest review. And I can honestly say that this is one of the best compact guides to the theory and practice of orchard establishment and management that I’ve read to-date. Other titles may include more information or go into more detail on individual elements of orcharding, but you could definitely make the case that more isn’t always better.
If you’re looking to set up a new orchard or the custodian of a recently-established orchard, are wondering about the next steps to take, but don’t want to get bogged down in too much discussion of individual fruit types or particular growing methods, then The Orchard Book covers all the key subjects in just the right amount of detail to set you in the right direction with a base of solid principles to work from. Wade’s own experiences – successes and occasional learning-curves alike – are clearly explained and easily digested, and the book is packed with the author’s own photos to illustrate the points and principles he’s putting across.
All in all, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend The Orchard Book to orchard novices, recent converts and old hands alike. It’s a superb, -advice-packed resource and at the same time a fascinating story, engagingly told. Do seek it out.
The Orchard Book by Wade Muggleton is available from Permanent Publications (r.r.p. £12.95) in paperback. You can order a copy direct from the publisher and it ought to be available from all good independent or chain high street and/or online booksellers, although only the Kindle edition is available from Amazon.co.uk.
|⇧1||Including some of Wade’s own seedlings and collected wildings, some of which sound very interesting indeed.|
|⇧2||Wade literally wrote the book on the ‘Worcester Black’ pear, so of course that excellent old variety features quite prominently and quite rightly so.|
|⇧3||Wade has an interesting take on the timing of maintenance pruning, which I’m keen to discuss further at some point…|
|⇧4||I’ve been meaning to write up an ‘Orchard Visit’ piece ever since and hope to find time for that before too long.|
|⇧5||Affiliate link. If you do decide to buy a copy via Amazon, I’ll receive a small referral fee, at no extra cost to you, which I promise to put towards my next fruit book purchase (trust me, I really don’t take much persuading on that score…)|