Please Excuse an Indulgence…
I don’t post much in the way of personal reflection here on Orchard Notes, but I’m feeling ruminative today, and I have a few ideas bouncing around in the old noggin that it might be helpful to commit to somewhere accessible, if only for my own future reference. Do please bear with me whilst I jot them down.
This year has been a bit of an odd one. I won’t re-hash the weird weather woes that sent various fruit trees into distinctly unusual growth and fruiting patterns – that’s all in my recent Fruit Harvest Highlights post – or the time pressures that have resulted in my stepping back from the Plot #79 allotment orchard that I’ve been looking after for the past four years.
Instead, I shall just put all that behind me and forge ahead, starting with: writing plans for the rest of 2023.
The one thing I’d really like to get finished and posted is the second part of my piece on the story of ‘Norfolk Beefing’ apples. I’ve already talked at length about the Norfolk Biffin dessert – or ‘sweetmeat‘ – that these apples were traditionally made into.
Part two, the story of the apple variety itself, has become something of a monster. I’ve uncovered so much information, and have spun out so many side-stories and personal theories about this apple and its close cousins, that the originally intended single blog post has morphed into a series of long-read pieces1I know, I’m really selling it to the TikTok kids, aren’t I?, all packed full of juicy details and fruity anecdotes.
What the whole thing needs – and what I’ve gradually been doing, on and off, for months now – is to give it a proper, thorough editing. Darlings need to be killed, or at least moved to an appendix of their very own, in order that the titanic word-count might be ruthlessly reduced. I plan to go full Strunk2“Omit needless words”, per The Elements of Style, by William Strunk on its ass. And I’ll be focusing on doing so for the rest of the year. Wish me luck!
In between and in the meantime, I’m aiming – time allowing etc. – to post up a few more quotes, seasonally appropriate historical orchard recipes, and maybe a random photo gallery or two. But this is probably the last long-read post I’ll put out in 20233Hey, stop cheering at the back….
Next year… well, we’ll see. There might be some changes a-coming on the career front. Said changes, if they do happen, could result in more time being available for posting content. I’d love to get some more folks involved in the Orchard Notes project as well, make it more of a collaborative writing experience. And there are a few research and writing ideas that I’ve been chewing over for a while now that I’d really like to get started on. Updates to follow in due course, no doubt.
Having stepped back from Plot #79, I’m now focusing my time and attention on the trained trees that I’m growing on my main allotment plot. By which I do, of course, mean “our” main allotment plot, as it’s now being run by myself, my wife Jo, and our extremely good friend Steve, who has done some absolutely sterling work with us this year. Hopefully he’ll continue to help us out as development plans are put into action in 2024.
Those plans, as they currently stand, are:
1) Removing one of our three stepover apple trees and three over-sized cordon apple trees (shown above) and the replacement of those four with around a dozen or so of the cordon apples that I grafted last year.
The trees in question were all planted back in early 2019, in the days when I was possessed of a lot more enthusiasm than knowledge. I’ve learned a lot about stepover- and cordon-growing in the intervening four years. Mainly: don’t try to grow trained forms of vigorous apple cultivars on vigorous rootstocks in the expectation of a good result.
So: time to cut my losses. I’ll be taking out a ‘Blenheim Orange’ stepover, and cordons of ‘Belle de Boskoop’ (I might re-graft this one to a dwarfing rootstock, see if it does better as a cordon), ‘Howgate Wonder’ (I’ll still have a stepover of that variety, which has been producing champion apples for the past few years, so that’s definitely staying), and what was supposed to be ‘Elstar’, which hasn’t fruited much at all, and the fruit it did manage to produce never looked much like ‘Elstar’ to me, so I’ll not be keeping it.
2) Planting some of the ‘Beefing’ apples that I grafted last year: ‘Norfolk Beefing’, ‘Striped Beefing’ and ‘Herefordshire Beefing’4Yes, okay, I admit: I do have a bit of a ‘Beefing’ obsession… but I will grow enough of them to make up a batch of biffins, one day. Just you see if I don’t. in place of the removed trees5Yes, I’m aware that brings a risk of apple re-plant diseases, but I don’t think the to-be-removed trees have suffered from much beyond the usual patches of canker, so I think the new trees should be okay. Hopefully.. They’ve all been grafted to M9 dwarfing rootstock so all being well they should make decent cordons once they’re established.
I’ve also got some grafted whips of a couple of my favourite early dessert apples: ‘Discovery’ and ‘Tydeman’s Early Worcester’. I’m all in favour of more early apples; ‘early’ means I might be able to get to eat them before the squirrels and pigeons do. I’ve also got a later-fruiting ‘Kidd’s Orange Red’ or two to plant out, via scions from the Plot #79 orchard. It’s a truly delicious apple when it’s on good form, so the more of those the merrier.
3) Re-wiring all the cordon supports that I put up – rather badly, as it turns out – in the past few years.
I know what I did wrong: the wire was too thick to tension properly, and I tried to do it on the cheap, without using the proper bits of kit. I shall be investing in a few dozen turnbuckles and re-doing the lot, properly, this time.
4) Air-potting a few more grafted trees, to grow as vertical cordons or narrow spindles.
Here’s the thing: I tried to grow an air-pot mini-orchard in my back garden a few years back.6You’ll note that we’ve returned to the era of more ideas and enthusiasm than knowledge or experience… so it didn’t go too well. But I reckon that now, with a much better grasp of the trees’ requirements7Thanks to an amazingly detailed comment left on another post by a correspondent in Australia – thank you again, Amanda!, and an opportunity to research and put together a proper irrigation and feeding plan over the winter, I think there’s potential for growing some decent trees and producing a decent amount of fruit in a mobile format. I shall aim to write up the results and post them as I go.
5) Grafting of a few more interesting apple cultivars; probably russets or perhaps cookers. (Note to self: order rootstocks!)
I do love grafting fruit trees, particularly apples. I just can’t help myself. I have to do ten or twenty a year, if only to keep my hand in. I think I might try a couple of pears next year as well. I potted up some rooted rootstock suckers last year and they seem to have taken nicely, so I could graft a couple of scions from the ‘Double de Guerre’ – a very good cooker indeed – on Plot #79 and see what happens. It’ll be good practice on free material, so definitely worth having a go.
6) Recording more information on the trees and their performance through the year, both for future reference and on the off-chance the details prove interesting and/or useful to others.
I’d like to see if I can get hold of some reasonably-priced CAD software – suggestions and recommendations would be gratefully received, via the comments – so I can draw up some plans of the plot, and I’d also – although this may prove beyond my capability – like to learn how to draw, either with pencil or pen and ink, so I can sketch the trees as they develop. I rather suspect my ambition may outweigh my talent there though.
Well, there you go. Plans, ideas, hopes, dreams. Time will tell whether any or all of them come to (literal) fruition.
How about you? What are your orcharding and fruit-growing plans for 2024? The weird, the wonderful, the slow and steady; do please feel free to share your own updates, via the comments. I’d love to hear what you have in the pipeline.
- 1I know, I’m really selling it to the TikTok kids, aren’t I?
- 2“Omit needless words”, per The Elements of Style, by William Strunk
- 3Hey, stop cheering at the back…
- 4Yes, okay, I admit: I do have a bit of a ‘Beefing’ obsession… but I will grow enough of them to make up a batch of biffins, one day. Just you see if I don’t.
- 5Yes, I’m aware that brings a risk of apple re-plant diseases, but I don’t think the to-be-removed trees have suffered from much beyond the usual patches of canker, so I think the new trees should be okay. Hopefully.
- 6You’ll note that we’ve returned to the era of more ideas and enthusiasm than knowledge or experience…
- 7Thanks to an amazingly detailed comment left on another post by a correspondent in Australia – thank you again, Amanda!