Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Autumn is for apples


AUTUMN IS FOR APPLES      

Autumn has appeared and the Scottish apple harvest has started at a fast pace. We may not have a high acreage of commercial orchards yet, (if any), but there is a massive interest in planting apple trees from the small garden scale to small estates, schools, edible landscape groups increasing the biodiversity and in renewing old orchards.
There is a resurgence of interest in trying to achieve a healthy lifestyle by getting a plot of land or garden to grow some fresh fruit and vegetables. The smells, tastes and flavours of home grown produce picked when fully ripe and consumed within a few seconds to a few hours is an experience to savour. Supermarket produce just cannot compare.
Many varieties of top fruit grown extensively in Scotland are now almost extinct. Renewed interest in our heritage has focussed on retrieving whatever remnants of this industry can be found and bringing them back into production. These old varieties had a flavour to die for, but may have matured unevenly, maybe not handled well with mechanised harvesting and packing equipment and liable to the occasional blemish, so went unloved by the major supermarkets. However people are now buying from farmers markets and the small grocer so heritage apples can supply these outlets and give the discerning public an apple to enjoy.
 
Apple, pear and plum orchards once flourished in our fertile Carse of Gowrie supplying local markets, but trade is now done on a global scale with fresh apples and pears coming into supermarkets from all over the world. This trade is driven by profit with appearance, marketability, cheap to produce and good shelf life given higher priority than flavour, texture and fragrance.
I can understand why young kids take no pleasure in eating an apple a day if it was not home grown. For the last five months all my apples came from the supermarket as I am only self sufficient in apples for seven months, ie. end of August to end of March.

The first apples ripen

However at the end of August my first Arbroath Pippin, also known as the Oslin was ready. It was sheer heaven with a very distinctive aromatic flavour. They must be eaten frequently as they do not store well, so I only grow a small batch. These are quickly followed by another early, Discovery, and again a very tasty and distinctive apple. James Grieve is very popular in Scotland, but I cannot say it is one of my favourites.
Fiesta will soon be ready then Red Falstaff and then my best late for storage is Red Devil. Do not eat this one fresh from the tree as it takes a few weeks of storage to be at its best.
Last spring I grafted three new varieties (Pearl, Park Farm Pippin and Lord Roseberry), onto my old James Grieve and they have all taken beautifully, so I look forward to next year when maybe one of them may give me an apple or two.
The apple crop this year is excellent. The spring was good so pollination was perfect, then the wet summer gave us good growth and big apples. The crop needed a serious thinning just after the June drop in mid July. However wet weather increased the incidence of brown rot, then more gales dropped a few more apples, but I still have a huge crop. Just a pity we couldn’t get a bit more sunshine to sweeten up the fruit, (they would be perfect for the supermarket)

No pears this year

Last year was so wet, (almost as bad as this year) that my Comice pear tree got totally infected with scab wiping out the whole crop as well as the foliage. It had to go, so I looked around for a good flavoured pear that had disease resistant leaves. Glendoick Garden Centre came up with an excellent Beurre Hardy and well known horticulturist and fruit grower Willy Duncan came up with The Christie. Grafts from these two have now replaced most of my Comice with growth so strong and sturdy that I think they will fruit next year.
I covered the topic of grafting last March, and archived it on my blog (scottish artist and his garden blogspot) for anyone interested in trying it out to replace a poor variety with a good one known to do well in this area. It sounds very specialised and technical, but is amazingly easy as the small grafts are just itching to leap into growth at any cost. It is hard to fail, even with my broken pen knife, a plastic supermarket bag cut into strips to tie them with and some Vaseline to seal the cut ends if you can’t get grafting wax. Just make sure the sap is rising (usually about flowering time) so the bark can separate easily when cut to allow you to push the graft in.

Scottish apple events

Megginch Castle is host to a guided tour by local apple expert Andrew Lear showing visitors around an old orchard being revitalised. Megginch was home to The Bloody Ploughman apple, named after the tragic incident when a ploughman was caught stealing some apples to feed his starving family. He was shot on the spot dropping his apples. An apple tree grew up from one of the seeds producing an apple with blood red skin. You can also see some excellent heritage pears including Black Worcester, Catilac and Jargonelle. Tour begins at 2pm on Wednesday 5th October as part of the Carse of Gowrie Orchard Festival starting on the 1st October 2011.

Scottish Orchards run by John Hancox aims to promote apple tree planting in local communities and schools to give youngsters the opportunity to plant, grow, harvest and taste fresh home grown Scottish apples. Mini orchards are being established in schools all over Scotland including our own Kingspark School. More information at www.fruitfulschools.com

Abundance Edinburgh is a group of volunteers taking action on food waste. They arrange the harvest of apples and other fruit from gardens or the wild then some get converted into jams and chutneys for redistribution to local charities.

Scottish cider is now being produced locally at Cairn o Mohr with apples harvested from the Carse of Gowrie and another cidermaker, Thistly Cross,  has started up in East Lothian making award winning ciders blending local harvested apples with strawberries.

The future for Scottish grown apples looks very rosy.

End

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