Christmas dinner and cider competition
For the second year, we held our Christmas dinner and cider competion at the Barista in Wigton.
Each year, the North Cumbria Orchard Group hold a Christmas Dinner to mark the end and of the apple year. This year’s event was held at the Barista restaurant in Wigton on Thus 14th Dec with 25 members attending. The event was very successful – possibly indicated by the number of bottles and glasses on the table!
Those attending the dinner were entered into a free draw for 10 Litres of the Cider Group’s 2023 vintage. This was won by Alexander who seemed very pleased with his prize!
A cider competition is normally held at the end of the dinner to gauge the quality of the cider produced in the region – with a few commercial brands thrown in to provide a comparison. There was a great addition to the competition this year with the introduction of a prize for the winner of an inscribed tankard donated by Eileen Rees in memory of Ronald Graham (last year's winner). The results are shown in the attached document.
The competition was technically won by an oak-aged commercial craft cider, but was closely followed among the members' entries by Mark Evens's limited edition keeved Dabinett, which therefore won the Ronald Graham cup.
So what do the results tell us? Any lessons to be learnt?
- Mark entered two identical ciders – but prepared in two different ways. The best of the two, and the overall winner among the members' entries, was prepared by keeving. The definition of keeving according cider.org.uk is :-
“'Keeving' is a way of making the ultimate style of naturally sweet sparkling cider. This is traditional both in Western England and the northwest of France, but whereas it has virtually died out as a commercial proposition in the UK, it is still very much alive for the production of ‘cidre bouché’ in France. The underlying principle is to remove nutrients from the juice by complexation with pectin at an early stage, to ensure a long slow fermentation which finishes and can be bottled while still sweet and without any fear of excessive re-fermentation later.”
So perhaps NCOG members should consider this method for next year. If so, look up 'keeving kit' on the internet
- Cider doesn’t seem to age well. It’s not like wine where it matures over the time. So the Vintage Annie Elizabeth which won last year and the Covid Cider (2022) both dropped down in the scoring. (Mark disagrees - it is largely a matter of taste - last year's winner was not fully fermented and therefore slightly sweet - see the point below)
- There seems to be a definite preference towards sweetness. The Keeved, Pear Cider, & Holly Cottage apple juice (alcohol-free cider!) all scored in the upper half of the table.
- The Asda offering still held up in the scoring – with some giving it high scores. Perhaps the artificial sweeteners used attracts some people (see point 3 above) although others described it as chemical and nasty.
- Would it be worth trying try to get hold of an oak barrel to mature some of our cider? Is this really what Sheppy do?
Cider Making 2023/24
Successful NCOG Cider Pressing for 2023
We had our annual Cider Club pressing on Sunday 26th Nov.
It took place at a new site. Mike Taylor’s place near Wigton and we were made very welcome by Mike and his family.
Eighteen people booked over the whole day – but there were also visitors and friends of NCOG who showed up to support the event. The weather was very kind the whole day. No rain and not too cold. A typical Cumbrian Autumn day.
A steady stream of people bringing apples for the community cider resulted in 180 litres of cider which will mature over the year for packaging next fall. This was well down on the 360 litres produced last year. This reflected most people’s experience of the apple growing year which, with some exceptions, was very poor due to early frosts and a very wet summer.
We had some technical questions on the use of Campden tablets at the start of the brewing process which Mark was able to clarify when he turned up.
Campden tablets are used to kill off any strains of nasties in the juice which could get a jump on the yeast and interfere with the fermentation process.
Basically, you have a choice. If you add Campden tablets to the max recommended dosage then you need to wait 24 hours before adding yeast to allow it to take effect. However, if you decide to go for a wild fermentation use half the dosage (and obviously, no yeast is required).
Our two vats of cider (100L & 80L) had a ph readings of 3.10 & 3.07 which were judged to be so acidic that no nasties would prevail therefore no Campden tablets were used. We did add cultured yeast (Lalvin 71b) to the 80L vat and we’re going with natural wild yeast for the 100L. Now it’s just a question of waiting.
Committee meeting 12/8/23
The first committee meeting after the AGM was held on Aug 12th 2023. There was a very full agenda - this and other papers can be read by NCOG members by signing into 'My NCOG'.
Summer pruning and scything
The weather gods were not too unkind and the attendance was good at our annual summer pruning and scything fest.
Despite the damp weather we had pretty much full attendance for those booked on the morning summer pruning and orchard tour - about 25 members in total. Cumbrian orchardists are not put off by a bit of patchy drizzle!
Lunch was a sociable affair greatly enhanced by the contributions of cake etc. and Alison's fine bread and soup. Our supplications to the relevant authorities resulted in a dry afternoon for scything, which about half a dozen members got into with some gusto and in many cases surprised themselves with how easy it was and how well they did.
If anyone present took any pictures of the event, please email me and I will add them.
Many hands make short work of weeding...
On July 16th, a lively band of members, well-armed with weeding tools tackled the weeds that had grown up between the newly-planted trees at the NCOG orchard at Hutton. The weeds had grown vigorously (the souil is obviously very fertile) but were soon removed and replaced by pieces of cardboard to limit re-growth. Also, the trees were inspected and re-tied where necessary. One tree (out of 74) had died and a small number were looking weak -probably as a result of the hot dry weather in June.
Despite a forecast which warned of heavy showers and even possible thunderstorms, we had a fine sunny afternoon as the pictures show.
AGM 16th July 2023
We held our 12th Annual General Meeting at Hutton-in-the-Forest on 16th July 2023. Members can sign in to see the full report and papers.
New orchard in a day....
.. well, almost. A group of about 12 volunteers managed to dig, rig and plant over 50 cordon apples on a fine afternoon.
Today, the first working party gathered to establish the new 'NCOG orchard' at the 'Sawmills' site on the Hutton-in-the-Forest Estate. The purpose of the orchard is principally to:
- provide a site for workshops in orchard management, particularly summer pruning of trained forms;
- be a source of reference apples for identification and display purposes, in particular at the Hutton-in-the-Forest Apple Days; and
- be a source of scion wood for grafting.
The group achieved far more than we thought we could. All the ground was dug, all the canes for three rows of cordons were tied in and 53 trees planted. We were helped by the ground being better than it initially looked and by a fine spell of early spring weather (not to mention some slices of cake :-) ).
Hopefully the pictures say more than words can.
A further working party is planned for 25th March, which should easily finish the job (weather permitting).
Winter pruning event at Firbank Westlinton
Good event nice sunshine
Just over 20 people turned up for an excellent day's pruning at Firbank. Our host, Sarah Carr-Baugh laid on drinks, cake and soup which was all much appreciated.
Cider Making 2021/22
Report of the NCOG Cider Group activities for 21/22
Please see the attachement for the report from the cider group - and the results of their annual cider competition for 2021/2022
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Committee meeting November 18th
The Committee met courtesy of Zoom on November 18th, 2020.
Autumn event plans
The current pandemic has severely curtailed our plans for what is normally our busiest season. However, we are hoping that we can hold some member-only juicing events.
See the events page for latest details. Also, members will be emailed with updates. Current plans for juicing events are:
- Members-only juicing (to take away) in mid-October
- Members-only cider-making (for communal cider- not to take away) on first weekend in December.
Spreading apples across Cumbria - its not all hard graft!
Members' grafting event held at Newton Rigg on Saturday 15th February
Our 10th annual grafting event was held at Newton Rigg College on Saturday 15th February 2020. Despite the advent of storm Dennis, 17 members attended, some of whom were returnees, but many who were there to try grafting for the first time. 4 grafters joined NCOG specifically to take part in this event and create their own trees!
The workshop was led by Hilary Wilson, Mark Evens, Chris Braithwaite and Ros Nichol. Every rootstock ordered by NCOG was used, plus some extras. In total, more than 60 new trees were grafted using scion wood supplied from members' orchards. We are delighted to be assisting in the growth of new orchards and the spread of heritage apple varieties across North Cumbria and beyond - we estimate that we have been responsible for 500-700 new trees over the last decade!
Thanks go to Hilary, Mark, Chris and Ros for sharing their expertise and to Shelagh Todd, Head of Horticulture at Newton Rigg, for hosting and facilitating the event. Thank you also to Alison Evens for administering the sale of rootstocks.
We kicked off our 2020 programme with a winter pruning workshop at two neighbouring locations in Curthwaite, between Wigton and Carlisle. This was a joint meeting of NCOG and the Cumbria Organic Gardeners and Farmers group.
We started at Beech House where Chris Braithwaite gave a short talk over coffee (and cake) in the barn prior to letting us loose on trees. At Beech House there are some small, old rejuvenated apple trees, a large quince and two (not very) wall-trained pears. At nearby East Curthwaite Farm the highlights are a very large Cox's, a large Bramley and a cordon hedge.
Hopefully, by the end of our efforts, the trees were looking a lot neater and will be more fruitful and healthy and those attending felt more confident in tackling their own trees.
Our thanks to our hosts James and Kim Stockdale at Beech House and Joyce Cowen at East Curthwaite Farm, and to Jane Maggs for organising it.
Chris has produced some helpful notes, which are available on this news page or in the Resources section.
A Grand Meeting
On November 29th, we held our 9th Annual General Meeting at the Herdwick Inn, Penruddock. The usual business was followed by an excellent meal and then an engrossing talk by Jane Maggs about the 'The One Straw Revolution' - the life, work and philosophy of Masanobu Fukuoka, resulting from her recent trip to Japan. We are very grateful to Jane for keeping us interested throughout. Members can access the details of the business after signing in to "My NCOG".
Press gang at Mosser
About 20 members gathered for the annual members' pressing and cider-making day at Mosser. About 280 litres of cider was made and a fair amount pressed for juice to take away.
About 20 members gathered for the annual members' pressing and cider-making day at Mosser. About 280 litres of cider was made and a fair amount pressed for juice to take away. I was amazed at how much was pressed by what someone called the "well-oiled machine" (referring to the team, not the equipment!).
Since the pressing was outside, we arranged the weather satisfactorily! Many thanks to all those who brought food, which resulted in an excellent spread much appreciated by all.
A brief report on the cider for those who contributed/are interested:
- No.1 was just over 100L and had a gravity (corrected to 20C) of 1.042 with an expected ABV of 5.4% and a pH of 3.33. It is to be fermented on the wild yeast so I added a half dose of sulphite (37ppm).
- No.2: 100+L, SG 1.046 (expected ABV 6%), pH 3.38, wild yeast (41ppm SO2 added).
- No.3: approx 75L, SG 1.042 (expected ABV 5.5%), pH 3.3, Lalvin 71b (full dose - 72ppm - SO2 added).
Thanks to Graham Millar for the photos and a special thanks to those who stayed to help with the cleaning at the end - very effective and fast!
On 3rd August lucky group of about 20 escaped the worst of the weather to enjoy a (mostly) sunny day of summer pruning, scything, socialising and lazing at the Mosser orchard. In addition, Jane Orgee did an interesting study of the insect life in the meadow.
Summer is a fairly quiet time in the orchard - mostly enjoying the sunshine and watching the apples grow - but there are a few (pleasant) jobs to do. Fruit can be thinned to maximise fruit size; trees (particularly trained forms) can be pruned to maximize next year's crop; and the understory meadow should have finished flowering by mid-late July and be ready for mowing with a scythe to allow access for picking.
So this event focused on these activities. However, they were not compulsory, so members could just come along and watch the others work while enjoying the traditional NCOG tea/cake/juice/cider/banter. For those interested in cider making we will also reviewed progress of the 2018 cider.
After Mark demonstrated scything (and, most importantly, sharpening - see below), several members had a go with, it has to be said, mixed success: some got the hang of it very quickly and cut quite a bit of meadow, while others learned well but needed a bit more practice.
Chris explained the reasons for summer pruning - to restrict growth, allow better airflow and sunlight to the currrent fruit ant to encourage fruiting next year. He then demonstrated this on some suitable specimens:
Meanwhile, Jane explored the uncut meadow and discovered a wide variety of insect wildlife - see the various photos and the list of species attached.
Finally, the 2018 cider was tasted. One batch was excellent and ready for packaging but the other needed a bit more time to develop.
Grafting - an absolute beginner
A few notes on our first experience of grafting apple scions onto M26.
Grafting Apple Trees - an absolute beginner
We began our preparations early enough and scions and rootstocks were obtained from many different sources. Initially, we bought rootstocks from GB online and Walcott Nursery. These were expensive but Walcott were useful contacts in that they were able to sell small quantities. However, it soon became apparent that if we were interested in batches of 100 or more it would be necessary to look elsewhere. Ultimately we bought 1100 M26 rootstocks and settled on a Dutch supplier F. Kuiper B.V. (they have Greenhills Nursery near London as well). We dealt with Koos Kruijer, who was really helpful, in sales at Vosseveld 6,9644 XW Veendam, Tel. : 0031-(0)598-619 410 email: charging £0.89 /rootstock including postage.
Over the Winter months some scions were purchased and others were collected. We bought material from Low Stanger Farm near Lorton, GB Online, Jon Hutton at 69 Orchard near Prudhoe, Deacons Nursery on the Isle of Wight, Carrob Organics, Levens Hall and Adams Apples in Devon. We were given material from Hilary Wilson, Eva’s Organics near Carlisle, and the red fleshed Pendragon from 69 Orchard. We also collected a few scions from willing folk in the Solway Plain villages. In the end there were probably enough collected “sticks” to create 1200 scions, all of which we dampened and sealed into zip lock bags. We had about 100 different varieties so with all the regular vegetables removed from the fridge (ethylene gas) all the scions went into the salad drawer!
With so many rootstocks to graft we thought to start early. Our first attempt was a cleft graft. This almost resulted in me losing a finger. Based on this, I thought I should attend the grafting course featuring Hilary Wilson’s demonstration at Newton Rigg, Penrith. This was run by the North Cumbria Orchard Group. Armed with this experience I then tried a whip and tongue graft when I got home. The diagonal whip cuts were easy enough and I was buoyed up by Hilary’s comment that it was just a simple woodwork joint. As I attempted the tongue part of the graft, I remembered her advice to keep the knife still and to ease the graft wood onto the knife. It was OK but it stuck me that I was going to be all too slow.
We researched though websites and found some useful tips. One was to use a small balsawood planer that could produce a perfect planar surface. This seemed to me what was really needed. In progressing the idea, we found a small lightweight cordless plane from Bosch. This tool proved to be very useful especially if the rootstock and scion were of the same diameter. We were aware that it was going to be almost impossible to sterilise the planer on every cut, so my next best course of action was to try to make the working environment as clean as possible and to see where we ended up. I also reasoned that if the planar surface was true and the grafting tape was applied well, then I might get away without the tongue in the graft technique producing, in effect, a splice graft. Whilst not for the purists, I think if the scion can be matched to the rootstock diameter this is a pretty viable way to go.
Of course, it isn’t always possible to match the diameter of the scion to the rootstock. In these circumstances we used a side graft, cut with a knife, generally to match a thinner scion to a carved thinner section on a wider rootstock.
We chose to use 3 litre deep (rose) pots filled with (unfortunately expensive) B&Q peat with each pot labelled with a coloured tag (that represented the flowering group) attached through a hole in the pot (made with a soldering iron) with a cable tie and named with the variety, the rootstock, the scions origin and a list number. We tried unsuccessfully to buy square rose pots – these would have saved space. It is worth noting that the marker pen needs to resist UV otherwise the naming will fade quite quickly. The scions were grafted, usually with three buds, taped and waxed and the rootstock dipped in Rootgrow® before being potted up. 70 grafts per day could reasonably be completed using this method.
We put the grafted rootstock outside and cracked on with the next batch. However, one morning, our lack of forethought resulted in us finding around 200 newbies, covered in snow – it was clearly too cold, and we seemed to have lost the plot. A little research revealed that there was little prospect of callus formation below 10°C (or above 30° although in Cumbria there was little chance of that). This was an important lesson and in future we know to keep all newly grafted material in a warmed area. As Spring unfolded our young grafts looked as though they were taking. However, this impression wasn’t always accurate because some leaf buds will erupt without necessarily being driven by the rootstock. Time through February and March revealed the true takes and we were still inclined to keep them inside, in relative warmth (in our utility room and in the loft space above our garage) because the constant wind was clearly a limiting factor.
We had also run out of space. So, we transferred 300 pots to my son’s house in Newcastle. His back garden had good shelter and gathered the sun when it shone. It was an interesting experiment to measure the differences although as the spring unfolded the local squirrels near his house liked to dig in the pots. At the end of April the fresh growth tips of our grafts attracted bulk greenfly and their attack did/has left its mark on about 100 plants. We wait to see if there is a recovery although it’s just another curved ball to learn from.
As the warmer weather emerged, we wanted to get the plants outside, but the wind was still a worry. We resolved to build large plastic sheet clad wooden frames with similar plastic clad lids as a form of protection. These shelters were effectively home-made polytunnels and without question saved the day. As the season has progressed and the plants have grown, we have simply added bigger legs to the shelters. Of course, we would initially build taller 100cm shelters if we used this method again.
Emerging leaves were removed on every rootstock (March and April), and as things looked hopeful, we also removed subsidiary growth (2nd Week in May), leaving just one prime shoot. This action triggered a real growth spurt and with hindsight, in view of the mild spring, this might have been done earlier. At least half of our grafts are now charging upwards with canes for support.
At this point it is worth mentioning that we achieved least success with thin scions – anything under 5mm seemed problematic. Even when the junction successfully callused, activity of these new trees was generally less vigorous. We were also beset with buds that we thought were vegetative buds but later proved to be flowers. Of course, the problem with flower buds is that initially, after flowering, there is no obvious growth, resulting in wastage of the spring months, or as a worst case scenario, a wasted rootstock. Hopefully we can re-use such rootstocks at a later date.
Bill and Julie Richardson
23 May 2019
Bloomin' good blossom evening
This year the apple blossom was the earliest for at least 10 years - in full bloom on April 30th - so we celebrated in the accustomed style with tea, cake, soup, cider and apple juice.
There are few sights better than an orchard of apple trees in blossom on a beautiful spring day. To celebrate this, we held a "blossom evening" at Mosser on Tuesday April 30th. About 18 members turned up at fairly short notice. This is the earliest we have ever known the blossom! The weather was difficult to forecast, but turned out dry and calm and we kept the chill at bay by burning prunings on the brazier. The orchard has over 100 trees of over 40 varieties, so there was plenty to see and talk about.
The event was mainly a social occasion, but with some added extras:
- Discussion of orchard management - the orchard floor has been sown with yellow rattle to suppress the grass, then with a wildflower mix, and is mown with an Austrian scythe annually.
- Debate as to the merits of different varieties (40+ planted) in dealing with the Cumbrian climate. There was general agreement that russet apples are greatly under-appreciated and generally not found for sale (except for Egremont Russet). Everyone admired the blossom on the Belle de Boskoop - one of the finest flavoured multi-purpose russet apples.
- A little "competition" for the best/most interesting "apple product" that was won by some very nice apple cake.
- Tasting of the NCOG cider, which was coming along nicely.
Soup, bread, tea/coffee, cider, cakes and apple juice, good conversation and company were enjoyed by all.
Many thanks to Thalia Sparke for some of the pictures (as well as the "very nice apple cake").