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".
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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
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").