Friday, 25 September 2015

Introducing the orchard

Late last year, we bought a strip of orchard from our postman's mother. Exactly a kilometre from our door, the patch is just under 1.000 square metres with 30 trees. Twenty three apple, six pear and one cherry, the majority being quite mature, having been planted in 1958 by a club or association (Verein in local parlance). Essentially, this group bought two plots of land in different locations and a bunch of trees, planted them, and divvied the land into strips, so each person had their own plot. At our orchard, the total area measures something like 200 x 200 metres, with our patch measuring 100 x 10, with two rows of trees. Some people have 200 x 10 metres, or multiples thereof, and the main use is of course to make Apfelmost, which is essentially still cider.

We were given a list of what varieties were there, and most are what people would refer to as "Mostapfel", though with a bit of storage, some seem to be exceptional dessert apples, and lots are definitely good cookers.

This was the list the former owner gave us.
  • Boskoop - Belle de Boskoop
  • Klarapfel - White Transparent. A very early apple, and one of my wife's favourites
  • Glockenapfel - I couldn't find an English name for this, but it's essentially Bell Apple
  • Goldparmäne - King of the Pippins
  • Cox Orange - Cox's Orange Pippin
  • "Rote Apfel" - well, there are red apples there, but clearly she didn't know the variety
  • Birnen - at least three varieties of pear, some eaters, some definitely Mostbirnen for making perry
I took the trouble of pacing out the two rows, to map what is where, but there are quite a few blanks to fill in!

The trees had been left to their own devices for a while, so even my inexpert eye could see that some action was needed to get them back into shape. We were a bit slow out of the gates this past spring (well, February was the month we moved in), and it was mid-March by the time we went up with ladders, saws and loppers, to do some damage. We probably need more practice, but we at least got some of the worst conditions sorted a bit, though at the time, with no leaves on the trees, we were not always sure what kind of tree we were looking at.

Following this, we basically ignored, or rather forgot the orchard for a while. We walked though it while the trees were flowering, which was a lovely sight, but it was only a few weeks ago that we went back up for a look at how the apples themselves were doing. This was rather stupid, as the Klarapfel are an early variety, and we totally missed them. At least we know for next year.

We had allowed a neighbour to graze his sheep under the trees, which was one reason why little needed to be done during the year, as the grass was kept down. However, in future I'll ask him to keep them out after July so there is no shit on the ground during harvest time. We also learned that they like to half-chew apples when, a week ago, we went up and picked up all the fallen fruit. This yielded about 34kg of unchewed, non-rotten apples that can be used. We dumped probably six or eight times that much, between fruit that had simply rotted and many half eaten by the sheep. What we rescued were then washed and are now stored in trays in the cellar.

Boskoop on the right.
We were up again yesterday evening and got another 30+kg, with a far smaller proportion of rotten fruit, that had fallen during a windy day earlier in the week. We intend to harvest the rest in a week or so.

Even with the fruit on, we're uncertain what is Cox's Orange and what is King of the Pippins, so we're going to ask an expert to take a look, and my orchard map will be complete.

But what will we do with all this fruit? For those who know me, the answer should be obvious, but the main intention is to make cider, as well as having our own apple juice. Both are very popular around here, though the cider I intend making will be sparkling, unlike the flat Apfelmost that the older generation make in this village (which is really good!).

I'm very excited about making cider from our own apples, and have been reading some good books on the subject. But given my lack of experience, I don't know how ideal the mix of apples we have is for a good cider. However, these trees were most likely planted exactly for such use, so I'll just wing it this year and see how it goes. We have space for more trees, so as I learn, perhaps a few more varieties will be added to alter the blend a bit.

There's still much to before we get that far, but I'll post an update following the harvest and pressing. For now, here are some gratuitous shots of the apples waiting for harvest. If you recognise any, let me know!