We have to be just a bit careful when we write what we're about to write. We don't own any of our own orchards and aside from the crop we get from the few trees we have at home - which may make 3 litres of cider, in a good year - every apple we mill and press comes from someone else's apple trees. And we're very fortunate in getting the fruit we do. We visit some lovely parts of Gloucestershire, meet some lovely people and our whole arrangement of “you give us apples, we give you cider (or apple juice)” is based on trust. On the one hand, we trust people when they say the fruit in unsprayed. On the other, they trust that we won't disappear over the horizon, trust that we'll keep track of everyone's fruit properly and weigh it correctly, trust that one day we'll pitch up with the promised cider, trust that the cider will taste good enough to make it all worthwhile. So far, for 4 years, it has all worked very well and we trust that it will in the future and will work hard to make sure it does.
A “usual” ratio of leaves to apples is 40 to 1, but this week we visited a tree where the ratio appeared to be more like 4 to 1. “Hooray!” one might think, a bundle of readily accessible, easy-to-pick ripe fruit at hand, what’s not to like? And whilst that is part of the story, it’s by no means all of it. A few of the upper-most branches may have been populated with well-formed fruit, but closer inspection revealed a mass of golf ball sized fruit on the lower branches, instead of the cricket balls one could expect. And there was rather more scab on the fruit than one would want to see, from a variety that is known to be scab-resistant.
Our previous blog, “It is what it is”, suggested that there is, or should be, a symmetrical, symbiotic relationship between us and our fruit trees. In return for some care and attention, particularly in their early years (the arboreal equivalent of Sure Start?) fruit trees will provide us with a lifetime of delicious nutrition … as well as the ONLY meaningful ingredient of cider that should really be allowed. But in this instance, we haven’t been keeping our part of the bargain: in the 15 to 20 years of its existence we could see no evidence of this tree having ever been pruned. It needs light and air, it needs some TLC and unless something changes, this tree will soon lose limbs, and scab, canker and disease will invade it. It is already in distress - the mass of puny apples is a sure sign of that - and it will suffer.
We have no idea how long this particular tree has been under the stewardship of the current owner and we attach no blame; knowing how to care for fruit trees isn’t part of the national curriculum (and nor should it be - but we hope he listened to our advice). But it does go to show how important it is, for those who own fruit trees, to know what’s what. So, we applaud those gardeners who know, we salute those who teach, we encourage people to learn … and we’ll join the cause by offering to share our knowledge, in and around Gloucestershire in early 2020, with our own “Look after your fruit tree” workshops (we’ll come up with a snappier title closer to the time). Because, as Martin Hayes, an orchardist with 40 years experience, said, as we surveyed a hedge of golf balls, “If this was a dog you’d call it neglect. If this was a dog, you’d call the RSPCA.”
Fruit trees give so much to the ecosystems in which they live - they are Givers rather than Takers - so it saddens and upsets us when we come across neglect, particularly when the remedy isn’t particularly time-consuming or expensive or difficult.
And if you’ve read this far, thank you. Rant over.