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Dec 2016

Mosser Cider available in Cockermouth

If the webmaster is permitted a small plug:
Mosser Cider made (mostly) from apples in my orchard at Mosser is now available for sale in Shills of Cockermouth (South Street, opposite Sainsbury's delivery entrance at the bottom of the car park). You can read more about it on the website (http://www.mossercider.co.uk) which will also be updated with other outlets as and when they are available.

2016 AGM

Our AGM took place on November 18th. Once more the Herdwick Inn did us proud with lashings of food and ample accommodation. The business session was short so we quickly tucked into the food, which was followed by a fascinating and amusing talk by Chris Harrison of Waulkmill Cider (http://www.waulkmillcider.co.uk) on the trials (and occasional rewards) of setting up a cider-making business just across the border. Chris brought along an interesting selection of ciders to taste that were much enjoyed (including one blended with Irn Bru!). We all wish him luck with his venture.

Loads of apples, buckets of juice

2016 has been a bumper year for apples. We were juicing on four occasions:
- Apple day at Acorn Bank (Oct 9th)
- At Great Salkeld on October 23rd
- At Mosser on November 6th
- Back at Acorn Bank on November 12th
At Apple Day, lots of people turned up and we were able to show off our new Speidel mill to great advantage. The juice (60 litres) was taken back to Mosser to be included in the Group cider stocks. The mill and hydropress were then put through their paces at Great Salkeld, which was a village juicing event - very well attended and accompanied by glorious food. The NCOG pressers were kept busy through but were kept fed too! (Many thanks to Janet Bowden for organising this so well). Then at Mosser the pace became even more frenetic - we lost track of how much we pressed but it must have been about 600kg. This event also included the cider-makers pressing for cider and about 360 litres of cider was made! We then though that the final event would be quite restful, but no! As the day wore on, more and more people turned up with apples. Eventually we had to call a halt as it was dark.
All in all, an excellent season.
Pictures below are of the Mosser juicing and cider making.
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Sep 2016

Social at Skelton: cake, a raffle & a few new grafts

On August 27th 2016, Kate the secretary along with her mum Liz hosted a social which was well-attended by various NCOG members. For late summer, we couldn't have fixed the weather better and the guests didn't disappoint, bringing with them an array of tempting cakes. The afternoon commenced with a banter-filled discussion standing on the site of the Stewarts' proposed orchard, on how not to stake apple trees. There were some classic examples present to illustrate the point. We then progressed in a relaxed fashion to practise scything some rough grass beyond the paddock, whilst Mark comprehensively demonstrated peening techniques and explained equipment requirements. Meantime there was the opportunity to learn more about how to handle successful young grafts within the first year - they should be staked and tied in above and below the healing graft line, planted out no later than November, and new growth appearing on the rootstock must be pinched out immediately to conserve energy. Between them, Kate and Liz managed to produce a few examples both of what to do and what not to do, for the edification of the guests. The afternoon concluded with a raffle, where the most coveted prize was perhaps a bottle from Mark and Alison's supply of homemade cider.

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Mar 2016

Newton Rigg Grafting, or, how to create a portable orchard

The day commenced in fine style with a demonstration of how to create matching notches in a rootstock and scion, then make the incisions known as the whip and tongue and slide them together, enabling the ‘graft’ to heal. Hilary’s technique, based on years of experience, was as deft and enviable as ever. The assembled grafters were then given plenty of information by Mark on which to base their decisions regarding rootstocks, after which we set to work, with more experienced NCOG members supervising those who were new to the technique or somewhat shakier! In total, 86 rootstocks were sold, with an estimated 75 grafted then and there in the potting shed, and no grafters or onlookers were harmed by knives in the process! The productivity was certainly increased by tea, coffee, and Jane’s delicious freshly baked focaccia bread. Once the session had drawn to a close, many NCOG members went on to inspect the proposed site for a series of apple tree cordons, which will be a joint venture between the group and Newton Rigg college. The new grafts were brought to be stored in the polytunnels that day, ready to be planted this autumn in time for Newton Rigg’s 120 year celebrations. This was a very industrious and creative day.

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Feb 2016

Maryport pruning: Great hospitality & happier apple trees!

It was fantastic to be at Bill & Mary Potter’s fine, lichen-covered old orchard and we couldn’t have asked for better weather; still and bright with a definite feel of things beginning to grow, although many layers were worn. The day kicked off with a comprehensive introduction to the tools. There was also a demonstration of how to prune so that trees are open and ‘goblet-shaped’, crossing branches and water shoots are removed and cuts are cleanly above a bud growing in such a direction as to efficiently channel energy. Extraordinarily some apples still hung on a tree, and we managed to find a few examples of canker to practise removing! Fuelled by tea and an excellent spread of cakes, we concluded with most of the trees looking well-groomed and with a healthy amount of air flowing through them. A goodly heap of firewood was also amassed, and the rest of the prunings tidily removed in a truck. This was an enjoyable and educational day spent in good company.

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Planning event the second: food for thought at Acorn Bank

With twelve attendees present, each with their own reasons for wishing to start an orchard, this was a busy and lively occasion. Much ground was covered, from unassailable points such as altitude, aspect and soil PH, to the merits of different apple varieties and rootstocks. Everyone came away more equipped to adapt to and overcome whatever nature gave them. Knowledge was shared by experts who had themselves tried and tested methods; of improving soil, growing apples that thrive in our climate, and using rootstocks commensurate with desired results. There were some fulsome debates, as well as the opportunity to consult with workshop leaders on how to meet individual needs. The weather was a little blustery, but the audience were able to benefit from Chris’s demonstration of how to plant, heel in and mulch an apple tree. Acorn Bank orchard, which has been present in some form since the seventeenth century, continues to be an industrious and remarkably productive place. The combination of a stunning (although somewhat grey and stormy) setting, waiter service at the tearoom and delicious scones meant we were very fortunate to be there.

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Jan 2016

Eventful planning event!

On December 5th 2015 we held our first "Orchard Planning Workshop",
Aimed at anyone proposing to plant an “orchard” (which could be anything from 4 or 5 garden trees to a hundred or more in a separately managed orchard), the intended benefits were reduced risk of failure through disease, damage or physiological problems and better quality and quantity of fruit. Attendees were also introduced to grafting, which can significantly reduce the cost of the trees.
Particular attention was directed at the issues facing growers in the Cumbrian terrain and climate.
The course was divided into a number of small modules and included some practical sessions.
Topics included: Siting, Preparation, Soil testing, Tree sizing and spacing, Varieties, Grafting demonstration, Preparing a plan, Planting and care of young plants.

Unfortunately, an unplanned visitor called Desmond turned up, so one of the instructors and half the attendees failed to make it, the planned guided tour of Acorn Bank had to be abandoned and we decided to end early. However, everybody got home (although your webmaster took 3.5 hours to get to Cockermouth). As a consequence, we plan to hold the event again (hopefully in February 2016) for the benefit of those who were thwarted (and others). We will try and organise better weather for it!

Nov 2015

Massive juicing day at Maryport

The group had an extremely busy day milling and pressing large quantities of fruit. The day was well attended and clearly it has been a good harvest despite the cool spring and summer. The cider club attended in force and made 200L of juice for cider. This will be stored at Wild & Fruitful until it is ready for drinking. In addition about 100L of juice was pressed and taken away - either to drink or to be made into cider at home.
Many thanks to all those who helped on the day, in particular to John Nutley, Alan Rich and Bob Lee who were the "engine room" of the juicing operation.
Special thanks also to Jane Maggs for allowing the group to use Wild & Fruitful's new premises, which also are now the base for the cider club. The facilities are excellent and we wish her every success in this next stage of Wild & Fruitful's development.
Finally, some pictures (thanks to Kate Stewart):
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Oct 2015

NCOG is 5 years old!

It is now five years since the group was formed. In that time we have grown from about 30 members to around 130. We have created 350 to 400 new trees by grafting, run countless pressing events, given pruning instruction twice a year and many other things.
With our new "Orchard Planning Workshop" in December, we hope to encourage and support yet more fruit-growing in Cumbria and replace orchards that have been lost over the last century.

Brilliant Apple Day at Acorn Bank

Apple Day at Acorn Bank (11th October) was once again the highlight of the year. The weather was kind, the crowds were good and there was lots to see and do. The volunteers on the NCOG stall (joined by SLOG) were kept busy pressing fruit, giving advice, signing up new members, selling books and generally talking non-stop about apples (and a bit about pears and other fruit). There was quite a lot of interest in our "Orchard Planning Workshop" to be run at Acorn Bank on December 5th - it should be very helpful to people in avoiding the pitfalls in what is a long-term project (even if only a handful of trees).

Sep 2015

Scything, summer pruning & orchard tour

The weather gods were kind to us on August 15th, after a fairly poor summer, when about 25 NCOG members visited the webmaster's orchard at Mosser. Looking at the orchard the following morning I was impressed by the amount that had been cut - both grass and trees - and fairly tidily too! Some excellent cakes were supplied and we enjoyed tea on the terrace with warm weather and fine views.

If you are interested in buying a scythe then I got mine from Simon Fairlie at the Scythe Shop. There are other suppliers but do make sure you get the real Austrian scythe model. The blade on my scythe is the 60cm Austrian Rasierschnitt blade, which I prefer to the 65cm Ditch Blade on the NCOG scythe. For peening, get the peening jig like mine - not the anvil which requires more skill.

If you want to make your own honing tool from wood and abrasive paper then follow this link to the template: download/Honing_template.pdf. Make it from a piece of hardwood about 20mm thick. The dimensions are not critical, but do aim for a curve approximating that shown. Try Axminster tools for the abrasive - 240grit cloth backed. This one looks suitable: http://www.axminster.co.uk/hermes-emery ... -25mm-x-5m. You will need two small pieces of wood or plastic about 1mm thick to wedge the abrasive in each end of the tool. The lubricant I use is Muc-off (bike cleaner) - available from Halfords or other good bike shops such as Evans cycles.

May 2015

Grafting workshop, March 28th

Our grafting workshop was a great success - fully booked and 68 new trees grafted!

Cider racking & packing April 11th

The cider group racked and packaged the first batch of cider, which was clear and drinkable. The second batch was a bit sharp and is being left during the summer to soften up.

Feb 2015

Winter pruning at Bolton

Introduction to pruning

Saturday February 8th 1400-1600, Bolton near Appleby

The event commenced at Bolton Village Hall, which had been kindly set up by Hilary Wilson & friends. Cakes, flapjacks, cheese scones and apple crisps had been kindly made and donated by Hilary, Ros Nichol and Jane Orgee and tea and coffee was provided by Hilary. Mark and Alison Evens brought a selection of about 20 varieties of Mark’s stored apples (together with details of the dates of how long they kept for), for the group to try. Chris Braithwaite kindly set up direction signs to the orchard and brought a selection of pruning equipment for the group to see and use.

Around 20 people came, including novices and experts – and two newcomers, Julie Jackson and Bill Little.

Hilary welcomed everyone to the workshop and provided some very informative leaflets off entitled ‘Introduction to Pruning’ for the group, before handing over to Chris Braithwaite.

Chris demonstrated how to initially prune a new apple tree, using one of Hilary’s grafted apple trees that she had brought to the village hall as an example, explaining that one allowed the tree to grow to the desired tree trunk height (+4-6”), before pruning out the top 4-6”, above a bud, to allow the lower buds to grow into branches. In subsequent years, unwanted lower branches could progressively be reduced in length and subsequently completely pruned back to their collars, whilst higher branches could be pruned back to outward facing buds to promote new growth and flower buds.

He then went on to explain how to trim cordoned apples, there being 2 ways of doing this, the simplest being to allow the cordon to grow to the desired height, when the top was to be pruned out, with subsequent prunings being undertaken in a similar way to pruning a branch on a tree, the difference being that cordon pruning was usually undertaken in the summer.

The group then departed in convoy to Hilary’s orchard to witness some hands on pruning in the field.

In the orchard

Pruning equipment

Chris started off by explaining the different tools that are required for pruning:

1. Secateurs:
Apple tree pruning requires effective secateurs that are sharp and clean.
Good secateurs (such as Felco) although expensive, have the advantage of longevity. One of the members highlighted that a further advantage of Felco, is that it is possible to get replacement parts in the unlikely event of them breaking; Chris agreed and said that Felco offered a mending service in that event.
Chris otherwise recommended Japanese secateurs (Tobisho from “Niwaki”) as another reliable (but even more expensive) brand.
Otherwise, for those with limited funds, (or by choice) Okatsune are also good. An increasingly popular option, is to buy a pair of cheaper secateurs (from Wilko for example), that can be used for a season or so, with the anticipation of replacing them thereafter.

Secateurs need to be sharp (Mark Evens recommended a diamond sharpener from Felco for this as it was very easy and effective to use).

2. Pruning saws
Pruning saws are the best tools for pruning larger branches.
Chris explained that Japanese saws are particularly good for this purpose, as they are extremely sharp and thin (and have narrower serrations distally to enable you to start making a cut more easily); it was highlighted that Japanese saws have a cutting blade only on the pull however (and not on the push as UK saws do); this is important to know, as if a bi-directional action is used, they are likely to snap.
Bow saws can also be used although they may not be able to position well in tight spaces. A narrower ended bow saw would better suit this job.

3. Tripod ladder
A Niwaki tripod ladder was available at the site. This was noted to be expensive but a very useful and safe design for a ladder. We have in the past been able to negogiate a reduction in price for members who wished to purchase one - some interest was expressed by some of the newer members in doing likewise if there was another opportunity. Obviously depending on the orchard and height of the apple trees, a ladder is not always required.

4. Loppers
Loppers were highlighted as being good for disposing of branches after pruning, but not for pruning per se, as they were likely to bruise and damage trees; also as it is important to prune with a good view of the site of the cut, loppers would unsuitable in this regard.

5. Cleanliness
Cleanliness was highlighted as being a vital component of pruning – both before commencement, and also when moving from one tree to another (and most especially if one was diseased).
Garden disinfectants, hospital antibacterial sprays and diluted Jeyes fluid were proposed as suitable alternatives.


Apple tree diseases

Chris explained that there are 2 main types of disease that affect apples:
Scab (black/brown spots on apples – reduces storage life, unsightly) – more likely to occur if the tree doesn’t receive enough air circulating between its branches.
Canker (brown/swollen areas visible on branches due to a fungal disease - difficult to control) – more likely if the tree is damaged; can be reduced if large pruning sites are treated with tree wound paint (RHS recommends Medo, Prune and Seal or Arbrex Seal and Heal); Hilary said that cooking oil can also be used to help seal the pruning site.

Basics of pruning

Hilary had printed out some basic guides to introduce the theory of pruning. The main aim was to try to give each apple, and each branch of the tree, space so that the tree could produce apples free of disease and to a good size.

The idea is to produce a tree into a goblet shape, i.e., a trunk with radiating branches and an open centre – unless one wants to grow apples as cordons (a great idea for smaller gardens as it allows one to grow a greater variety of apples in a smaller space), in which case one would try to prune the cordons into single branches at 450.

Pruning is undertaken in 2 stages, namely winter and summer.
Winter pruning is primarily formative – i.e. it helps shape the tree. Summer pruning helps the tree to form flower / fruiting buds for the following year.

Tree bud anatomy is important to understand to help guide where to prune.

Chris explained that flower buds are fatter, whilst leaf buds are smaller and more streamlined. Flower buds generally grow on spurs and towards the lower end of two-year old wood. (Many of the newer members had to be shown the differences on the tree.)

Basically, when you are pruning established spur bearing apple trees, the idea is to encourage the tree to produce more fruiting spurs. This is done by shortening the leader shoots by half the growth that they produced in the previous year, shortening lateral shoots to 3-4 buds from their bases. (Note that some apples also bear fruit on the tips of laterals and need to be pruned slightly differently – but these were not covered in the session).

When pruning, we try to aim for a goblet shape with an open airy centre ‘that you can throw your hat through’.

We are aiming for apples that are easy to pick, that have space to grow (allowing 4” for an eating apple and 6” for a cooking apple) – being mindful that not all flower buds will fertilize / set fruit – so we don’t thin buds out to this level in winter pruning - ‘thinning’ young fruit can be done later in the year if required.

Hilary’s handout explains that horizontal branches produce more fruit than vertical ones, hence another reason why we aim to choose to keep branches that spread outwards from the tree and to remove those that grow vertically and why we aim for a goblet shape.

Chris demonstrated how to prune several branches of one of the apple trees in the orchard (that had not been pruned the previous summer):
- choosing a strong outward growing shoot for each branch from the previous year’s growth, to form a ‘leader’ (which he cut by about a half to a third with secateurs, just in front of an outward facing bud)
- cutting lateral shoots behind it to 3-4 buds
- keeping flowering spurs that were positioned on the top and sides of the branches (unless they were overcrowded in which case he reduced them somewhat)
- removing crossing over and crowded branches with his pruning saw
- removing dead and diseased shoots / branches wherever they were (or cutting them back to live wood, just in front of an appropriately facing bud
to leave a tree with a lovely open centre, a beautiful goblet shape, and its remaining branches with plenty of air.



Hilary otherwise removed spurs on the underside of branches, as she explained that these would not receive sufficient light to ripen fruit at these sites.

Apple Canker

We discussed the first tree in the orchard as it had evidence of widespread canker. This is a fungal disease that causes dark, sunken, dead areas in the bark of the tree (which if left, causes the branch to die). As it was so widespread, Hilary had planned to remove it, however there was some discussion as to whether the tree could be saved, by cutting it back to just below the graft, letting it regrow, removing all but the strongest shoots and re-grafting an alternative more canker resistant variety to such shoots in later years.

Cordoned apples

The group then went down to see Hilary’s cordoned apples. Chris explained that triploid trees could be difficult for cordon growing as they were vigorous, but that their growth being controlled somewhat by using a more dwarfing root stock.

End of session

As the weather was getting cold and damp by this stage, the session in the orchard was brought to a close and the group returned to the village hall for tea, coffee, cake and apple tasting. The workshop was a very
sociable affair. It enabled members to catch up, to meet new people, and provided opportunities for everyone to to discuss and learn from each other over the course of the afternoon.
Thank you to all who participated.

Sep 2014

Cider-making group

NCOG has established a members' sub-group for those interested in cider making. The apples will be pressed and the juice fermented at Acorn Bank. Members will contribute apples and time (and a small amount of money) and in return will benefit from the shared knowledge of the group, not to mention the end product. For the full details, see the following document http://ncorchards.co.uk/download/NCOG_cider_group.pdf. If you would like to join the group, please email info@ncorchards.co.uk .

An interesting day...

Our second summer event in 2014 was a visit to Low Stanger Farm, where Peter & Michelle Kerr have been farming organically for about 8 years. There was much of interest to see and talk about, not all of it orchard-related. Among other things, we marvelled at the market garden, including a fine crop of Florence fennel, the wheeled hoes, the perfectly-sized orchard tractor...
The orchards themselves contain about 340 trees of 80 different varieties, many of which were new to members. Unfortunately about a week before our visit, there had been a severe hailstorm which had damaged much of the otherwise promising crop. The weather was interesting on the day of our visit also, with a strong wind and squally showers. However, this did not put off the scythers, who were able to demonstrate that even in bad weather a scythe is the best (indeed the only) way to cut long grass.
When we did retreat under cover, we were delighted by the home-made bread made from home-grown and milled wheat - so much more flavour than shop-bought flour or bread.
Many thanks to Peter & Michelle for their hospitality. See their website - http://www.lowstanger.co.uk/apples.html - for more details.

Jul 2014

Fruit, sunshine and bees at Houghton

On 17th July 2014 we visited Eva's Organics orchard at Gosling Sike, Houghton. After some excellent tea, scones and cakes provided by Susan Aglionby, We were given a tour of the orchard and an opportunity to discuss organic fruit growing with Eva's Organics owner Mike Simpson.
The orchard has been laid out for efficient management and is radically different from traditional apple orchards. There are over six hundred trees in total. They include eight varieties of dessert apples as well as pears, plums and cherries. It was planted during the winter of 2010/11 with all the trees grafted onto to modern dwarfing rootstocks. This means that the trees are planted much closer together than is possible with standard fruit trees. It also means that the trees come to full production much sooner than traditional types.
All the apples are grafted onto Golden Delicious interstem, which is alleged to reduce canker. This seemed to be effective, but it was clear that some varieties were faring better than others and there was much stimulating discussion on what other varieties might be most suitable.
Many thanks to Susan and to Mike for their hospitality.

May 2014

Blossom Survey 2014

Many NCOG members took part in a blossom survey on the Bank Holiday weekend of 3rd-5th May 2014. This year the blossom behaved fairly normally - just a bit earlier than usual for the area. The results of the 2014 NCOG blossom survey can be found at download/Blossom_survey_2014.pdf
We carried out a similar survey the previous year - about 3 weeks later on the late May bank holiday - when, because of the late season everything came pretty much together. The 2013 survey can be found at download/Blossom_survey_2013.pdf

Apr 2014

New cider manual

For those interested in making cider, a new manual has been published by Haynes (see http://www.haynes.co.uk/webapp/wcs/stor ... &langID=-1)
Among other features, it includes the design by the NCOG webmaster for a home made press which has been on this website for a couple of years (download/Building_an_Apple_Press.pdf).
For his efforts, the webmaster hopes to receive a copy of the book and will review it in due course.

Fifty more apple trees grafted

We held a very well attended grafting workshop on March 15th, for which the Riversmeet facility in Cockermouth proved ideally suited. Particpants from both NCOG and Riversmeet were shown how to graft new apple trees of a wide range of varieties (scions) onto various rootstocks (depending on the desired ultimate size). In all fifty trees were grafted which was a fine achievement. Hopefully now all the grafts have taken. If not the rootstock can be kept for another attempt next year (or for bud grafting in the summer).

Cakes and pruning in Maulds Meaburn

A hardy band of NCOG members ignored the foul weather in the morning and turned out for what proved to be a fine afternoon's pruning in the idyllic village of Maulds Meaburn on February 15th. Our hosts Richard and Joanna Backhouse treated visitors to some excellent cakes and a roaring heater. In return, their trees were used as a demonstration of winter pruning and were practised on by members. A good range of older and younger trees permitted a full discussion of the topic. Many thanks to Richard and Joanna for their hospitality and we hope the trees have benefited.

Wild and fruitful AGM

On Friday November 29th, 2013, we held our third Annual General Meeting. In our short history we have grown rapidly to 50 household memberships and 38 individual members. Counting household members as 2 people, that equates to 138 members. Many of these were present for the AGM, which was held in a new venue and format in the hospitable Herdwick Inn at Penruddock. After a fine and excellent value meal, we despatched the formal business fairly swiftly and discussed the merits of setting up a "cider club" (watch for future announcements on this). The evening was rounded off with a very interesting talk by Jane Maggs (of "Wild and Fruitful") accompanied by tastings of her superb preserves. All in all it was a most enjoyable evening and our most successful AGM to date.

More pressing business at Acorn Bank

Given the good crop of apples in 2013, we decided to hold an additional members-only juicing day at Acorn Bank on Saturday November 9th. In order to speed throughput we hired the South Lakes Orchard Group's "hydropress". This magical machine presses quickly, efficiently and silently by simply using water pressure. As a result we managed to press a huge quantity of apples during a very busy and fun (if rather damp) day. See pictures below.
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Pressing business in Cockermouth

On Saturday October 26th we held our second public juicing day at Riversmeet in Cockermouth. We were kept busy most of the day, with the Fruit Shark mill and two presses working well.
 

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