Sunday, 22 December 2013

Christmas Landscape

Christmas Landscape

Tonight the wind gnaws
With teeth of glass,
The jackdaw shivers
In caged branches of iron,
The stars have talons.

There is hunger in the mouth
Of vole and badger,
Silver agonies of breath
In the nostril of the fox,
Ice on the rabbit’s paw.

Tonight has no moon,
No food for the pilgrim;
The fruit tree is bare,
The rose bush a thorn
And the ground is bitter with stones.

But the mole sleeps, and the hedgehog
Lies curled in a womb of leaves,
The bean and the wheat-seed
Hug their germs in the earth
And the stream moves under the ice.

Tonight there is no moon,
But a new star opens
Like a silver trumpet over the dead.
Tonight in a nest of ruins
The blessed babe is laid.
And the fir tree warms to a bloom of candles,
And the child lights his lantern,
Stares at his tinselled toy;
And our hearts and hearths
Smoulder with live ashes.

In the blood of our grief
The cold earth is suckled,
In our agony the womb
Convulses its seed;
In the first cry of anguish
The child’s first breath is born.

Thursday, 12 December 2013

After Apple Picking by Robert Frost

My long two-pointed ladder's sticking through a tree
Toward heaven still,
And there's a barrel that I didn't fill
Beside it, and there may be two or three
Apples I didn't pick upon some bough.
But I am done with apple-picking now.
Essence of winter sleep is on the night,
The scent of apples: I am drowsing off.
I cannot rub the strangeness from my sight
I got from looking through a pane of glass
I skimmed this morning from the drinking trough
And held against the world of hoary grass.
It melted, and I let it fall and break.
But I was well
Upon my way to sleep before it fell,
And I could tell
What form my dreaming was about to take.
Magnified apples appear and disappear,
Stem end and blossom end,
And every fleck of russet showing clear.
My instep arch not only keeps the ache,
It keeps the pressure of a ladder-round.
I feel the ladder sway as the boughs bend.
And I keep hearing from the cellar bin
The rumbling sound
Of load on load of apples coming in.
For I have had too much
Of apple-picking: I am overtired
Of the great harvest I myself desired.
There were ten thousand thousand fruit to touch,
Cherish in hand, lift down, and not let fall.
For all
That struck the earth,
No matter if not bruised or spiked with stubble,
Went surely to the cider-apple heap
As of no worth.
One can see what will trouble
This sleep of mine, whatever sleep it is.
Were he not gone,
The woodchuck could say whether it's like his
Long sleep, as I describe its coming on,
Or just some human sleep. 

A Foggy Fenland Orchard

The last couple of days have been cold and  foggy and the orchards have been swathed in fog, lovely and atmospheric. The leaves are still clinging to the old Bramleys making for an autumnal scene but the Worcesters are completely bare now.

Such different views to that of the Idared apples at the beginning of the month

Sunday, 1 December 2013

Record the Day ~ 1st December 2013

I know I said that the apple picking was almost over but take a look at the apples on this tree. Photograph taken today the first day of Advent.

Actually these Idared apples have been left deliberately by the proprietors of the Orchard Tea Room & Farm Shop. The tree is on the edge of their car park and customers like to take photographs of this wonderful sight.

Other Record the Day posts:

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

The Apple Picking Post

Well it's almost over, apple picking started late this year and the wet autumn has made it pretty tough going, there have been days when it really wasn't fit to take tractors into the orchard to bring in the bins full of picked apples. Mud really is the scurge of all types of farming from fruit growing, to potatoes, to wheat, the list is endless.

Anyway enough of moans about the British weather here are some apple picking pics taken on sunny days!

Monday, 21 October 2013

Happy Apple Day!

Today, 21st October is Apple Day.

Apple Day was launched in 1990 by Common Ground. The aspiration was to create a calendar custom, an autumn holiday. From the start, Apple Day was intended to be both a celebration and a demonstration of the variety we are in danger of losing, not simply in apples, but in the richness and diversity of landscape, ecology and culture too. It has also played a part in raising awareness in the provenance and traceability of food.

Here's some information about the very first Apple Day taken from the Common Ground Website

"The first Apple Day celebrations, in the old Apple Market in London’s Covent Garden, brought fruit to the market after 16 years’ absence. Forty stalls were taken. Fruit growers and nurseries producing and selling a wide variety of apples and trees rubbed shoulders with juice-and cider-makers, as well as writers and illustrators with their apple books.
Representatives of the WI came laden with chutneys, jellies and pies. Mallorees School from North London demonstrated its orchard classroom, while the Hertfordshire & Middlesex Wildlife Trust explained how it manages its orchard for wildlife. Marks & Spencer helped to start a trend by offering tastings of some of the 12 ‘old varieties’ they had on sale that autumn. Organic growers were cheek by jowl with beekeepers, amidst demonstrations of traditional and modern juice presses, a calvados still and a cider bar run by the Campaign for Real Ale. Experts such as Joan Morgan identified apples and offered advice, while apple jugglers and magicians entertained the thousands of visitors – far more than we had expected – who came on the day.
For two weeks before Apple Day, in a marquee on the Piazza, Common Ground exhibited the photographs of West Country Orchards we had commissioned from James Ravilious alongside a display of more than 100 different apple varieties. People were amazed at the diversity of shapes, sizes and colours. We also offered lunchtime tastings of some of the varieties on show, and many people bemoaned the lack of such choice on supermarket shelves.
We will never know just how many people came to that first celebration – it was certainly thousands and even now we meet people who effuse about it as a memorable event. Many wanted it to be repeated, but our intention was to spread the idea far and wide, encouraging people to celebrate Apple Day for themselves in their own city, village, parish, allotment or garden orchard.
And so the tradition of Apple Day began. Over the next few years, the number of events being organised around the country grew from more than 60 in 1991 to 300 by 1997 and over 600 in 1999, some attracting thousands of people. Apple Day has played a part in raising awareness not only of the importance of orchards to our landscape and culture, but also in the provenance and traceability of food. It has been one impetus behind the developing network of farmers’ markets and is helping people everywhere to discover they are not alone in valuing the links between food and the land, between natural resource use and the impact we have on nature."

Image via  Common Ground

Saturday, 19 October 2013

Dragonflies in the Orchard

The sun came out late this afternoon, it was surprisingly warm for so late in October. Along with the sun came the dragonflies, it was nice to take a few moments to watch their aerial display. Despite having spent a wonderful afternoon at the now sadly defunct National Dragonfly Museum at Ashton Mill in Oundle some years ago I don't know enough about these beautiful insects to name them. Not sure if this is a Norfolk Hawker (Aeshna isosceles).

Thursday, 10 October 2013

Apple Picking Then and Now

In years gone by pickers would pick straight into these bushel boxes, the ones that are now extremely popular for storage, display etc. Each box would take 40lbs of apples and the pickers moved them by hand. Hard work indeed.

These days apples are picked into these large bins which are moved around by tractor. Maybe not quite as back breaking as having to lug a wooden box with 40lbs of apples in it but they do take 36 apple picking basket loads to fill each one so it's still very hard work.

Sunday, 29 September 2013

Apple Crafts from The Crafty Crow

The Crafty Crow is a children's craft collective which specializes in crafts found on weblogs of creative people who either have, or work with, kids. There is an emphasis on projects inspired by nature, crafts that make use of recyclable materials and open-ended art meant to bring families closer together through the creative experience.

It's collated by Cassi of Bella Dia.and she has gathered together some super crafts to enjoy with the kids that feature apples. Things like recycled CD apple and apple print bunting.

So if you're looking for something creative to do with the children go take a look at The Crafty Crow's Favorite Apple Crafts


Friday, 27 September 2013

When apple pie goes viral

When Alicia Paulson blogs It's Pie Time on her Posie gets Cozy people all over the world start baking pie. Not just any pie but Sour Cream Apple Pie 
People like:
 Leigh Metcalf of Found New Home
Sue of The Quince Tree
Ali of Domesticali
You might want to try it for yourself

Monday, 9 September 2013

Slugs come out to play

It's been a hot summer and the slugs have been in hiding for fear of desiccation but a few drops of rain have brought them out in force.

Today I could barely take two steps without spying a slug.

Greater plantain seemed to be a favourite food. For those of you interested in the anatomy of these gastropods I found this little diagram on Wiki (en:User:Billlion   licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 )

You can see the Pneuomstome clearly in the second photograph it's a respiratory opening, easy to see when open but hard to find when closed as in the following photograph:

Monday, 2 September 2013

Apple Picking Bins

Apple picking time is upon us and up and down the country you'll see nicely regimented rows of bins in the orchard aisles waiting to be filled, for a wise apple grower makes sure that his bins are in good order, taking care of the necessary repairs, well before picking begins. But of course as with most things in life there is always one who leaves everything to the last minute. This particular grower has been known to hand his pickers a hammer and a selection of rusty nails, that or baling twine. Some folk never learn.

Saturday, 24 August 2013

Hedgerow Plums - Food for Free

It's plum season and you'll find loads of fresh picked English plums in your local farm shops now, buy them straight from the orchard grower for real freshness, most pick daily and sell out before the end of the day.

But while you're out and about this Bank Holiday weekend keep your eye out for wild plums in the hedgerows. Whilst not as big as cultivated plums and maybe not quite a "plummy" tasting they are food for free and can still be utilized for jams, chutneys and pies.

And of course some make very good Damson Gin!

Sunday, 18 August 2013

What to do with green tomatoes - Some green tomato recipes from Lionel

At the beginning of April Lionel gave us the super recipe for Rhubarb and orange chutney, here are his family recipes for a glut of green tomatoes ~


3 lbs Green tomatoes,
1 lb Cored cooking apples,
1 lb Onions
8 oz Sultanas/raisins
1 lb Dark brown sugar
1 Pint Malt Vinegar
2 tsps Ground Ginger
2 " Curry Powder
1 " Chilli Powder
2/3 Cloves Garlic

Cook all ingredients together until thick. This takes about 2/3 hours. Then place in containers for use after 4 weeks.


3 Lbs Small Green Tomatoes, Prick and sprinkle with salt overnight to remove moisture from Tomatoes, then drain.

1lb 8 ozs Sugar,
1 pint Malt Vinegar
12 Cloves
1 tsp Cinamon ground.

Boil together. then add the Tomatoes and boil until the Tomatoes are clear ( Translucent).
Place the Tomatoes in preheated jars, add syrup and Seal.

Ready after about 3/4 weeks. Lovely with cold meat.

Friday, 9 August 2013

Plum Season and favourite recipes from the orchard kitchen

They are in the shops now, the first of the English plums, plum season has arrived so to celebrate here at The Orchard Year  these are a few of our favourite recipes.

Plum Crumble:

 Everyone's favourite and you've probably all got your own recipe for this. But just in case, or if you fancy a change, here is our crumble topping recipe:
3ozs butter, 4 tablespoons self raising flour, 2 big handfulls of porridge oats, 4 tablespoons of cane sugar.
(I feel strongly that cane sugar always works much better than white with plums)
You know what to do don't you, rub the flour with the butter etc, etc

Plum Tarte Tatin:

 1 packet ready made puff pastry, enough half de-stoned plums to line dish, 3ozs butter, 4 tablespoons cane sugar
Melt the butter in a thick bottomed frying pan or stove top / oven proof dish, sprinkle sugar evenly and add plum halves, cut side down. Cook on a medium heat for about 20 minutes until the juices are bubbling then remove from heat.
Now if you've had to use the frying pan transfer the plums to an ovenproof dish, reserving the syrup. If you're already using the ovenproof dish drain the syrup into another bowl carefully keeping the plums in place.
Roll the pastry into a circle slightly larger than your dish then place it on top of the plums, tucking the edges of the pastry into the dish around the fruit to form an upside down tart case.
Bake in a preheated oven  (gas mark 6, 200 deg C) until the pastry is golden brown and the juices are bubbling, about 35 minutes.
Leave to cool for about an hour before turning the tarte tatin onto a serving dish. With all that butter it'll turn out quite easily with a little help from a spatula around the edges.
To serve,warm the reserved syrup for pouring.

Barbados Cream is also good with plums.

Barbados Cream:
 So easy to make, you'll need -
1 carton of thick Greek yoghurt (like Total), 1 carton double cream, cane demerara sugar and a shallow dish.
Simply mix equal qtys of cream and yoghurt and pour into the dish. Sprinkle with a thick layer of the sugar. Cover with cling film and refrigerate overnight.

So get down to your nearest farm shop this weekend and buy yourself a few lbs / kilos of plums, remember to buy more than you need for cooking as you're bound to eat a few in the car on the way home.

Monday, 5 August 2013

The Big Butterfly Count in the neglected orchard

The Orchard Year took part in The Big Butterfly Count (thanks to Flighty for letting us know about it) and this is what we saw in our 15 minutes:

3 x Ringlet

5 x Meadow Brown

12 x Small White

1 x Small Tortoiseshell

Have you joined in the Big Butterfly Count? What did you see?

Ringlet  D. Gordon E. Robertson licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported
Meadow Brown  © Copyright Evelyn Simak and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.
Small White © Copyright Anne Burgess and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.
Small Tortoiseshell nottsexminer licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic

Sunday, 28 July 2013

Great White Egret - Ardea alba

So yesterday as I was driving down the track next to the drain I spied a Great White Egret. It was actually in about the same place as I recently saw the grey heron so I suppose the hunting is especially good just there. According to the RSPB you're most likely to see the Great White Egret in Spring or Winter in the UK so I   consider myself lucky to have seen one so late into summer.

I'd love to say the this photograph of the egret was taken by me but it wasn't (image Paul Kehrer licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic). In fact it wasn't even taken in England but in the Palo Verde National Park, Costa Rica!
And I might as well confess that the image of the drain wasn't taken by myself either but by one of my son's, however it was taken in England.

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Orchard piglets enjoying the muddy puddles

 Yesterday's thunder storms resulted in a lot of fun for the orchard piglets, muddy puddles are a pigs delight on a hot sunny day though they thoroughly dislike them in the winter.

 Some of you may know that pigs don't sweat so to enable them to cool themselves they like to take mud baths and should be provided with a "wallow" in hot weather.

Well this is a natural wallow as a result of the thunder storms and I believe it was much enjoyed by all.

Sunday, 21 July 2013

Chickens in the Orchard

Lots of folk keep a few chickens in their orchards here are a few enjoying their breakfast!

Saturday, 20 July 2013

Bee Body Parts

Fun video brought to you by The Bug Chicks Kristie Reddick and Jessica Honaker who tell us about the structure and function of bee body parts.
Interesting use of a toilet brush here!
It's educational and it's fun for children:

Bee Bodies: Structure and (Fun)ction from Bug Chicks on Vimeo.

Thursday, 18 July 2013

Record the Day ~ 18th July 2013

The Discovery apples are coming along nicely, an early English variety that is usually ready for picking in August.

 Wild plums, they tend to be ready before the cultivated varieties.

Bramley apples swelling nicely and look what else we've got

Which means that we can look forward to blackberry and apple pie.
Nice to see the bee gathering pollen there as we all know they have been having a tough time of it these past few years.

Other Record the Day posts:

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

How to make strawberry jam using gooseberries to help it set

It's strawberry season and it's gooseberry season too, soo...

How to make strawberry jam using gooseberries to help it set

Strawberries are low in pectin, the agent required for setting jam, gooseberries are high in pectin. This recipe, given to us by the lady who makes jams and pickles for our local farm shop, uses gooseberries to aid setting, and it's delicious.

  • 2 1/2 lbs Strawberries
  • 1/2 lb Gooseberries
  • 2 lbs Granulated sugar
  • Juice of 1 lemon
Cook Gooseberries until soft. Put Strawberries in pan and slowly bring to boil. Add sugar and lemon juice. Stir until sugar disolves. Boil rapidly for 10 minutes or until setting point * is reached. Allow to stand for 30mins then stir to disperse fruit evenly. Jar.
*The easiest way to know if you have reached setting point is to use a thermometer, setting point is 220f.

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Favourite Elderflower recipes ~ Elderflower Cordial & Elderflower Champagne

There are elders growing in the neglected orchard, there shouldn't be but there are so what better way to use nature's unexpected bounty than making a few delicious beverages:

Elderflower Champagne
Pick 6 full Elderflower heads, preferably on a sunny day in the morning, I'm told they smell better then.
In a clean bucket dissolve 1kilo of sugar into 10 litres of cold water.
Give the Elderflowers a shake to remove any dust or insects and immerse in the water.
Add the juice of 2 freshly sqeezed lemons along with the lemon skins.
Add 4 table spoons of white wine vinegar and stir gently.
Cover with a tea towel and leave for 24hours stirring occasionally.
After 24 hours strain the liquor through a sieve or muslin and bottle into sterilised 1 litre plastic pop type bottles. Plastic is best as during the fermentation a lot of fizz is produced which can cause a bottle to explode so don't over fill!
The naturally occuring yeast on the Elderflowers will ferment with the sugar and after a couple of weeks you will have Elderflower Champagne with a very slight alcoholic content. It will be ready to drink but the flavour improves with keeping and it will keep for a year or so in a cool place.

Elderflower Cordial
 Elderflower cordial makes a lovely refreshing drink and it's easy to make your self, you'll need:
20 heads of elderflower flowers,
1.8kg granulated sugar, or caster sugar ,
1.2 litres water ,
2 unwaxed lemons
75g citric acid (available from chemists)
To make:
1. Shake the elderflowers to remove insects, and then place in a large bowl.
2. Put the sugar in a pan with the water and bring up to the boil, stirring until the sugar has completely dissolved.
3. While the sugar syrup is heating, pare the zest of the lemons in wide strips and add to the bowl of elderflowers. Slice the lemonsand add these to the bowl. Pour over the boiling syrup, and  stir in the citric acid. Cover with a cloth and then leave at room temperature for 24 hours.
4. Next day, strain the cordial through a sieve lined with muslin  and  bottle.

Monday, 15 July 2013

Death in the Sun

The extreme temperatures of the last few days seem to be taking their toll on the wildlife.

Yesterday I found the body of a baby rabbit, it must literally have dropped dead within minutes of my passing, and today I found the body of a tiny shrew. Both perfect in death but I hadn't the heart to photograph them hence the photograph of a live shrew courtesy of © Copyright Donald Bain and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

Some say "everything comes in threes" so I'm rather dreading what I might find tomorrow.

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Grey Heron ~ Ardea cinerea

Not the greatest of photographs, it was snapped from a moving vehicle as I drove down a track next to the main drain. The grey heron stood watching but of course decided to take flight as soon as I was anywhere near and off he flapped like a great old pterodactyl.

They are magnificent birds, grey herons, and for me it's always a pleasure to see one. He was propably hunting for voles on the banks of the newly cut banks of the main drain.

Thursday, 27 June 2013

Huginn and Muginn the orchard crows

In the afternoons a pair of crows often come to visit me in the orchard. They don't come too close but they hang around in the hope of being able to nick something and from time to time they have been fairly successful managing to steal some of my lunch when it's been left unattended wrapped only in plastic.

I've nicknamed them Huginn and Muginn after Oden's ravens and I find them vastly entertaining.

Today I succumbed to their charms, crumbled a scone and threw it for them. Huginn was first in gathering up as much as possible before flying off to who knows where, Muginn repeated the exercise and all was well until the magpie appeared.

Huggin and Muggin quickly saw the magpie off  but then another pair of crows appeared and while Huginn and Muginn chased them away the magpie dived in and got himself some tasty morsels.

I was so amused by these corvid shenanigans that I confess to donating another scone to the participants, I expect I'll come to regret my generosity should I find myself mobbed by crows!

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

The East of England Apples and Orchards Project

 The East of England Apples and Orchards Project (EEAOP) is a not-for-profit voluntary group that is working to ensure a future of orchards and orchard fruits within Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Essex, Hertfordshire, Lincolnshire, Norfolk and Suffolk.

 There are around 250 local varieties of apple, pear, plum and cherry with historical links to the East of England and EEAOP are working not only to ensure that these varieties survive but also become more popular in the region.

To find out more about the East of England Apples and Orchards Project please visit their website:

Thursday, 20 June 2013


If you've been out and about at all this month you've probably noticed the buttercups. This year has probably been the best year for buttercups ever, certainly in my memory. I don't think I've ever seen so many.

Although delightful to look at and play the traditional "Do you like butter" game with, they are also poisonous to humans and just about every grazing animal.

All of the ranunculus species of plants contain an irritant substance which causes protoanemonin poisoning you can find out more about buttercup poisoning here. Although the article is aimed at horse owners the information is interesting.