An Apple a Day

2 Oct 2019 | 0 comments

As summer comes to an end and the mornings are wet with dew, the apples trees in the orchard hang heavy with laden branches of red, pink, green, and even purple fruit.

The apple orchard here at Trill Farm was planted back in 2008 with 19 different varieties of apple. Some, like the Discovery and Beauty of Bath, with its bright pink skin and pink-stained flesh, are early eaters and have been ready since August. Others, like the small, sweet Winston, will not be ready until November and will last throughout the winter.

There are thought to be as many as 3000 different varieties of apple in the UK alone; certainly enough that you could eat a different apple with your lunch every day for at least 6 years. Historically, landowners, farmers and smallholders would develop their own local varieties, for eating, cooking or making cider, and care for them in small orchards with careful pruning. Since the end of the Second World War, many orchards have been lost through neglect or removal for pasture or building, and with them, the apple varieties that grew there. 

One of the reasons that heritage varieties are easily lost is that they cannot be regrown from an apple pip. Apple blossom can be pollinated by bees visiting a range of different trees, so the seeds have a different genetic mix to the trees the fruit grow on. Excitingly, this means that anyone can grow a new apple variety in their own garden, but there is no knowing if it will produce a deliciously sweet fruit, or a small and bitter one.

For an apple variety to be regrown with identical genetics (and therefore fruit), a small branch or twig (scion) from the tree needs to be skilfully grafted on to a new rootstock. The twig fuses to the rootstock and grows into a new tree, from which many other scions can be taken and regrown. In this way, a single tree can be multiplied many thousands of times and be growing (in part) all over the world.

For example, every Bramley tree comes originally from a single tree in a garden in Nottinghamshire, grown from a pip by a young woman around 200 years ago. It is likely that the pip came from another apple tree growing in the garden, and was a chance crossing that turned out to produce an exceptional apple, with the Bramley industry now worth £50m.

As for our own apples, as well as enjoying apples with breakfast, lunch and dinner, we preserve as many as we can peel and chop as compote to serve in the B&B throughout the winter, and press everything that remains by the end of October to make our own apple juice and apple cider vinegar, both available in our shop

If you would like to visit our orchards and learn how to prune and graft your own fruit trees, we will be running another of our popular Pruning and Grafting courses in February.

Mariel runs the farm office. She has a background in conservation and environmental education and is passionate about encouraging everyone to connect with the nature around them.