Winter report 2017/18

Pruned Tom Putt (with mistletoe)

After last week’s snow, it is to be hoped that the winter is now behind us and we can look forward to a sunny, warm and blossomful spring. In fact, here at Mosser, while we had less snow than most, we had the added excitement of an earthquake to herald its arrival. The epicentre of the earthquake (a modest 3.2 on the Richter scale) was just 400 metres up the road from the orchard. It has been a fairly hard winter overall, evidence for which was provided by the repeated presence of a deer in the orchard. Fortunately, he seems to have done little harm, favouring the ivy leaves to the apple tree bark.

The cold weather has held back fermentation in the (unheated, brrr!) cider barn, but we did manage to release the first of the 2016 vintage in time for Christmas. This cider, made predominantly from Tremletts Bitter and Tom Putt apples, has a flowery apricot aroma with a fruity flavour and dry finish, complemented by some smooth earthiness from the 25% addition of 2014 vintage. The result is an excellent partner for rich foods such as goose or mildly spicy dishes as well as pork, poultry, cheese and many vegetarian dishes (we had some with the Christmas goose and it went excellently).

The remainder of the 2016 vintage (including some Dabinett and Kingston Black / Brown Snout) will be released when we think it is sufficiently mature, probably over the next few months. We don’t like to hurry our cider! In fact, the apples from 2017 have still not all been pressed as the cold weather has slowed their ripening.

The main winter task in the orchard is pruning, which has now been finished. Varieties which are only used for cider get very little pruning – it doesn’t matter if the apples are small and high up, as we harvest them by shaking onto tarpaulins. The other trees are all hand-picked, so size and reachability are important. Pruning is a pleasant task in winter and provides some intellectual as well as physical exercise – you have to think how the tree will respond to your actions, in a sort of  four-dimensional game of chess. The good news is that it is difficult to do lasting damage to apple trees by incorrect pruning – practice and learning from mistakes are key. North Cumbria Orchard Group provides excellent annual workshops for those wishing to learn.

The orchard group, which we enthusiastically support, also has an annual grafting workshop (recently run) which teaches people how to create their own trees cheaply and easily by grafting cuttings from existing  trees onto new rootstock. The success rate is very high and, in the seven years since the formation of the group we have created over 500 new trees. Several of the trees in the Mosser orchard were created in this way, but we decided not to make any more this year so that looking after the orchard remains manageable. The orchard now contains 128 trees (including a few pears and plums) of 50 different varieties (43 apple varieties)!