Monday, 10 December 2007

Pruning time...

There's a welcome lull in the cidermaking, with nothing much to do until it's time to 'rack-off' the ciders in the new year. I'm really looking forward to this part of the operation because despite involving a new round of cleaning and sterilising, and the time consuming syphoning of large quantities of cider from one vessel to another, this will the first opportunity to guage how the finished cider is likely to taste. In the meantime my attention has turned to our garden mini-orchard.

In addition to an old but productive Bramley, and a rather sorry looking, but equally productive eating apple, we have 16 young cider apple trees in our small orchard at the top of the garden. The Dabinett's and Harry Masters' Jersey's were planted two years ago, with the addition of 4 Yarlington Mill a year later, all on M26 semi-dwarfing rootstock. The aim is to produce a small orchard of compact, heavy-cropping bush trees, and to this end I'm attempting to train the trees to the 'centre leader' form favoured in modern bush cider apple orchards. A combination of shorter days, colder weather, and the mighty gales we've had in the last few days have now removed the last few leaves from our fledgling trees, and it's now time to do a bit of pruning.

I've already ventured up a ladder to continue the renovation of the old Bramley (seen here before any pruning work had been carried out, on a rare snowy day), a difficult but neccesary job owing to the neglect it suffered under previous owners. The excess of unproductive upwardly growing branches are being brought under control, and the light penetration and air flow through the tree is much better than it was previously. Sadly this tree was in need of this kind of attention long before I took ownership of it, the badly crossing, and in some cases badly rubbing main branches will never be fully put right. Replacing this tree with more of the cider varieties would make good sense for future cider production, but it's the heart of the orchard and I feel it would be wrong to replace it whilst it still has a few pies and crumbles left in it.

The new cider apple trees present a different challenge. The work I do now will help (or hinder) the formation of strong, healthy trees, hell-bent on producing bumper crops of high quality cider apples, with little or no need for the kind of drastic renovation work needed by the poor Bramley in their later years. All I need to do now is read every book on pruning I can lay my hands on, oil the Felco pruners, and hope I've learnt enough from previous years efforts to make a decent job of it.

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