Wednesday, 30 April 2008
So, in the absence of much else to occupy my time, this is perhaps as good a time as any to draw your attention to the 3rd Delapre Abbey Beer Festival, a relative newcomer on the CAMRA festival circuit, but in my opinion, one of the better beery (and cidery) days out.
The festival is an under-canvas affair set in the spacious parkland's of Delapre Abbey, a short walk from the centre of Northampton (passing the excellent Malt Shovel on the way). A good enough place to spend an hour or two of your time even without the attraction of around 150 beers, ciders, and perrys.
Beer festivals under canvas offer the chance to drink and chat in the great outdoors, and to me are much more pleasant affairs than those which take place indoors. The festival at Delapre Abbey is like a mini version of arguably the best beer festival of them all, the Peterborough Beer Festival, which takes place in several huge tents towards the end of August. Of course outdoor festivals are always at the mercy of the elements, and none more so than the one at Delapre Abbey which takes place during the early, unpredictable part of the summer. Many a fete or gala has fallen victim to a May deluge, and it's to be hoped that this years festival is blessed with a repeat of the fine weather we had last year.
The cider bar at last year's festival was relatively small, but with a good range easily sufficient for a days cider and perry drinking. This year it's hoped that all three of Northamptonshires commercial cider producers will be represented, Eve's of Kettering, Windmill Vineyard of Daventry, and our own Rockingham Forest Cider.
I've got four weeks to get my knee fit enough for the walk to Delapre Abbey. Hardcore physiotherapy is the only answer. Failure is not an option.
Thursday, 24 April 2008
The cider we delivered to the Hatton is selling well, and it's tasting pretty good too even though this is an early batch not quite at it's best yet. The good news is that our cider will only improve from here on in, and if we get a few more days like this one, the sales curve can only go upwards. The picture above shows the view from the smart decking at the rear of the pub. Though a little hazy, the picturesque village of Lyddington can be seen across the valley.
Back home the brilliant white pear blossom has now emerged, and right on time some of the ciders have started a secondary 'Spring' fermentation. I've had to pop airlocks back on one or two as the fermentation is quite vigorous. In olden days, before the role of yeasts in fermentation was widely understood, it was thought this spring activity was somehow associated with the arrival of the blossom itself. We now know that it's simply the warmer weather sparking the yeast into life again, or more rarely the presence of a Malo-lactic 'fermentation'. This isn't a fermentation at all, but a benign bacterial process which converts the Malic Acid in a cider into the less sharp-tasting Lactic Acid. Our ciders are not too sharp anyway, but the Malo-Lactic process is desirable because it can also produce additional complex flavours in the cider. Either way, activity at this time of the year is common and certainly not undesirable, though if the storage vessels have been sealed down tightly, it can lead to alarming bulges and maybe even explosions in the ciderhouse!
Saturday, 19 April 2008
The numerous apple trees around the village are in varying states of growth at the moment, and I spent a pleasant few minutes photographing the emerging blossom. I never tire of snapping apple and pear blossom, it just looks so delicate and pretty at this time of year.
Tuesday, 15 April 2008
Saturday, 12 April 2008
Thursday, 3 April 2008
These trees are yearlings (Maiden Whips), grafted onto M26 semi-dwarfing rootstock, and are lovely specimens with plenty of growth. Liz Copas, in her excellent book 'A Somerset Pomona - The Cider Apples of Somerset', describes Tremlett's as '...difficult to manage, being full of vigour...' which probably explains the size of these trees. Anyway, the planting season is getting late, so in they go, and this is how I did it...
The trees arrived well wrapped in straw, and protected from damage by a strong cane. The straw around the roots was quite moist, but even so the rootball had dried a little and I felt they would benefit from a short time in a bucket of water. Whilst they soaked, I got digging.
The hole needs to be big enough to easily take the roots without bending or distorting them, and deep enough to plant the tree at least as deep as it was before being dug-up at the nursery. Seems obvious I know, but the planting depth is quite critical. Too shallow, and established roots will die off hindering the establishment of the tree. Too deep and there is a danger that the scion will send out rootlets which may bypass the rootstock, not good if you aim to control the size of the tree.
Once the hole is dug, a stake can be driven in with a lump-hammer, and I like to sprinkle a handful of bonemeal around the hole to help with establishing a good root system. Some people add organic matter to the hole, but my understanding is that this tends to promote excessive top-growth, whereas I want the tree to spend it's first year putting down a firm anchor of roots. The bonemeal needs forking into the soil so that it doesn't burn the roots with direct contact.
With the tree held in position using a tree-tie, I can now shovel back the crumbly earth around the roots. After a light firming-in with the boot, it's time to fix a rabbit-proof guard. A must for most rural/village gardens, rabbits are everywhere and will quickly strip the bark off a newly planted tree. I use a hoop of chicken wire, not pretty, but I've had no damage yet in the orchard.
The final task is 'tipping-back' the leader. By pruning the first year growth back to a bud, and pinching out the two buds below it, we aim to encourage the tree to send out lateral branches lower down, and strong central leader growth upwards. That's the theory, and only time will tell if I've got it right with these new trees.
For a video of fruit tree planting by the professionals, have a look here: Fruitwise Planting a Small Pear Tree