Now there's a sight to gladden the heart of orchardists and cidermakers alike. Each of the four seasons is of great interest to the cidermaker, but it's perhaps Spring which is the most eagerly anticipated.
Buds are swelling in the orchard. Plump fruiting ones like those shown above, as well as the much slimmer 'growth' buds which will give us this seasons new wood. The sap is certainly starting to rise, but is this 'budding' activity a little later this year? Well, after consulting last years notes I'd say it is, perhaps by as much as three weeks. This mirrors the widely reported late arrival of Spring throughout the country. I'm really not sure what this may mean for fruit-set and eventual cropping this season. On the face of it, there's likely to be less chance of a late frost to damage the blossom, and there's also the possibility of greater insect activity during the all important pollination period. Bumper crops for 2010? Let's hope so...
Activity in the ciderhouse continues, with some of the ciders and perrys showing a gentle Spring fermentation following the long cold Winter. Blends containing a high proportion of Yarlington Mill cider apples are the most active. Higher initial sugar levels, and a slower 'wild yeast' fermentation mean these ciders are unlikely to be ready for sale until May or even June. We're lucky in that there's no great rush to start selling our ciders, but the Yarlington Mill blends will be at the core of this years Rockingham Forest Cider, so if things continue in this leisurely way, we may be forced to sell something a little bit different at the Northampton and Welland Valley festivals.
Meanwhile, the last few pints of early season Blakeney Red Perry are still available at the Red Lion, Middleton. We've been enjoying a drop or two of this lovely perry at home too. It's particularly nice as an accompaniment to time spent sunning ourselves in the orchard with the hens. Here's a pic taken a few seconds before 'Dolly' helped herself to a generous beak-full. Binge-drinking hens! Careful Dolly, I know a man with a tax to cure that!