We held an Apple Festival at Ffarm Moelyci to launch the orchard plans and for the local community to learn more about Apples and Apple Trees. One of our volunteers has written a beautiful commentary about the event:
Apple Festival Day at Moelyci 15 October 2016
Ian Sturrock romped us through a happy hour identifying apples people brought in. We gawped in amazement at the extent of the Welsh heritage collection displayed on one trestle plus another groaning under an array of apples from all points of the compass. We also witnessed an expert apple tester in action: Ian inspected, sniffed, chewed, pondered and then spat out diverse mouthfuls as expertly as any wine buff.
The smell in the market garden polytunnel evoked memories of childhood for those of us born before apples were in the shops all year round. The earthy fruity aroma of a once a year apple harvest lingers in the memory.
Then came an hours talk like no other . The subject was wide ranging. Ian gave an impressive review of the chemicals that are sprayed onto the ground, around apples on the trees, on the ripening apples to deter insects,viruses scab and canker, on the ripe apples to stop them dropping off and after picking to preserve them for a very long stay in a controlled cool environment before selling up to a year later. The lining of apple boxes is sprayed to control the gases being given off in storage!! If commercially grown , apples are sprayed 17 times and some of the chemicals penetrate every part of the fruit – not just skin not just flesh but core as well- washing or peeling fruit in this case makes no difference to how many chemicals are ingested with every apple. So, one apple a day keeps you topped up with 17 chemicals a day!!
Ian explained how heritage apples have evolved to resist scab and airborne viruses that the moist climate of west Wales fuels. Trapped damp is the enemy of any fruit tree. Who could forget Ian’s graphic body language when pointing out how awful bri-nylon underpants harboured discomfort in ones nether regions creating a humid claggy environment perfect for the growth of unknown nasties – so too our local climate for young saplings. They need to be trained into open shapes for air to circulate and kept clear of weeds that harbour moisture Who could forget Ian’s dismissal of two huge buckets of damaged Bramley windfalls brought in to juice in his apple press – they are not acclimatised for the wild wet west and often develop scab whereas the Trywn Mochyn cooker was elegantly green, shiny and unscathed.
Ian touched upon the subject of grafting and the importance of choosing rootstock that limits the height of apple trees to facilitate ease of picking, but also on allotments and small gardens, to limit the extent that shade is cast . A classic example of this need came with the arrival of a retired couple who had attended specially to show Ian their beautiful apples that grow on a 30 foot tree in their garden and which they should like to develop as a new local breed. They planted an apple pip over a decade ago. They think it was from a Braeburn but as Ian said, trees from pips do not always come true because one of the parent plants may not have been a Braeburn . Another problem with the pip method is that apple trees naturally grow huge . This specimen the couple had planted is now going skyward but whereas the husband has joint issues that ground him, the retired sprightly wife still climbs the tree to pick the apples!! Not everyone can do this.
The other issue with the beautiful fruit of this tree is that the pip emanated from an apple picked from a parent tree in the Oxfordshire region – Ian explained how imported apples from drier areas in the UK struggle to acclimatise to our `Bri nylon’ conditions , one symptom being that they tend to be unreliable croppers. Nevertheless this intrepid couple were interested in getting status for its uniqueness and ,perhaps ,marketing it, given that it is now a North Wales version of the original parent trees. This was an informal discussion but Ian’s breadth of knowledge of the industry and the process for registering new species is impressive and extensive. He was even talking about DNA testing as a possible cheaper route to establishing status of new varieties than exists today.
In the course of discussion, he identified one apple book that he uses a lot for ID purposes – it’s beautifully illustrated and although its about English apples an American publisher took it on without realising that the US conditions are wholly unsuited to any of our apples so getting hold of a second hand copy of that book in America is a lot cheaper than trying to buy it here. Its called `The Apple Book’ by Rosie Sanders. He also recommended another book that covers the social history as well as the cultivation of apple trees in the UK: `The New Book Of Apples: The Definitive Guide to Over 2000 Varieties ‘ by Joan Morgan.
Next came a rush for different people to juice their windfalls using the apple press that Ian had brought for demo purposes. Several boys eagerly shared the initial task of turning the handle to mush the apples Then the weight was screwed down to hold the block against the apple mush and a long handled paddle was threaded through the top of the press to use as a lever to facilitate the much more challenging task of turning the screw to release the juice. Still the boys persisted and gradually the liquid flowed. Whichever windfalls were used , the juice was nectar.
After our lunch break a few stalwarts gathered for a master-class tour of the Moelyci fruit trees around the farmhouse and on the allotments. Using examples of good and bad practice we learnt :
- How tying saplings to stakes requires play in the wind so the stake should be placed at an angle and tied less than half way up the sapling so that the top half can wave in the wind. This is how it grows strongly.
- When tying supports to any small tree ensure that the tie is a wide strip of cloth rather than string that gouges into the bark
- The Pruning of apples followed principles of cutting to help an outward facing bud to fruit next year. This helps to shape an open structure.
- We identified the much smaller leaf buds on more upright stems as opposed to the fruit buds . The leaf buds send shoots upward in spring; the fruit buds exist on the more horizontal part of the branch . It’s possible to tie down an upward growing branch to encourage leaf buds to develop into fruit buds.
- We identified non native apple trees( probably bought in Lidl or Aldi) that had been planted and have grown but the leaves harbour scab and virus damage inhibiting healthy fruit development.
- We saw how step-overs are a much better choice on allotments where neither the plotholder nor their neighbour can afford to create too much shade area. Step-overs bear more fruit because the main branches are trained horizontally and the fruit buds become prolific.
- We looked at the damson trees by the red barn which many of us have experience of picking fruit from in the prolific years . These trees are probably 50 years old and are suffering badly from canker . It causes the fruit to shrivel and rot before reaching ripeness and the branches and trunks are badly damaged which makes it all the harder for the leaves and fruit to form fully every year.
- We looked at the giant Lord Derby cooking apple tree in the old garden north of the farmhouse. This is a hugely successful apple for this area .This is despite the neglect around the trunk with many tall weeds nettles and semi jungle conditions plus the competition from the conifers growing to the east and much too close;this tree is a survivor and the fruits are beautifully free of any scab or virus damage.
Our apple festival day was over, but Ian willingly accommodated late-comers bringing fruit to identify and others wanting to use the apple press on their windfalls.
If you get a chance to hear Ian give forth about apples you will be informed and entertained in equal measure. Alternatively his website now carries a very comprehensive set of videos under the “how to do” button.
-see http://www.iansturrockandsons.co.uk/ His business is located on the road past Finneys carpets behind Tesco in Bangor. His heritage fruit trees are well cared for and economically priced . He is very willing to talk trees and perhaps sell you a few if you call there.