It’s starting to look like a late Spring here in a thawed, but still shocked, Somerset. Plants are cautiously emerging, but the buds on the trees remain resolutely closed. As their roots are still dormant, you’ve a little time left to plant out saplings. This should be done before late March.
Apples are such a staple food that it’s good to have a tree in your garden. Our estate was built on an old orchard, and a few of the original trees are left. My neighbour has one, left to grow to its full size over several decades.
You don’t necessarily want one that large. Techniques for growing smaller trees have been developed over the centuries since the sweet Chinese apple came over the Silk Road to Europe. Our native crabapple was bitter, but adapted to the climate. The sciences of grafting, pruning and cross breeding were known to ancient cultures.
Today, a vigorous rootstock is grown, then the top part of this tree replaced with a branch from a ‘fruitstock’. The resultant apple tree takes on the shape of the root variety, yet provides fruit from the graft type. You can buy dwarf trees, bearing your favourite apple but staying quite small.
These aren’t cheap, and will be something of a fixture; it can be several years before you get any fruit at all. It’s worth going to a short course with an expert to learn the basics of orchard management and how to apply these to your garden. Knowledge of this kind is a community asset, as described in the Handbook, so I went on a refresher course.
Anthony Ward, our tutor, is the keeper of the Chalice Well orchard in Glastonbury. We were planting some trees in a new field at Brook End Farm, situated where the Levels rise into hillier ground to the east.
You can see the knobbly bit on the trunk from the graft. If you have a pot-bound tree like this, dig your hole square so the roots can spread out easier.
The stake is driven in after the tree is planted. Modern ties allow more movement, as the action of the wind strengthens the roots. The grass is kept away from the trunk with a mulch; a precaution ignored with less valuable trees. For the first few weeks, make sure the sapling neither dries out nor sits in a puddle. Then forget about it till it needs pruning, which is a whole other story.
This is the apple tree in the Resilience Garden. It grew from an apple core hidden in a plant pot by my daughter. Although it produces good red eating apples, it clearly wants to be a very large tree. It’s an example of very bad pruning; I tried to make a ‘goblet’ shape without taking into account the shading from the fence behind. After that, I appreciated the courses more.
The mulch to the right of the tree is the filling from a defunct futon mattress, which I’m covering with a thick layer of leaf mould. I have access to a large pile of this; otherwise I’d use soil exported from the raised beds. The green shoots are wild garlic; they’ll be ready to harvest soon.
Wild Garlic Pesto
2 rounded tablespoons of crushed nuts (50 grams; 2 ounces)
2 handfuls of wild garlic leaves, washed and shaken dry (100 grams; 4 ounces)
1 tablespoon of Parmesan cheese – vegans can substitute yeast flakes
4 – 6 tablespoons of olive oil (100 – 150 ml; 4 – 6 fluid ounces)
a dash of lemon juice and a pinch of salt to taste
Blend everything together and serve with pasta!
I couldn’t resist adding that recipe, from ‘Recipes for Resilience‘…..wild garlic does make a lovely pesto and it has quite a short season. I grow a lot of it under bushes and in the wild areas, as very reliable spring greens. The nettles are coming up too – vitamins arriving at just the right time!
I’ve been asked to talk about resilience at the Earth Hour event in Chard, Somerset on the 24th March; I’ll be signing Resilience Handbooks too. The daytime events are free, so drop in if you’re in the area!