As climate change makes local production more important it is vital that we all learn new skills, especially skills related to growing our own food. In Stroud we are lucky to have the community farm, where we can all feel a part of the food production process and watch and learn from our esteemed farmers.
The Gloucestershire Orchard Group is also doing good service, both preserving locally bred varieties of apples such as the Lodgemore Non Pareil (Stroud's own), revitalising abandoned orchards, sharing skills connected to caring for the apple trees, and celebrating the fertility of orchards.
The Stroud community farm has a connection with the orchard at the Resthaven care home near Edge. On March 3rd a group of about 10 people co-ordinated by Gary Morter of the farm's orchard group headed to the orchard together with pruning shears and secateurs. Three people were already skilled in pruning and showed the rest of us how it is done. Between us we devised the following outline rules:
We aim to encourage the tree into a goblet shape
We aim to remove branches that are crossing other branches
We discourage vertical branches and encourage horizontal ones
When pruning you should leave one fruiting spur
Pruning cuts should be clean and diagonal
It shounds a bit technical and some of us were rather daunted at first, but the amazing thing is that after a while you eye gets caught up in the tree and you can easily see which branches to prune. And then you stand back and see that the tree has become a different and beautiful shape. It was much more art than science and far more creative than I expected. It was a lovely sunny afternoon and so good to be outside.
Pruning the trees is just one part of the cycle of the year in the orchard. Last autumn there was a very succesful juicing day and in January we held a wassail there. We produced a mass of dead wood on Saturday and the plan is to wait until the trees are in blossom and then hold an event to celebrate this, along with a bonfire burning the wood.
I feel something of a connection with the grail legend here and have to just point out that a grail is a goblet and that the apple is the tree of immortality in Celtic religion (hence Avalon is the apple grove of everlasting life). Our relationship with the apple is a deep and ancient one. [Molly]