Archive for the 'Fruit / Orchard' Category


The Orchard Is Here!


This doesn’t look like much but believe it or not it’s my whole orchard! The fruit trees that I ordered back in December arrived last week when the snow was deep and the temperatures were well below zero. I kept them cold and moist in the basement until today when the snow began to melt and the soil was workable again. We planted all nine fruit trees and the three little white and blackcurrants too.


Each one has two wooden stakes pushed into the sides of the planting hole. I also put a couple of Mycorrhiza packs in each hole. Read more about Mycorrhiza here. And the last thing to do will be to label them.

It looks a bit odd to be planting trees in the snow but it’s important to get dormant trees in the ground as soon as possible. And the temperatures predicted for the next week are positively mild for this time of year.


So there you have it. The beginnings of my orchard. I feel like I need to pop the bubbly!


Planning my Orchard


Planting and caring for my own fruit orchard has been a dream of mine for quite some time. I think I can trace my excitement to one day about eight years ago when I went to the orchard tea rooms at Granchester, just outside Cambridge in England. It was a beautiful sunny day and we sat underneath old Apple trees, in frayed deckchairs and drank tea from clinky china cups. There may have been an amount of cake eaten too but to be honest I can’t remember. The day was and is a complete haze for me. All I could do was sit there and dream of how I was to create my own little Granchester.

It helps my poetic idyll that Rupert Brooke also had an opinion on it. The final lines of one of his most famous poems is about afternoon tea at Granchester, “Stands the church clock at ten-to-three And is there honey still for tea?”

I don’t know what it is that makes orchards so romantic, but they are.

The photo above is the patch of land at the side of our house that was always going to be the orchard. We’ve been living here for a year now and I haven’t really done anything to this part of the garden except let it get hideously overgrown. As you can see I’ve been quite successful at that.


But last month I decided that 2014 would be the year to plant the orchard. And if the trees are coming in the Spring then that only means one thing. The ground needed to be cleared, the stumps removed and the soil improved. I did not do it. We hired a group of guys to come and do the heavy stuff.

They brought a mini-digger in and removed all the larger bushes. They were mostly large Viburnums, Lilacs and very, very big Sword Ferns. I was sad to see the plants go but go they must.

And this is what is left. A frozen wasteland with sticks denoting where the trees will be planted. The trees will all be semi-dwarfing and so with pruning I should be able to keep them between 12 -15 feet. They need to be at least eight foot apart and so with this taken into consideration I can fit 10 fruit trees in.

Over the years I’ve done a lot of research on choosing Apple varieties. These are the trees I have selected and ordered from Raintree Nursery.

Egremont Russet EMLA26 eating
Liberty EMLA 26 eating

Honeycrisp M26 eating
King Edward VII M26 baking


Sweet Cherry:
Black Gold

Nikita’s Gift


I have grouped them here in pollination groups and will be planting those trees next to each other to maximise pollination. I already have a Crab Apple tree in the garden which I saved because it will be great for pollination too.

I also ordered some soft fruit bushes. White and Red Currants, Black Currants, etc. I’ll wait until the orchard is planted to put in some Raspberry canes. I’m not sure where I’ll have the room yet!

So there you have it. A planned orchard. Obviously I have quite a way to go before I actually harvest any fruit and I’m certain there will be lots of lessons to be learned. But it’s exciting to finally get operation Granchester off the ground.


The Solitary Fig


Well, my Fig tree has one Fig on it. It’s a start! And everyone has to start somewhere, even a tiny Fig tree that in about 15 year time will dominate the garden (that’s the plan). But I’ll take one Fig. I fretted over whether to pick it (as you do when there is but one). And I observed it as it started to move from horizontal to the tree to more curved over like it was loaded with juice. Then yesterday I touched it to give it a squeeze and it came off in my hand. Now if ever there was a sign that it’s ready…

It tasted very fragrant, like the best fig flavour you can think of. But… it wasn’t very juicy. Almost dry. Maybe I let it go too long. Anyone have any nuggets of advice on Figs?


Tasting My First Medlar


I planted a Medlar tree last Spring. I don’t know why but the moment I first saw a Medlar I knew that I would have to plant one at some time. And the minute I had the space to do it, I did.

I first saw one at The Courts Garden, a National Trust property near Bath that I visited a lot when I lived in the UK. The tree wasn’t very big – I’m estimating around 12 foot high but it was perfectly proportioned. It bloomed with white flowers in the Spring and dangled with brown jewel-like fruit in Autumn.


I never dared to touch the fruit (someone might see me!) and so I didn’t know what a Medlar tasted like. I had heard that it was one of the oldest fruits that we still cultivate and that it had been popular in Medieval times.


The fruits aren’t that big, say the size of a small Tomato, and they hold onto the tree way past leaf fall and into the Winter. Infact, the softer the fruit the better they taste. They need to be bletted or rotted before they are soft enough to eat. Before that they are just like hard crab Apples, ie. bitter and yuk!

My Medlar has done surprisingly well. It has coped with both my clay, waterlogged soil and near drought conditions in the summer! It also had some lovely orange leaves in the Autumn.

Now there are six fruits on my tree. I’m surprised since I only planted it last year. I could see that they were ready because they were drooping down and when I squeezed them they were soft and bouncy.


So here they are. And it’s time to taste my first one! The taste is interesting. It’s like stewed Apple but fresher and with more caramel. I like it! There are stones in there so you have to avoid them. And the flesh is so soft that you really have to eat it with a spoon. And… there isn’t much of it. But… my curiosity is filled. I now have my very own piece of history, growing in my garden.


Good question! You need a long, hot summer and a good location to grow Watermelon but if you’re lucky enough to have that then you may be able to grow Watermelon. The question is, when do you pick? Because after all that hard work you don’t want to spoil it all by picking too late or indeed too early.

But don’t worry there are signs that will tell you when is the right time.


The first sign to look for is the nearest tendril to the fruit. It will be curled and, if the Watermelon is ripe, it will brown and shrivelled. The one in the photo is not, so this Watermelon is not yet ready.


Next look for a small cup-shaped leaf near to the fruit called the ‘spoon’ leaf. It’s about the size of a teaspoon and different from the other leaves. If this leaf is brown and shrivelled or has even fallen off then this is another sign that the Watermelon is ready.

Lastly, inspect the underside of the Watermelon. Is there a white patch, or lighter patch on the Watermelon. If so then this could be a sign that it’s not ready. Ripe Watermelons should be a nice deep green colour all over.

So there you go. If all the signs are there, harvest now, before the weather gets any worse.


Family Raspberry Picking


We went on our first Raspberry picking trip this weekend. We drove to a farm on Sauvie Island and found a sweet little place with Raspberries, Blueberries, Strawberries and cutting flowers available. It was family-run with mum and grandma weighing out the fruit under make-shift tents and people tripping off into the distance with cardboard flats and coming back laden with fruit – too much fruit in many cases but that’s what you do at fruit farms right?

eating rasps

It was a hot day and our children were never going to make it all the way to the Strawberry patch so we stopped at the first row of Raspberries we came to. Predictably, the row had no ripe fruit in the first 20 paces or so but further in where fewer human hands had been the fruit dripped off the canes and we started filling our cases. The children loved it. They ran up and down picking (and eating, of course) like they had never had Raspberries before. Jackson took to sitting in the cart in the shade and eating directly out of the box as I picked them – well it’s much easier that way, he figured out.


I loved our fruit-picking time. It was like stepping back in time to a ‘me’ in the thirties or forties. I imagined that I lived down the lane in my tumble-down cottage and this was my nearest farm where I collected my fruit. In my mind I was also dressed in a tea dress and heels with urchin, shoeless children and probably a husband in an army uniform somewhere. That didn’t happen. But it probably should.


Hood Strawberries


My first Strawberry harvest of the season! They are a variety called Hood, local here in Oregon. Some people refuse to eat Strawberries until the first Hoods come into season and now I understand why. Wow! they taste amazing. It’s nothing to do with my growing technique just a good variety at home in the Portland climate.


Planting a New Fig Tree

I’ve always wanted to grow a Fig tree, I’ve just never had the room. I used to work in an office where there was a beautiful and quite large Fig tree outside the window. It was covered in Figs come late Summer but no-one ever picked them. It was so sad.

So here is my opportunity to put things right and grow my own Fig tree. I planted it on a south facing wall in a protected corner of the garden. As per RHS Fig planting instructions I prepared a pit and put stone slabs on all sides to contain the root system. Then I put rubble and broken bricks on the bottom too. It seems a bit harsh but apparently it helps the tree fruit better.

All I know is that, if and when my Fig tree produces fruit I will definitely be picking the fruit and none will be left on the tree!


Evergreen Blueberries

I’ve actually planted something. I dare not plant anything in the main garden yet as there are too many hob-nailed boots around. But there is a small patch of earth just outside the gate that seemed like a safe place to put some lovely, evergreen Blueberries.

Every single Blueberry I’ve grown in the past has been deciduous. The leaves turned a beautiful flame colour in the Autumn but then dropped and sprouted again in early Spring. This was lovely and no doubt I’ll plant more of this kind in the wider garden. If I can, I’ll always plant something edible rather than just decorative and evergreen Blueberries seemed the ideal plant to keep this spot interesting throughout the whole year.

This variety is called Sunshine Blue. It’s a mid-season variety with pink flowers and can grow to about four foot.


Apple Tasting Day

Now that I live in Portland I felt it was time to get to know my local Apples better. I know the names of British Apples quite well, Ashmead’s Kernel, Beauty of Bath, Blenheim Orange. They all have lovely traditional names. But when it comes to Apple varieties here in the Pacific Northwest I’m a beginner.

I’d love to turn part of my new garden into a mini-orchard. In reality that probably won’t materialise for about a year but that gives me plenty of time to research and prepare the ground for planting next Autumn. So when I saw that my local nursery was holding an Apple Tasting event I had to be there. For research purposes you undersand!

I’ve had most success with fruit when I’ve grown what has evolved locally. By that I mean that the variety has been perfected for my local climate and may have even originated there. When I lived in Bath, UK I grew an Apple variety called Queen Cox that was perfectly suited to the wet weather there. It blossomed and we dined on Apple Crumble all Autumn. So I’m planning to do the same here and grow what the local farms produce.

I sampled a lot of apples! To be honest by the end of it I couldn’t discern the sweet from the tart. But there were a couple of varieties that stood out for me and I’ll be trying to incorporate them into my orchard plan.

Ashmead’s Kernal – the old favourite reins. Good all rounder for eating, baking and keeping
Brock – sweet and tart and good for eating and baking
Buckeye Gala (red) – great tasting eating Apple
Cameo – Super sweet eating Apple
Cortland – Tart and great for baking
Elstar – for its taste and amazing colour, good for baking
Honey Crisp – Sweet eating Apple and a good keeper
King David – Sweet and tart and good for baking
McIntosh – sweet, good for eating, baking and keeping
Rubinette – Great for Apple sauce
Spitzenberg – Sweet and tart and can be used for drying
Swiss Gourmet – A sweet eating Apple

Starkinson – for its sweet tast and amazing bright red colour

Asian Pear
20th Century – this had a really interesting almost flowery taste.

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