Tag Archives: apples

Plant trees now, and celebrate Apple Day!

First published by Rattan Direct on 21 October 2016.

Trees have so many benefits that if they didn’t exist we’d have to invent them! Plant one this year to enjoy next year. And 21st October is Apple Day, celebrating the hundreds of apple varieties that grow in this country.

Beech and spruce tree canopies in Malý Blaník Nature Reserve, Benešov District, Czech Republic. Trees
Beech and spruce tree canopies in Malý Blaník Nature Reserve, Benešov District, Czech Republic. © Juan de Vojníkov and published under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported licence.

The many benefits of trees

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.

When Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote this sonnet she could have been writing of trees and the benefits they offer.

Above all, beauty.

And trees play a part in:

  • ecosystems and microclimates
  • cooling by providing shade
  • warming by protecting against cold winds>

They contribute to our:

  • health
  • relaxation and calm
  • enjoyment
  • gardens
  • community wellbeing.

They help to:

  • link us to past and future generations
  • define space and screen unattractive views
  • reduce erosion
  • save money.

They give us:

  • fruit
  • nuts
  • firewood
  • timber.

Indeed, without trees we’d be a bit stuck. So if you can, plant a tree for next year – even in a pot.

How to plant a tree or large shrub

Prepare the ground

Trees grow well where the soil contains some air and is not too wet nor too dry. Prepare your tree planting hole with four simple steps.

  1. If you are planting in the lawn think about mowing: circles are easier to mow around, but square holes are better for roots. Go wild – dig a square hole but remove turfs to make a circle around it.
  2. Dig a hole that is slightly deeper than the pot or rootball of the tree, and over an area at least three times as wide.
  3. Break up the sides of the hole with a strong fork so the roots can get into the surrounding soil.
  4. Dig in a bucketful of well rotted garden compost

Small and young trees don’t need staking unless they are in very windy sites. If you need a stake plant it very firmly at least 20cm/8in from where the trunk will be.

Plant it

  1. Soak the tree in its pot or soak a bare-rooted tree in a bucket of water for about 30 minutes before you remove it from its pot or wrapping.
  2. Loosen any roots that have become crammed together in pots and spread out the roots of bare-root trees.
  3. Holding the tree upright, place it carefully into the planting hole so that the very top layer of roots are level with the soil surface when you have filled the hole. You may need to scrape away top layers of compost on container grown plants to find the top roots. Don’t plant the tree any lower – it will be vulnerable to disease.
  4. If your soil is poor, throw a handful of mycorrhizal fungi (e.g. Rootgrow) over and in contact with the roots.
  5. Refill the planting hole carefully, placing soil between and around all the roots.
  6. Firm the soil gently, avoiding compacting the soil into a hard mass, and water it in well.

Have a look at this YouTube clip for more advice.

A Chinese proverb is always a good way to end. The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The second best time is now.

Apple Day

Many, many different types of apples grow in this country. Hundreds of them. There are eaters. There are cookers. There are dual-purpose apples. And there are cider apples. Oh, and crab apples.

Their colour, shape, size and taste vary. Their names are those of old friends or new friends to be discovered and made. One variety is actually called Discovery. And meet Annie Elizabeth (she’s lovely), Beauty of Bath, James Grieve (we go back a long way), Blenheim Orange, Bardsey and Lord Derby. Can I introduce you to Charles Ross (I’ve known him since I was little), Bloody Ploughman and Lemon Pippin? Also Scotch Bridget and Reverend W. Wilks.

Supermarket shopping rather narrows the focus with regard to apples. Apple Day pulls in the opposite direction, broadening horizons and introducing us to all kinds of apples that grow locally.

Colwall Quoining. One of many varieties of apples on display at Colwall's 2011 Apple Day, Herefordshire. Trees
Colwall Quoining. One of many varieties of apples on display at Colwall’s 2011 Apple Day, Herefordshire. © Bob Embleton and published under CC BY-SA 2.0 licence

Apple Day is 21st October but really it’s a moveable feast, reflecting different harvest times from year to year, and from place to place. (Where I live, the 2016 harvest is two weeks later than usual.) Apple events in some areas go on all month.

Apples are for chutneys, jellies and pies, for eating with pork and bacon, for fruit juice, cider and calvados. Enjoy!


Blackberries! It’s time to go brambling

First published by Rattan Direct on 28 August 2016.

Blackberries are quite delicious. You can grow them in your garden but, for me, blackberries from the hedgerow or from brambles growing over from the neighbour’s garden are the best.

As so often with plants, names and terms vary across the country. Blackberries = brambles. Brambling = blackberrying. Brambles = the fruit or the thorny stem.

Blackberries are ready now

In many places brambles are fruiting now although it will be a bit later as you go further north, or higher up the hillsides. In some lucky places they have been fruiting for a few weeks.

Blackberries, Hanney Road, Steventon, Oxfordshire
Blackberries, Hanney Road, Steventon, Oxfordshire
© Steve Daniels and licensed for reuse under Creative Commons CC BY-SA 2.0 Licence.

How to go blackberrying – old style

You will need:

  • A bowl or a basin or a plastic container of some kind (an empty sandwich box after you’ve had a picnic is ideal).
  • A walking stick with a curved end to pull the out-of-reach and particularly delicious-looking fruit close enough to pick.
  • Sensible footwear, perhaps, but it’s quite possible to go brambling in flip-flops. It all adds to the danger (see next section).

You can go it alone or you can do it in company.

Blackberries picked on Wart Hill, Edgton, Shropshire
Blackberries picked on Wart Hill, Edgton, Shropshire.
© Jeremy Bolwell and licensed for reuse under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic Licence.

Blackberrying – the dangers

There are no two ways about it, blackberrying is a risky business. Be prepared.

I outline some of the major and minor dangers below but be warned that this is not a full and comprehensive list.

  1. You eat more blackberries than you collect in your basin and don’t have very many to take home.
  2. Your helpers eat more brambles than they collect in their basins. This is a particular problem with helpers under, say, the age of 12.
  3. You drop your basin and the blackberries roll all over the place, including in the ditch.
  4. You are attacked by rogue brambles. Some have vicious thorns and they can draw blood.
  5. You enter the Trance of the Serious Picker. You only see the berries, you don’t see anything else, you become a one person picking machine.
  6. Someone else has got there first.
  7. You pick blackberries when it’s raining, or when they are damp. They might be fly-blown so you could be picking maggots, surrounded by blackberry. Dicey.
  8. You pick blackberries low down – said by some people to be polluted by dogs and/or car exhausts. Eating these blackberries you will end up mad, one way or another.
  9. You pick blackberries after the end of August/September/October/another date (this varies around the country). This is an intensely foolish thing to do as these blackberries have been spat on by witches or worse.

Blackberrying and blackberries – the pleasures

Blackberry pie and ice cream. Blackberries
Blackberry pie and ice cream
© Rei at English Wikipedia, licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0
  1. It’s best to go blackberrying when the sun is on the fruit. And so the sun will be on you. You’ll feel relaxed and in tune with the world.
  2. Finding and picking the ripest, warmest blackberry and eating it yourself is one of life’s pleasures. You can, of course, offer them around to your helpers who are usually appreciative (unless they have entered the Trance of the Serious Picker – see above).
  3. Blackberry and apple crumble. This is, to my mind, even better than just blackberry crumble. The apple adds another layer of deliciousness and it makes the blackberries stretch further.
  4. Blackberry tart or blackberry pie, with or without ice-cream. A neighbour always has this as part of Christmas dinner. Tucked away in the freezer, the blackberries come out as part of the Christmas preparations.
  5. Blackberries and cream. I recommend clotted or double cream for a really lovely and indulgent pudding.
  6. Blackberry jelly. This is startling good but disappears quite quickly. (Blackberry jam is also good but rather full of pips.)

My birthday falls over this late summer bank holiday weekend. Weather permitting, my present to myself will be to go blackberrying and to find some clotted cream. I may share the spoils but, then again, I may keep them all to myself.