Our heathlands are unique cultural landscapes that owe their existence…
So October comes around again and some are already talking of Christmas. All I will admit to is thinking of those young turkeys growing fast in the back garden. Well lets hang on the the last vestiges of summer whilst we can, there are still several summer migrants around, albeit only a few swallows and house martin remain. To me one of the best parts of the summer is the picking of fresh runner beans, commonly known as string beans in Devon. This year, as most, I planted a few seeds in early July to take their chances on there being an Indian summer, if that happens, there may still be a picking into mid-October. Gales and early frost will thwart my desire to deceive the seasons, beans just give up at the sign of frost. Living within a stones throw of the River Bray valley bottom means that the area is a frost pocket, so marrows and late raspberries all disappear at the same time. So far this Autumn, the garden harvest has been gathered. Onions, pumpkins and potatoes in store, the sweetcorn has had a bumper year and any day now all the apple varieties will be ripe. There are many old varieties in the small orchard alongside the Bray. One variety reputably bred by the previous owner, ripens late August and coincides with the first blackberries here. Any spare minute available is devoted to pick these fantastic free fruit as I can’t get enough of my wife’s wonderful blackberry and apple pies. Even as late as October, there will be places in North Devon some can still be found to pick. In the middle of September there were many still forming at the end of the toll road down to Crow Point. The weather between then and now will have determined if they ripened successfully.
Over the last 25 years, since becoming the custodian of the orchard with some very old trees in, it became a mission for me to save as many trees as possible. I had taken many apples to Rosemoor and Apple days at Eggesford Garden Centre and found that nothing is straight forward with identification. It was up to me to graft all the old varieties onto new root stock. Years ago I have been told that farmers used the young saplings that grew from the waste of apples pressed in previous years. I had none of them but someone kindly gave me bucketfuls of Crab apples. Those got piped and sown and two or three years later I had root stocks for the purpose. However, I had no idea how to do the grafting. Another course was necessary. This time with Kevin Croucher of Thornhayes Nurseries with his tutoring I became an “expert” in no time. For years to come, February’s were allotted to grafting.
That was some 20 years ago and now most of the 100 trees grafted are bearing fruit of many different varieties, including Newton Wonder, Quarry and one my children call the Train Tree as they used to play on in as a train, Russet like in appearance. Also in the mix are the Broomham White (which my predecessor named) as well as more modern Bramleys, Discovery, Worcester Permains and countless cider varieties. Apples have a habit of bearing well every other year and this year looks a good one. So… any day the fun and hard work begins.
I hate seeing carpets of fallen apples going to waste. That said, as many as possible are used, given away (more happily if friends help themselves!) and others stored for the winter or, most enjoyably, pressed. This is where the real fun starts; picking, washing, crushing, pressing and finally bottling with as many hands as possible. This bounty we freeze. Any attempt at cider making has been a failure. On the last effort, the spectrometer gave a reading of zero alcohol so… that was the end of that dream. Another old tale I have heard (but will not do!) is add a rat to the juice to aid fermentation. I have since learnt that washing the apples takes off all the natural fungal bloom and I believe this is where we went wrong.
In travelling around the north part of the county, the grain harvest was still hanging on in places even until mid September and now the next season crops are going in. At sea, the shell fish harvest carries on well into autumn and only stopped by autumn gales. Recently I had an interesting day at sea with a great friend John, who fishes out of Clovelly for crabs and lobsters. I thought I had an idea of hard physical work but it may be time for a rethink when compared to our fisherman.