Rewilding our orchards
Wildlife first, cider drinking second, everything else third...
Like our cider, the orchards we collect apples from are distinctly wild. We love to see them being enjoyed by wildlife and people alike. The sight of natural swards in orchards, packed full of wildflowers to attract pollinators and other wildlife is wonderful to see.
After a lifetime of growing apple trees, our cidermaker Simon now prefers minimal intervention when managing cider trees, allowing them to take their natural course and shape, with just occasional dead and diseased branches being removed. It allows for a healthier tree, in tune with its surroundings and less prone to problems due to less pruning wounds and lack of pollinators. The sugar levels are just as high as if they had been intensively managed and the apples have a better depth of flavour. The acidity levels of the fruit are mellower, as they haven't been provoked into cropping with additional pruning. Some of the trees may slip back into partial biennial cropping, but this is fine, as this is an apple trees natural defense against pests and diseases which depend on annual lifecycles.
We like to use wildling (unnamed seedlings) cider trees too and we'll occasionally scatter apple pips after pressing to see if any of the seedlings have potential for cider. This process will encourage a larger gene bank of apples trees and greater biodiversity. Even if they don't produce great apples, some can be great pollinators for other nearby trees. We would love to see more apple trees in our landscape. Not just in commercial orchards, but places such as hedgerows, light woodland and even in towns. And of course, would like to encourage people to plant more trees in their garden.
When an existing tree is struggling in the orchard, Simon will sometimes take scion wood and chip bud or graft a new tree, so the cycle of life can start again. We never remove all the apples from an orchard, ensuring plenty are left for the wildlife.