A Chilling Thought

daffThey forecast another cold spell for this weekend as I write these lines. After this past week’s balmy weather, this could spell trouble for early opening buds.

But did you know that cold is good, if done right, for fruit trees and biennial plants like cabbage, sugar beet, celery or carrot? These plants all need to reach deep sleep through a cold period before they can blossom. Much like we rest through the night, apple trees, for example, typically need 1000 hours below 6 or 7 C, and not too much below 0 degrees through the dark season.

Of course we all know that much below freezing is called “freezing” for a reason! It’s no longer a chill, and much above 6 or 7 degrees makes some boys peel their shirts off. A chill is between 0 and 6 or 7 degrees, give or take.

1000 hours, that’s 42 days or a month and a half to you and me. The chill units don’t have to be sustained just like we don’t need to slumber through 6 to 8 hours of deep sleep every night (scientifically known as NREM Stage 3). It seems obvious, but is not clear to me, just how much fluctuation in temperature the trees can take before they are stuck in light sleep and fail to reach full dormancy.

Please let us know if you are a local fruit tree whisperer.

Different varieties and different species have varying chill unit requirements. Local weather records shows that most of February, much of January and some of December should qualify for plenty of apple tree chill hours, albeit not always continuously.

A third of the orchard trail has been planted three years ago and trees are looking fabulous, so we should see those trees bear a reasonable harvest thanks to the lovely cold. Provided the bees will fly at the time of blossom, and no hard frost will hit late, and the many other factors that make successful organic fruit growing a bit of a game of chance won’t come to fruition. Fingers crossed!

At least it’s nice to know that we have been shivering for a good cause, don’t you agree?


The Race Is On!

p20160522132521You’ll have noticed the only red fruit and green foliage today is within our logo, but you have also seen Daffodils and Crocuses emerge and announce the next season.

Surely it is still too cold and early in the year for apples, pears or quinces to blossom, but with a bit of sunshine and a sheltered location the apricots or even cherries might not be all that far away from coming into bloom.

May I suggest that you take a camera or smartphone with you as you walk the real or hypothetical dog along the orchard trail? We’d love to see your snaps of signs of spring. Any sign, but those of budding buds and blossoming flowers would be of particular interest.

The race is on!

apricotUpdate 15-March: the race is over. Thanks, Tim, for submitting the Apricot at Osterley Lock:

Oh Deer

not-a-deerThe BBC opened its Winterwatch programme with a report on Muntjac deer, reminding us that our resident park ranger James reported a possible sighting of a Muntjac in the Hanwell Meadows some while ago.

Before anyone gets excited one way or another, let me say that that reported sighting was from a great distance and is as yet unconfirmed. Reeve’s Muntjac are a modern times invasive species without natural predators in Britain, and sightings have been reported all over West London.

It seems quite plausible that a some Muntjac made the orchard trail their home though. We have no shortage of thicket, some even safe from dogs behind fencing along the railway line in the Hanwell Meadows. Muntjac are small deer with a shoulder at human knee height, but they are certainly big enough to explain some of the rabbit bite damage we have seen and couldn’t quite explain the enormous size of the rabbits required.

Muntjacs live alone or in pairs and are shy, making them difficult to find. You might be lucky to spot one, or hear its laughter-like bark. Please let us know if, where and when you do. Dare I hope you snap a picture, too?

The picture accompanying this article does not show a Muntjac deer.


Merry Christmas

merry-christmas-2016-02We wish you all a very Merry Christmas or festive end-of-year celebrations, and a very merry, happy and healthy New Year!

It’s been a joy to spend so much time together this year, and we cannot thank you all enough for all the work done to restrain brambles and nettles, encourage grass and meadow growth, collect rubbish and rubble, and so much more: Thank you, thank you, thank you!

We’ll all be taking a break now until early January, when we’ll be busy preparing for Winter pruning (13-Jan) and Tree Planting (New date: 10-Feb). We hope to see you there and then!


The Apple Orchard

_mg_8113I discovered Muriel Stuart’s lovely poem when researching last week’s article, but I also found and bought a book by Pete Brown: The Apple Orchard: The Story of Our Most English Fruit.

I am only about half way through the 326 pages at the time of this writing so there is no risk of me spoiling the fun by giving away the end, but I thought I’d share this discovery in this time of desperate need of ideas for presents.

I find it delightful, insightful well-written and entertaining, and I love that I am unable to put a label on it. It is neither fictional nor is it factual; it is a collection of anecdotes and thoughts, musings and ramblings, all related to orchards and apples in some way, some more directly than others. I won’t be surprised if I find Muriel’s poem in the remaining half.

Just remember: I have one already 😉

In The Orchard

dscn2213With Tree Tending Tuesdays and Orchard Love Saturdays in hibernation and the evenings drawing in, it’s perhaps a good time to recall our most recent fruity book recommendation.

Blimey! It’s been over two years!

There’s of course Chekhov’s famous Cherry Orchard. Our contemporary Joanne Harris expresses a particular preference for fruit with Five Quarters Of The Orange, Peaches for Monsieur le Curé and Blackberry Wine, which I all recommend.

Then I stumbled across this wonderful piece of orchard poetry by Muriel Stuart (1885-1967):

In The Orchard

“I thought you loved me.” “No, it was only fun.”
“When we stood there, closer than all?” “Well, the harvest moon
“Was shining and queer in your hair, and it turned my head.”
“That made you?” “Yes.” “Just the moon and the light it made
“Under the tree?” “Well, your mouth, too.” “Yes, my mouth?”
“And the quiet there that sang like the drum in the booth.
“You shouldn’t have danced like that.” “Like what?” “So close,
“With your head turned up, and the flower in your hair, a rose
“That smelt all warm.” “I loved you. I thought you knew
“I wouldn’t have danced like that with any but you.”
“I didn’t know. I thought you knew it was fun.”
“I thought it was love you meant.” “Well, it’s done.” “Yes, it’s done.
“I’ve seen boys stone a blackbird, and watched them drown
“A kitten … it clawed at the reeds, and they pushed it down
“Into the pool while it screamed. Is that fun, too?”
“Well, boys are like that … Your brothers…” “Yes, I know.
“But you, so lovely and strong! Not you! Not you!”
“They don’t understand it’s cruel. It’s only a game.”
“And are girls fun, too?” “No, still in a way it’s the same.
“It’s queer and lovely to have a girl…” “Go on.”
“It makes you mad for a bit to feel she’s your own,
“And you laugh and kiss her, and maybe you give her a ring,
“But it’s only in fun.” “But I gave you everything.”
“Well, you shouldn’t have done it. You know what a fellow thinks
“When a girl does that.” “Yes, he talks of her over his drinks
“And calls her a—” “Stop that now. I thought you knew.”
“But it wasn’t with anyone else. It was only you.”
“How did I know? I thought you wanted it too.
“I thought you were like the rest. Well, what’s to be done?”
“To be done?” “Is it all right?” “Yes.” “Sure?” “Yes, but why?”
“I don’t know. I thought you were going to cry.
“You said you had something to tell me.” “Yes, I know.
“It wasn’t anything really … I think I’ll go.”
“Yes, it’s late. There’s thunder about, a drop of rain
“Fell on my hand in the dark. I’ll see you again
“At the dance next week. You’re sure that everything’s right?”
“Yes.” “Well, I’ll be going.” “Kiss me…” “Good night.” …
“Good night.”

We do not endorse a whole range of activities in orchards and elsewhere, but we do like a nice piece of poetry.
More of Muriel’s work on Project Gutenberg.

Mangement Speak

dscn2923_kindlephoto-227171838Let’s talk about management strategies today!

I am of course referring to urban scrubland management in general and our orchard trail in the Grand Union Canal corridor in particular. No hollow phrases or Powerpoint slides in this management speak!

Research of biodiversity in urban environments confirms that biodiversity depends on habitat diversity.

By cutting back scrubland in selected areas in the Grand Union Canal corridor while leaving large areas of scrubland undisturbed, we add pockets of habitats through the introduction of open areas with small meadows and new trees, encouraging fauna and flora to complement the life hidden among the mostly thorny and stingy world of London’s wild west.

We have no biodiversity statistics for the area but personal observation shows that the area is rich in small mammals, amphibians, songbirds, bats and larger birds such as the heron, cormorant or the occasional green woodpecker and plenty of waterfowl. Oh, and the insects regularly introduce themselves in abundance, including the occasional nest of wasps or wild bees.

Perhaps you have photos documenting biodiversity in the area of the orchard trail?

We’d welcome contributions! Please submit photos to hanwell orchard (in one word) at gmail dot com including your full name, a short description of the variety or species shown, and where and when the picture was taken, and we’ll create a public photo gallery documenting biodiversity along the Grand Union Canal corridor between Osterley Lock and Bixley Triangle.

Can’t wait!


Crumbling Away

applesAn Apple Crumble with custard is never out of season according to the good wife. When the days turn chilly, the nights turn cold and apples are in abundance, what can be a better than this good old favourite?

Let’s get it right this time and make it all finger-and-lips lickingly good and from scratch. From top to bottom, in order of preparation:


Mix 250 ml double cream with 250 ml whole milk (1/2 pint each), bring it almost to the boil. Mix 100 g sugar, 5 free-range egg yolks (room temperature) and a good helping of vanilla essence or seeds from a vanilla pod. When the milk is just below the boiling point, remove from the heat and quickly whisk in the egg mix. Keep whisking for a minute, then place the pot in cold water and whisk for another minute.

There’s no need for water bath and it will not turn into scrambled eggs if you remember to remove the pot from the heat and whisk vigorously.

Put it into the fridge for at least one hour. This will keep for days, but it won’t last for days. Not in my house.


It’s 1 : 1 : 1 : 1. 50 g soft butter, 50 g sugar, 50 g white wheat flour, 50 g ground almonds. Take the hand mixer and whisk it all together, optionally adding a small handful of chopped toasted hazelnuts for extra goodness.

Put it into the fridge for at least 15 minutes. This can be prepared well before serving time.


Peel and cut apples, perhaps add a little ground cinnamon, lime juice and sugar to bring them to life with the right levels of tartness and sweetness.


Fill the baking dish or individual portion dishes with a layer of fruit.

Cover the fruit with a crumble layer, then bake at 200C for ~15 minutes until the crumble is slightly golden.

Serve straight from the oven with cold custard and speak no more.

Funny Fungi

dog-vomit-fungusIt’s late in the mushroom foraging season, but with luck you might still come across these funny fungi, sometimes aptly called the dog vomit mushroom.

It’s neither dog vomit nor fungus. You might have been carefully looking away from a slime mould, entirely harmless and natural albeit visually unappealing to most of us. There’s a good chance of finding some around the wood chip and bark used for mulching all along the orchard trail.

Fuligo septica is able to actively move to better food sources! How cool is that! Wikipedia describes it as a multinucleate mass of undifferentiated cells that may move in an ameboid-like fashion. Now it not longer sound quite so cool, but still… fascinating, don’t you agree?

Dolce Far Niente

demijohnAre you making your own Cider? Have you joined the discussion about the right type of yeast yet, whether to wash, to dance around it during a full moon or sing to it naked?

We hadn’t. Our Cider-making experiment failed thanks to our blissful ignorance. We hadn’t even thought of an airlock, I admit in shame. Ah, expert advisers told us dismissively, you’ll get nothing but vinegar!

And vinegar we got. Beautiful, aromatic, golden, delicious home-made cider vinegar. We are now making our own cider vinegar in the third year, and a few litres see us through the entire year. That wouldn’t happen if it was delicious cider, would it?

Here’s how:

Don’t wash or peel the apples to include the natural yeast which sits on the skin, just mechanically remove dirt, blemishes and anything which moves or wiggles. Press juice into a large pot. Leave standing open for a few hours to attract more natural yeasts, then put the lid on loosely, keep it at low room temperature away from direct sunlight, and do nothing.

White spots appear on the surface after a few days. Do nothing.

The surface develops a skin with more white spots, and eventually bubbles begin to form. Do nothing. Do nothing until the process is finished. After 7 to 10 days the bubbles stop. The yeast turned the sugars into alcohol, which oxidised into acid: the vinegar emerges!

Filter it through a muslin into a large bottle, canister or demijohn. Be careful not to close it tightly because the fermentation may not have completely finished after all. We put it on the shelf for a couple of weeks, then filter it through a coffee paper filter into pasteurised bottles and use it through the year.

It couldn’t be easier to make and fills me with pride and joy every day when I use our own vinegar.