Essential Pruning

Today we pruned all the fruit bushes.

They included blackcurrants, redcurrants, gooseberries, raspberries and blackberries.

The only tree I won’t prune until the early summer is the damson which could succumb to silver leaf disease if tackled earlier in the season.

The main reasons for pruning are to keep your plants healthy and free from pests and to produce good sized, tasty fruit.

Sarah had already pruned the apple and pear trees.

So Alex and I cut back the congested centres of the fruit bushes leaving them goblet shaped and airy.

One of five blackcurrants we pruned

We did the goosegobs first. The main leaders of each branch were reduced by a quarter to an outward or upward facing bud – we then cut back the laterals or side shoots on each branch to the second or third bud, again looking for an outward or upward facing one.

The blackcurrants were also opened up and lot of weak and criss crossing stems were removed at the base in the centre with very sharp secateurs or long handled loppers – with black currants you take out the darker older stems to leave the younger paler ones that will go on to give you this year’s harvest of pure vitamin C!

I made a complete mess of the redcurrants last year and had a very poor harvest…like gooseberries they fruit on older wood – the opposite of blackcurrants! So today I cut back lots of young sappy growth in the middle of the bush to leave some darker stronger stems that are two or more years old and which will hopefully be more productive this year!!

We also cut all the autumn fruiting raspberries to the ground. But their summer fruiting cousins were treated differently; we took out the old paler canes at the base leaving the new ones to grow on. They’ll soon be tied in to the wires that run the length of the bed to support them. A couple of them are broken and need replacing – another job for next week!

The old frame had become fragile and rickety

Finally we removed the old frame that’s served as a support for the thornless blackberry in the middle of the orchard and replaced it with a new one made from a mixture of hazel poles, wooden stakes and bamboo canes.

We cut back the old blackberry shoots that fruited last year and have tied in the two new healthy ones to our revamped structure.

The new frame which needs a few more lateral supports tied or woven in

We’ve also removed quite a few suckers that tend to revert to the wild blackberry – they were covered with spiny thorns that would make it hard to harvest the luscious black fruit at the height of summer.

All in all a very satisfying day’s work that will hopefully yield some good fruit.

To top it all in off we had leek and potato soup for supper.

The leeks – a variety called Bleu de Solaise – are stunning and remain unaffected by frost or rust.




Fruit Sorbet

A couple of weeks ago I looked out onto the garden and saw tiny orange globes hanging from an evergreen shrub in the main border.

I knew my father had planted the Japanese bitter orange as an ornamental specimen. It has shiny smooth green leaves and small fragrant white flowers in spring and early summer that stand out against the dark green yew hedge. It also sports the most vicious looking thorns a couple of inches long!

But I’d never really noticed the small orange fruit. I picked some of them and left them to settle in the kitchen while I wondered what to do with them.

Two weeks later – after Christmas – my friend Steve, came to stay again and pruned the apple and pear trees as well as the quince.

I cut back the gooseberries and redcurrants which were overgrown and tangled in the centre of the bushes to give them some air and to stop disease from creeping in.

The blackcurrants will have a third of their branches taken out when I harvest the fruit in summer.

And the Damson and Victoria plum trees will be pruned in the early spring or summer after the risk of silver leaf disease is over.

“Prune in June,” says Steve!

I’ve also coppiced the hazel tree – which really was overgrown and shading some of the vegetable beds. I cut the whole lot down to the base of the main trunk.

It should send up new growth which will make new hazel poles for use as supports. The twigs I will use as pea sticks.

I also turned the compost heap, forking a lot of the main pile into two black plastic dalek style bins – it’s breaking down nicely and should be ready for the new growing season in a couple of months time.

In other news: We are still able to pick salad including lettuce and curly endive growing under thick fleece, as well as parsley and chrysanthemum greens and stridolo – an Italian herb. I brined some oriental mustard leaves recently which are very tasty – and pungently hot!

Leeks have been great in soup and raw grated beetroot has been a refreshing salad with sliced orange and half moons of red onion dressed in red wine vinegar and olive oil.

As well as cooking together – Steve produced some amazing meals. I’ll post three recipes of his – using the ruby chard you can see below – next time.

He also found a use for the bitter orange which is very similar to Japanese wild orange or yuzu. It’s not eaten as a fruit but is used primarily for it’s scented juice and zest.

He used this to lace a black fruit sorbet with a tantalising tang of citrus.

Steve defrosted some of our blackcurrants and blackberries and macerated them overnight in sugar before adding a small amount of gin, the zest and tiny amount of juice from the bitter orange as well as an ordinary orange and blending it.

Then it went into the freezer and emerged a grainy, luscious sorbet the like of which I haven’t tasted for a long time.

He did the same with tayberries (a kind of raspberry), redcurrants and ordinary orange zest and juice with a couple of large jiggers of gin.   Again – a taste sensation!

What I liked was he didn’t try to sieve out the pips – he used the whole fruit – and I think it’s better for that. Anyway – the basic recipe is from this amazing website.

It’s worth mentioning that Steve didn’t use an ice cream maker or take the sorbet out and stir it as it was freezing and it still worked.

Thanks Steve. You’re a culinary and horticultural wizard!

Finally – I wish everyone a very happy, productive and resilient year ahead.

Thank you for reading my blog.

You can see Steve half way up the Bramley apple tree to the left of my head!