Tom theAppleMan

Organic Fruit Tree Nursery

Summer at the nursery

Last month we welcomed a barnful of local stallholders and visitors to the nursery for our Summer Pop-Up. The atmosphere was buzzing and it was fantastic to be able to welcome so many keen gardeners, growers, foodies, and people wanting to make a positive difference; whether by planting for pollinators in their gardens, stewarding heritage fruit tree varieties, skills sharing, learning about agroecology or buying local to support sustainable, organic growers and food producers in our area.

The day was a celebration of delicious local fare, with everything from organic calf-at-foot dairy from our friends at Babbinswood Farm, authentic South American empanadas from Pueblo Artisan, and country-fete worthy bakes from Oswestry based Yellow Bicycle Cake Company. OsNosh Cic returned for another sell-out lunch service, featuring lamb sourced from Babbinswood and many ingredients, from beetroot to blackcurrants, grown right here onsite. The proceeds from their lunch menu that day raised over £500 to support their great work combatting food waste and food insecurity in the Oswestry area.

I led a tour of the fruit tree nursery and wider site to explain how each element contributes to the site as a holistic, sustainable system guided by principles of agroforestry to incorporate trees, shrubs, and herbaceous plants with various scales and types of horticultural cropping space, all of which provide diverse habitats for wildlife. Together with the growers working on site, I’m putting together ideas for courses, workshops and sessions to engage more people in our local community with practical skills, and the benefits of being outdoors. If you have a skill to be shared, or suggestions for courses you’d like to attend here, please get in touch.

Oswestry Life magazine kindly featured our open day in their article about the Shropshire Love Nature Festival, of which we were proud to be a part. The festival runs until 21st August, with lots more throughout the county to engage and inspire you to get outdoors and make positive changes for our environment. Big thanks everyone who came along and made it a great event, and to Rick for capturing some moments from the day…

It was a pleasure to finally meet Nick and Caroline of Somerset-based Habitat Aid, an award-winning small business specialising in native trees, shrubs, wildflowers, bulbs and pond plants from small, specialist and sustainably run British growers. Having partnered with Habitat Aid as one of their suppliers in 2020, I have been providing them with heritage fruit trees as part of their bid to protect the resilience and genetic diversity of the trees and plants grown here in the UK. Chances are, if you order a Welsh Marches apple tree from Habitat Aid, it will be coming from yours truly… You can read about their visit to the nursery in Nick’s recent blog post.

Giving Nick (and Caroline, behind the lens) the guided tour

In the spirit of ensuring the nursery is an oasis for wildlife, this month I installed 11 bird boxes in various sheltered, inviting places throughout the site. With a few more to put up, along with a heap of bat boxes to find homes for, the site should soon be teeming with even more wildlife.

A newly installed bird box nestled amongst the corkscrew willow coppice

The sunshine graced us with its warmth this grafting season, and I’m pleased to say that over 3000 rootstocks have now been grafted with heritage varieties of apples, pears, cherries, plums, quince and medlars from our mother collection, to form our 2024 stock. This included around 100 rare perry pears grafted to order for a customer passionate about this lesser practiced culinary tradition, who will be establishing an orchard for perry production. I must remember to pay him a visit in a couple of years’ time..!

I love hearing about people’s plans for their trees, knowing that these varieties will escape a fate of being lost to the mists of time and the homogenisation of our food systems to continue as part of our living heritage. Each of the varieties growing here can reveal intriguing stories, histories and connections between people and places, down the generations.

One of the apples I’m most proud of working on is the Bringewood Pippin, which I rescued from near extinction in 2004. This attractive little apple dates back to 1800; a cross between Golden Pippin and Golden Harvey, originally raised by renowned horticulturalist Thomas Andrew Knight of Downton Castle in Herefordshire. Predicted to become a valuable and productive variety at the time due to its excellent flavour for cider and, when left to ripen in storage, a tasty dessert apple with good contrast between sweetness and acidity, it was subsequently lost from cultivation over the years. That is until, when visiting a relative’s farm in South Shropshire, I spotted a tree with smooth, round yellow-gold apples I couldn’t identify. Intrigued, I took several fruits to an apple fair at Church Stretton, for Mike Porter of the Marcher Apple Network to cast his skilful botanical eye over. This set the ball rolling on a process of DNA testing, which would ultimately see Dr Danny Thorogood of Aberystwyth University confirm the apple as the presumed lost Bringewood Pippin. Illustrator Dr Margaret Gill captures the beauty of this little apple in her illustrations for the book Welsh Marches Pomona, an excellent source book, and the first fully documented record of 31 rare apple varieties originating throughout the region.

Dr Margaret Gill’s illustration of the Bringewood Pippin apple and blossom, from Welsh Marches Pomona

Now, with the fields all around busy with the baling of silage and hay, yet-small puffballs appearing in the grass, and many of the apples in our Mother Collection now bearing fruit, the sights and smells of harvest and late season abundance are all around. One of our early eaters, Beauty of Bath, best enjoyed straight from the tree, provides a refreshing moment’s pause between tasks, and the promise of apple season to come…