More Trees

The replacement of the lost cherry trees continues apace – today, with the weather being far more seasonable, I snuck off to plant several MM106 rootstock apple trees.

The first was a Newton Wonder, one of those I grafted last winter and raised in the rhubarb/gooseberry bed. I have to say I’m ecstatic with the results – the roots on it are so large and healthy in comparison to any we’ve bought over the internet that something must have gone right. Along with that we also put in the other trees I grafted last winter – the Breunsdorf and Pendragon red-fleshed apples, and another Newton Wonder that was potted. The difference in size between those kept in pots and the Newton Wonder lifted from the rhubarb patch is quite amazing – the potted is half the size. Unfortunately, the labels wore away on the three potted varieties, so we’ll have to identify them by blossom colour (the Newton Wonder is white, the red-fleshed varieties are both pink). Once we know which the two red-fleshed trees are, we can only tell them apart from the fruit themselves – the Breunsdorf has a paler pink tint to the flesh, whereas the Pendragon is a lot reddier inside. No rush though.

Barty Update

Well – two weeks on from his last trip to the vet and Barty shows no sign of improvement, but neither has he worsened. He’s happily wombling around with his flock, wobbling like a goose after one too many, eating, drinking, and (not very successfully) preening. So off we went to the vet again, to see of the antibiotic route would work.

Being nigh on impossible to catch, we had the great idea to pounce first thing, before they had time to leave their house. The dog crate at the ready, we covered their doorway with it already opened, to catch them one at a time as they leapt out of bed. Of course, geese being geese, they had their own agenda, which didn’t quite dovetail with our own plan. Both Harold and Barty, being real ‘men’, launched out of the house in unison first, to check the coast was clear before Lucy and Fliss came out. No time to think, we shut the house door behind them, slammed the cage door shut, and we all spent a few seconds staring at each other – us at two ganders in the crate, them perplexed by this strange forcefield surrounding them. No chance we were risking Harold escaping, they were both going for a road-trip to the vets. Hoisted on to the waiting Barty-mobile, we trundled up the Patch path and wended our merry way to Mike, the tame vet. One look at Barty, a quick check over, and whilst I clamped his wriggling neck, Mike jabbed him and that was that. From the honking and squawking on their return procession to the Patch, you would have thought they’d been gone for weeks, not an hour!

Let’s see how he fairs after this.

Tree Planting & the End of an Apple Era

It has been another abominable winter so far – the water is not as high as last year in the fields around us, but the paddock to the rear of us and our land has been water-logged for a while. Despite this, possibly foolishly, I decided to plant the trees that arrived a few days ago. I had little option other than finding someone higher up on the hill who didn’t mind me heeling them in there for a while, but instead I chose to mound up the planting holes by around six inches, to buy some height.

We stripped out all but one (the Morello) of the smaller Gisela 9 rootstock cherry trees, after the disastrous winter last year that set canker going in all of them. I had decided to give them another go, but coming into this winter some had only one remaining branch, and rather than flogging a dead horse I figured if the apples are liking it so far, we may as well put more in.

I’d ordered a Lamb’s Seedling on MM106 rootstock, another Derbyshire variety, which means we have all of them I think, unless there are others unknown to me. Then, in the large orchard (the half-standards) we plumped for all Scottish varieties – hardy northern trees that can stand the wind and wet and cold we tend to get here. These, all on MM111 rootstock, included:

  • Oslin
  • Roxbury Russet
  • Coul Blush
  • White Melrose
  • Lady of Wemyss

These replaced the cherries we pulled out, and the Beeley Pippin the geese ring-barked. Concerning the last, we had tracked down a Beeley Pippin local to us, to take scion wood from. However, our tree, despite having had its bark removed totally for a good six inch height, had scions that still looked nice and green. In the end I grafted five of these on to MM106 rootstock, so hopefully we can save the tree and have a few more to boot.

Then, to replace the plums we lost in the large orchard, we planted Oullins Gage and Czar – both on St Julien A rootstock.

I suspect I’d thought of pulling up the very last cherry tree in the large orchard, but in the end decided to let it have one more year to see if it could pull through. As it was I had a spare Orkney apple tree on MM111, so that went in to the small chicken paddock to the back of No.2 – which is gradually filling up with fruit trees! Room for a couple more I think, but no rush, something will come along that needs planting!

Old Merrybower Apple TreeOn that note, it was a sad day on Sunday (9th). Farmer John called to say that they’d had to cut up the big old apple tree that has kept us all at Merrybower (and beyond) in cooking apples, for well over fifty years. I suspect it was nearer 100 years old as it’s in the area shown as a farm orchard in the old OS maps. The ground has been so wet over the last year, and this winter especially, that the gales over the week had managed to topple it, roots and all, into the barn to its north. Luckily it only clipped the corner and the barn was saved, but the poor tree had had it. It must have stood around forty or fifty feet – we had to pick apples whislt standing in the tractor bucket, and even then we only managed to get half-way up it!

Still – to try and salvage some good from the disaster, I’m going to grab some scion wood tomorrow and order some more MM106 rootstock, to graft as many as I can and save the apple type. No one here knows what it is – but it’s a beautiful cooker.

Sponge Cake with Lemon Zest and Raspberries

Yet another cakey delight from the kitchen, with a low-sugar option in the ingredients 🙂

  • 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons milk
  • Finely grated zest of 1 lemon, plus 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1 cup sugar (or half a cup of e.g. Splenda)
  • 4 large eggs
  • 2 cups individually quick-frozen raspberries (6 ounces)
  1. Preheat the oven to 350°. Lightly grease a 10-inch round cake tin or loaf tin.
  2. In a bowl, whisk the flour with the baking powder, baking soda and salt. In a bowl, mix the olive oil with the milk and lemon juice.
  3. In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, blend the sugar with the lemon zest. Add the eggs, 1 at a time, and beat at medium speed until thick and pale, about 3 minutes. Beat in the dry ingredients, alternating with the olive oil mixture until the batter is smooth.
  4. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and scatter the raspberries on top. Bake for about 40 minutes, or until the cake is golden and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with a few moist crumbs attached. Invert the cake onto a wire rack, turn it right side up and let cool completely. Cut the cake into wedges and serve.

Barty Update

Well – the results have come back from the vets for Barty’s poop samples. Under the microscope no eggs could be seen, so we asked for a separation test to be done, where the poop is separated into its various components, each rising to its own level. It’s more costly and takes more time, but we care about our Barty, even if he can be a bit of a grump at times (can’t we all?!).

The vet gave us the all clear – no eggs or anything untoward found in the poop samples. This leaves us with two options – wait and see if he gets better by himself. If it’s something like an inner ear infection then that may happen. If it’s something affecting his brain, then we’re unsure. The only problem is that most head problems can only be diagnosed using equipment such as an MRI scanner – clearly not going to happen – or once the animal has died – bit early for that, Barty wouldn’t approve of that method. So we’re going to wait for a week or so, and in the meantime we’ll put all four geese back together again, to make him happier in his little flock. He does seem a bit werrity if parted from them, if I’m honest.

If he’s still wobbly after a week or so then we can try the antibiotic route, in case it’s a bacterial infection. Fingers (and wings) crossed.

Wobbly Barty

For around a week now we’ve noticed Barty has been a bit unsure on his feet. This video shows it off better than I can describe it, which is essentially drunk. He’s not showing signs of tiredness, or lethargy. He’s eating and drinking as usual, but he was getting quite stressed having the two young geese (Harold and Fliss) the other side of the sheep netting. So whilst we’re waiting for the results of poop tests, we’ve put them all together again as he seems happier and eats more that way. We figure that as they’ve only just been split up for the breeding season, to put them together again doesn’t really put them all in danger of catching whatever he has as if it’s contagious then the likelihood is they’ve already been exposed to it.


Lemon Yellow Squash Pie

With an abundance of Tonda Padana winter squash – grown for its amazing taste and storage properties – Suz adapted a squash recipe found elsewhere. It went something like this:


  • 1 cup tonda padana squash
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup Splenda (sweetener)
  • 3 teaspoons white flour
  • 2 eggs (kindly donated by Holly and Mistletoe)
  • 1/4 cup baking margerine (Stork, but butter will do)
  • 2 teaspoons lemon extract
  • grated rind of one lemon
  • pastry for the base (to suit)


  1. Pre-heat oven to 350C.
  2. Wash and peel the squash.
  3. Scoop out the seeds and save to bake separately for another dish.
  4. Cut the squash into manageable chunks
  5. Grate the squash with a coarse grater (a typical cheddar cheese grater is good)
  6. Mix all the ingredients (except the pastry!)
  7. Line a pie dish with the pastry – it’s only going to be the base.
  8. Fill the base with the squash mix.
  9. Bake for 45 minutes on the low rack, but in our fan-oven it only took 27 minutes.

That’s it! Suz baked a couple of them – they lasted two days (personally I’m surprised they lasted that long!), and the second was even better as the lemon had time to really soak into the squash.

On the subject of squash – we worked out, given the seed packet cost, how much it costs to make a meal per person. Suz concocted another gorgeous recipe – Baked Squash Soup – roughly speaking the ingredients are baked squash, baked garlic, fried onions, cayenne pepper, nutmeg, salt and pepper to taste. Oh, and some milk. This soup, with grated cheese on top, a couple of slices of bread and butter, gives you all you need and the soup contingent costs around 10p per person per meal. The squash, onion and garlic are all home-grown. So including the cheese and bread and electricity you’re probably looking at 40p maximum per person per meal. I’m saying this, not for the cost perspective, but for the fact that as a nation we have forgotten how to eat cheaply *and* well. I only wish local councils would help people who want to grow their own by encouraging allotments, teaching people, and we could all have a bash at that smug feeling to be had from chowing down on your own produce. Sometimes our priorities are so messed up. Sure, it takes a lot of time to grow and prepare the food from your own patch, but what else would we be doing? Watching the goggle box? Paying for gym membership, when all the exercise I could possibly wish for was at the end of a fork or spade?


Beeley Pippin Grafting

Beeley Pippin GraftingRather than buy another Beeley Pippin to replace that which the geese decided to ring bark (jolly fellows that they are), I managed to save some scions from the dying tree and today grafted five on to new MM106 rootstock. Hopefully at least one will take, and we’ll leave a space for it in the little orchard. Any others we can find homes for I’m sure!