How To, Jorge, Plants, Trees

choosing apple varieties

When deciding on what to buy, there are factors worth factoring and others best ignored. Important factors include rootstock and variety. Rootstocks help determine the size of your tree, which is important if you have a small garden. Varieties determine how you can use your apple and this is the key point. Only buy a variety where you want the apples.

Select a Tree Based Off These Traits

Dessert

Forgo imported cultivars and stick with a British classic! Nothing tastes better than a Cox straight off the tree.

Other classic varieties include Egremont Russet and Worcester Pearmain, both famous for unique flavours with hints of pineapples and strawberries respectively.

Modern AGM cultivars include Discovery, Pixie, Sunset and Scrumptious, which are all easy to grow. Discovery, Sunset & Pixie come recommended from our nurserymen.

Cooking

Bramley apples keep well and are rarely overwhelmed when combined with other ingredients. A new introduction Bramley 20 produces a significantly smaller true, perfect for small gardens.

Charles Ross, Grenadier and Lord Derby were all once widely grown. Grenadier stands out as a reliable producer.

Dual Purpose

Look no further than James Grieve – perfect for eating, cooking and juicing.

Cider

It should be noted that most cider apples are used as part of a blend. Cider apples, high in tannins, produce the flavour, while acidity, which prevents spoilage from unwanted microorganisms, originates from other apples.

cider apple acidity and tannin levels

Kingston Black is one of the few apples you can make cider without the need to blend the juice, owing to its high acidity. As a vintage cultivar, it will ferment slowly, leading to complex and interesting flavours.

For a more reliable cropper, try Dabinett.

Best x Season

Buying trees with different harvest seasons is important if you want to avoid a glut. Try Discovery, Cox and Pixie for early, mid and late eating apples.

Cooking apples generally keep better than eating, and can be used to make cider. Adding cider apple or crabapple juice will produce better cider.

For Small Gardens

As it is the most dwarfing rootstock available, a M27 rootstock is recommended. It will produce a tree 1.5m tall.

You can train your tree to a south-facing wall to maximise output or even build a vertical axis system.

Triploids are best avoided as they produce large trees.

Dwarf

The rootstock is the most important factor in determining a tree’s size.

apple tree rootstock infographic
Approximate apple tree eventual heights by rootstock. We have taken growing conditions as optimal and presumed the tree is a Cox.

It also depends on how small you want your tree. A M27 will produce a 1.5-2m tree, a M26 a 2.5-3m tree and a MM106 a 3.5-4m tree.

Cordon

Vigorous rootstocks and varieties are best avoided with cordon training. Ballerina varieties have been bred for columnar habit and require little maintenance.

Unusual

Rosette and Tickled Pink have red and pink flesh respectively.

For unique flavours, look no further than russet apples and Worcester Pearmain, which taste of pineapples and strawberries respectively.

Heritage

Heritage varieties are often difficult to grow, but you can be proud showing your friends apples they will find nowhere else.

Ashmead’s Kernel & Isaac Newton both date back to the 17th century and the latter actually is a clone of the tree in Newton’s garden.

Blenheim Orange, D’Arcy Spice and Pitmaston Pine date back to the 18th.

The 19th give us many classic varieties including Bramley’s Seedling, Cox’s Orange Pippin, Egremont Russet, Grenadier and Worcester Pearmain just to name a few.

Don’t Select a Tree Off These Traits

Family

Family trees are defined as having two or more varieties on one tree. Buy only if you like the varieties. Alternatively, try grafting one of the varieties recommended above.

Precocious (Time to Fruit)

Trees on dwarfing rootstocks produce fruits earlier than non-dwarfing rootstocks.

Commercial varieties such as Braeburn, Gala and Granny Smith produce generally produce earlier than non-commercial.

Productive

I would not select a tree for its productivity unless you are launching a commercial enterprise. As a rule of thumb, modern varieties are more productive than heritage, but there is no perfect combination. Different rootstocks and varieties will perform differently in different locations.

Self-Pollinating

Many trees are capable of self-pollination, but I would not select a tree on this trait. Firstly, all trees, including self-fertile trees, benefit from a pollination partner. Secondly, if there is a tree within a two mile radius, which is likely, cross-pollination will occur regardless, making the self-pollination redundant.

If you want improved pollination, it is best to buy a tree from a similar flowering group (+-1). Crabapples constitute the best pollinators around due to their long flowering periods; their fruit while distasteful fresh, make excellent cooking apples.

Cold Areas

Apples grow in climates far colder than the UK, and their relatively late blossom ensure they are rarely affected by a late frost.

Jorge at PrimroseJorge works in the Primrose marketing team. He is an avid reader, although struggles to stick to one topic!

His ideal afternoon would involve a long walk, before settling down for scones.

Jorge is a journeyman gardener with experience in growing crops.

See all of Jorge’s posts.

Garden Furniture, Gardening Year, Guest Posts, How To

As summer gives way to autumn, we’ll barely have time to appreciate the landscape’s colour change before winter will be knocking. For some, winter means cosying up by the fire and enjoying time indoors – while others are loath to say goodbye to the sun. Whatever your stance on the season, one thing’s for certain: in order to ensure your garden is fit for the next barbecue season, attention must be paid.

Fortunately, our friends over at Jolly Good Loans are on hand to help. Today, they’ll be providing some essential pointers to help you protect your garden furniture against the harsh weather that is inevitably coming.

protect furniture over winter

When it comes to protecting your garden furniture, you’ll need to consider the types of materials your items are made from, as this will help you decide on the best method for protecting each product.

Wood

If you’re happy for the winter elements to naturally weather your wooden garden furniture, then they can be left outside with little maintenance required – just apply a lick of sealer before the start of the season to protect the timber.

If you’d rather keep your wood looking brand spanking new, investing in a furniture cover will do the trick – although we’ll get to that in more detail soon.

Metal

The resistance of metal furniture during the colder months varies, depending on what type of metal it’s made from.

Cast aluminium furniture is fine left outside during the colder months, as it develops a protective outer exterior when exposed to air, making it resistant to both corrosion and rust.

Wrought iron, on the other hand, is best stored away if it all possible. If you don’t have a garage or shed, lightweight furniture can easily be stored in the cupboard or under the stairs. For larger pieces, protect them by investing in a good furniture cover.

Furniture covers

Ensure you invest in a good-quality furniture cover that is both water resistant and breathable to prevent mould or leaks, making sure all furniture is dry before cover.

Rather than covering all your furniture with one big patio cover, try and find smaller covers that fit over individual items for more secure protection. Opt for covers that can fasten tightly, thus making sure your furniture remains under wraps during the windier days and nights.

Even when covered and secured, it’s best to move your most vulnerable furniture into shelter if at all possible. From the garage to the utility room, if you have the extra space and are able to bring your much-loved items indoors, your budget will thank you when the weather once again turns warmer. Not all plants and shrubbery will be suited to the colder climate, so as you say goodbye to your summer plants, why not move your planters and troughs indoors and treat them to a touch of creative sparkle? This could be the perfect winter project and will help you breathe life back into your tired pots and containers in time for spring.

Either way, avoid leaving it out on the lawn, storing it on a solid flat surface like a patio or decked area instead. This further reduces your furniture’s exposure to moisture, protecting it from rotting away amongst the winter wind, rain and snow.

furniture in snow

It might feel as though the snow has only just stopped falling, but the reality is that winter is knocking on our doors again. The good news is that if you start taking steps over the coming months to protect your outdoor areas, you’ll be able to enjoy your garden furniture for years to come.

Keith Harrison is a content creator and writer for Jolly Good Loans – your online personal loans encyclopedia.

How To, Jorge, Plants, Trees

Fruit selection and pre-fermentation blending is an essential part of the traditional cider makers art. While cider can be produced from any apple, it will likely produce a bland, uninspiring flavour, without sufficient and proportioned levels of acidity, tannins and sugars.

Why Should I Produce My Own Cider?

Nothing tastes quite as good as your own home brew cider. Experiment with special cider-making varieties and refine your craft to produce the perfect artisan blend and impress friends, family and drinking buddies alike. Unlike commercial ciders, which are primarily produced from fermented sugar syrup, your cider, produced from apple juice, will reveal stunning long-lost flavours.

By planting your own cider apple tree, you’ll have a lifetime supply of heritage apples, which aren’t easily available elsewhere. These apples allow you to make the most out of your existing orchard, turning any glut into a year’s supply of alcohol.

Introduction to Cider-Making

Cider is an apple wine and good practices are shared with grape wine-making. Cider can only be made from apples and pears and anything else is not a true cider.

Most of what we know about cider-making originates from Long Ashton Research Station (LARS), which opened in 1903 as a cider research institute. The closure of its cider division in 1986 left cider-makers without an authority on the subject. Andrew Lea’s Craft Cider Making constitutes a recommended introduction and is available cheaply. (Being both a chemist and former employee of LARS makes him an excellent source.)

There are up to 100 cultivars in cultivation, but less than 20 in modern intensive orchards. Most vintage quality cider-apple trees produce low yields and are difficult to grow, but create cider with a complex and interesting flavour.

It is rare for a cider to be made from a single variety as good cider requires a balance of sugar, acid and tannin, rarely found in a single apple.

Kingston Black: high in tannin and with sufficient acidity to produce single-variety cider.

True cider varieties have high levels of sugar and tannins and a fibrous structure, which among other things makes pressing easier and juice yields higher.

Vintage apple varieties are notable for slow fermenting juices that produce complex and interesting flavours. Not all true cider apples are vintage apples.

Cider does not have to made exclusively from apple juice, but can be made from glucose syrup, apple juice concentrate and water. Indeed, commercial cider is often 65% glucose syrup. Water is often added post-fermentation to reduce the alcohol strength.

The need for cross-pollination dictates mixed orchards. Thus, it is important to buy varieties that flower at the same time (+-1 flowering group).

It is important you choose varieties with similar harvest season. Apples are often stored to raise sugar levels (allowing for the starch to convert to sugar), but beyond a few weeks most will go rancid. Only the best apples should be selected, as introduced microorganisms can spoil the blend. Apples should be washed before being pulped.

Acidity & Tannins

Key to cider-making is well-proportioned levels of acidity and tannins. High levels of acidity prevent spoilage from unwanted microorganisms and contribute to sharpness, while high levels of tannins improve the mouthfeel of the beverage and prevent it becoming too insipid.

Unlucky for us, apples that contain high levels of tannins are rarely acidic and are liable to spoilage unmodified. There is an exception to this – ‘Kingston Black’, a wonderful vintage cultivar, has sufficient acidity to forgo blending.

It should be noted that a drink that is too acidic will be extremely sharp and unpleasant to drink – just like your first drink ever!

Hence, it is important to measure a blend’s acidity. There are two measure of acidity: pH and titratable acid (TA) . Both are useful, and sadly there is no direct relationship with apple juice. The former relates to microbial stability and susceptibility to spoilage, while the latter relates to taste. If the TA doubles, so does perceived acidity.

Here, we are interested in preventing spoilage, so will use pH. To measure pH, you need to buy strips specifically for wine and cider-making with colours for intervals between 3-3.8pH.

If the pH is lower or equal to 3 the acidity is sufficient to prevent spoilage. If it is between 3 and 3.8, the acidity alone will not be sufficient, but will require the addition of sulfite (SO2), which kills the spoilage yeasts, moulds and bacteria, but not the desirable fermenting yeasts. If the acidity is higher than 3.8, adding malic acid is essential to lower the pH to below 3.8, before then adding SO2. To lower the pH, add 1g per litre and test again.

Importantly, the effectiveness of sulfite is very pH dependent, so we recommend you use pH when deciding on sulfite doses. Below you can see a table for different yeasts. Historically, naturally occurring yeasts were used to ferment cider, but today most commercial cider is produced using introduced yeasts, which speeds up the fermentation process. Campden tablets are equal to 57 ppm and can be purchased online.

sulfite cider apples

For those wishing to measure TA, you can purchase kits online. Again, it is not recommended to use TA when deciding on sulfite doses, but it is useful for finding your perfect acidity in regards to taste. For cider-making, you are aiming for a TA between 4.5 and 7.5 grams per litre (g/l), with 4.5-6g/l typical of English cider. Sometimes, TA is expressed as a percentage with 1% TA being equal to 10 g/l.

Sugar drives the alcohol content and is important as low levels may not produce alcohol strong enough to protect the cider during storage. Adding sugary apples to the blend will produce stronger cider as will adding sugar or apple juice concentrate. It is standard to measure specific-gravity (SG) with a hydrometer and aim for a SG of 1.045 as a minimum. Anything lower, add 12-15 grams of sugar per litre and test again.

So, to summarise one needs measure both acidity and specific-gravity (sugar levels) of my blend, before moving to later stages.

Handily, you can use a blending wizard online which will give you the resultant specific-gravity and titratable acid of a blend.

Choosing Your Variety/Varieties

In the UK apples are put into four categories, each with different levels of acid and tannin. Bitter refers to apples high in tannin and it is these apples that are true cider apples. The schema doesn’t factor sugar levels and sweet apples aren’t necessarily more sugary.

As a side note, crabapples are both acidic and high in tannins, and can be placed in the bittersharp category.

Unless, you are using ‘Kingston Black’ apples, you will need to select multiple apples and create a blend. It is common to plant a few bittersweet varieties and use Bramley apples to raise the acidity. Alternatively, you can purchase malic acid to raise the acidity.

Below, you can see a table of the acid and tannin % of some easily available apple trees. Vintage varieties are highlighted in bold. You can find information on more varieties here.

cider apple acidity and tannin levels

Blending Proportions

So, what is the ideal blending proportions? Ultimately, it’s a matter of taste, but Proulx and Nichols’s Cider: Making, Using, & Enjoying Sweet & Hard Cider recommends 33-40% acidic, 33-40% aromatic (volatile-flavour) and 20-33% high-in-tannin apples.

Claude Jolicoeur’s ideal blend is a specific gravity between 1.06 and 1.07 and titratable acid between 0.6 and 0.8%.

Again, use his blending wizard to arrive at the requisite mix.

Further Resources

Lea Ashton’s website.

Claude Jolicoeur’s website.

Less confused about cider-making? Primrose has a range of cider apple trees on a range of rootstocks.

Jorge at PrimroseJorge works in the Primrose marketing team. He is an avid reader, although struggles to stick to one topic!

His ideal afternoon would involve a long walk, before settling down for scones.

Jorge is a journeyman gardener with experience in growing crops.

See all of Jorge’s posts.

Animals, Conservation, Insects, Megan, Wildlife

On the whole, people hate wasps. Unlike their furry cousins, bees, they tend to be swatted away and squashed a lot more, the poor things. But wasps are widely misunderstood creatures. Similarly to bees, wasps have seen a reduction in numbers of 50% in the last 20 years. To find out why we should be protecting wasps as well as bees (yes, really) and how you can help, read on.

Why We Should Be Protection Wasps As Well As Bees

Why Do Wasps Sting?

I know, I know. Most of you will be thinking, why should we protect wasps? They sting people for no reason. So let’s clear on thing up before we get onto why we should be protecting them – that’s not actually true!

Most people get stung by wasps in late summer, when their colonies are beginning to prepare for winter hibernation. During this time, a lot of the wasps die off, and breeding of worker wasps ceases. The remaining worker wasps are left confused and disorientated by these changes – yes, wasps get confused too! In addition, there is also a lack of food as autumn approaches, leaving wasps in further despair.

Imagine that your whole world has changed, you’re starving, then you are approached by a giant flapping around trying to squash you. We would be stressed too! When a wasp feels this stress, it gets hostile and ends up stinging. Wasps are also territorial creatures, so if you approach a nest, you are also likely to get stung.

Why We Should Be Protection Wasps As Well As Bees

Species of Wasp

There are around 20,000 different species of wasp, and most are solitary wasps which don’t sting. The wasp species we are most familiar with in the UK is the Common Wasp. You will frequently see the Common Wasp buzzing about your garden, especially during summer time.

The Common Wasp live in large colonies and build their nests within cavities in houses and roofs. Their nests are constructed from a paper like material, made by the queen chewing on wood.

Why We Should Be Protection Wasps As Well As Bees

Wasps as Predators

Wasps are extremely important to the environment. They are vital predators to pests such as greenflies and caterpillars. Without wasps, the overall insect population would be considerably higher and many a field of crop would be destroyed by disease.

They are viewed as a beneficial insect by many farmers, and are increasingly being used as a natural pest control for crops such as celery and lettuce. The use of wasps as pest control also decreases the need for toxic chemicals that are very damaging to our environment.

Why We Should Be Protection Wasps As Well As Bees

Wasps as Disease-Fighters

Wasps are also protecting you. Many human diseases are spread by insects that are the prey of wasps.

In addition, a study has shown that one species of wasp could help tackle cancer. The venom of the Polybia paulista species of wasp was found to destroy various types of cancerous cells. It is definitely viable that the finding from further study of wasps could be used in cancer treatment in the future.

Why We Should Be Protection Wasps As Well As Bees

Wasps as Pollinators

Although not widely known, wasps are pollinator of many crops and flowers. It is a common misconception that bees are the only pollinators. Some research even shows that wasps are exclusive pollinators for some species of orchid.

Why We Should Be Protection Wasps As Well As Bees

Fig wasps are vital in the pollination of figs. Fig trees depend on wasps to make their seeds and distribute pollen. This partnership is something that has existed for millions of years. It involves the female fig wasp burying itself into the fig, and if the fig is male, laying her eggs. The wasp then dies inside the fig. The eggs left eventually hatch into larvae, burrow out and take the pollen with them. If the fig is female, the female wasp pollinates it then dies inside the fig. But fear not – the fig fruit produces an enzyme that breaks down the body of the wasp completely, so you are not consuming a dead wasp when chomping down on a fig!

Why We Should Be Protection Wasps As Well As Bees

How You Can Help

The first step to helping in the conservation in wasps is to not get rid of them! In general, wasps will not harm you if you do not threaten them. They may land on your skin, however this will be likely to inspect a smell – wasps have a sense a smell that trumps that of a dog. If you stay calm, the wasp will fly off with no bother.

If you find an active nest on the outside of your house, your best bet is to wait for the queen to vacate then fill the nest with soil to prevent it being taken over by another queen.

You can also help conserve the wasp population by decreasing your pesticide and insecticide use. Wasps shouldn’t be considered pests – they are in themselves a form of pest control, so by killing wasps of, you are going to end up with a lot more pests.

Overall, wasps play an important role in our ecosystem and should be considered alongside bees as from a conservation point of view.

Megan at PrimroseMegan works in the Primrose marketing team. When she is not at her desk you will find her half way up a hill in the Chilterns
or enjoying the latest thriller series on Netflix. Megan also enjoys cooking vegetarian feasts with veggies from her auntie’s vegetable garden.

See all of Megan’s posts.