The Free Rangers Conservation Orchard - December 2012

It has been several months in the planning, but the trees are finally in. Friday the 7th bore witness to Vince and Blair travelling to Lodge Farm in Gloucestershire to pick up our 15 mixed fruit trees to start our Conservation Orchard. They arrived in good shape, bare-rooted and ready for planting. Vince got right on the case, alongside Blair’s expert knowledge offering advice on how to plant them. We ordered an array of different Somerset and Gloucestershire species varying from apple varieties like ‘Chiver’s Delight’, ‘Egremont Russet’, ‘Beauty of Bath’, ‘Blenheim Orange’, ‘William Crump’ and ‘James Grieve’; plum varieties such as ‘Green Gage’ and ‘Herman’ and a fantastic black Mulberry. We chose some of these dessert variety of apples for particular reasons, such as the old rare variety the ‘Devonshire Quarrenden’ (c1676) being recommended by the RHS as an excellent attractant and nectar source for bees and other beneficial insects. Similarly, the other Gloucestershire apple varieties ‘Jackets and Waistcoats’ and ‘Puckrup Pippin’ are particularly rare and of heritage and conservation value. It’s great to finally see them in the ground, and look forward to sampling the delights of the Autumn harvests ahead. The Free Rangers Conservation Orchard

I thought it important to also include some wassailing lore in this blog post, as it is such an integral part of the orchard history and tradition. Wassailing has its roots in Pagan religion and translates from the Old English wæs hæl as ‘good health’. It is a tradition of blessing the apple trees for a healthy plentiful crop the following year with a raucous party where mulled cider, and apple cake are usually consumed. This usually happens in January; the exact date varying with each orchard and county, but most on the Twelfth day of Yuletide (5th January) or Old Twelfth Day (17th January). Wassailing ceremonies vary but most follow the same principles: participants enter the orchard banging saucepans and generally making a lot of noise to awaken the trees from their winter slumber and to scare away any bad spirits that may interfere with trees’ growth and vitality. Shotguns are sometimes fired to frighten away the bad spirits ensuring a bumper harvest (although I think we probably won’t fire any shotguns into our trees...). A Wassail Queen is chosen and hangs some toast soaked in the Wassail punch (mulled cider) into the boughs of the oldest or largest apple tree to tempt the good spirits (traditionally represented by the Robin) and remainder of the punch being poured around the roots of the tree. Below is a ‘howl’ which is chanted after the preceding events, and trees are tapped with sticks all over to further awaken any trees that fancy a lie in. It’s words are rather fitting for our little maidens in the ground don’t you think?

Long may they fruit. “Hatfuls, capfuls, three bushel bagfuls!

R. Fox

A Wassail ‘Howl’:

Stand fast, root! Bear well, top!

Pray God send us a good howling crop:

Every twig, apples big;

Every bough, apples enow!

Wassail the trees, that they may bear

You many a plum and many a pear:

For more or less fruits they will bring,

As you do give them wassailing.