The Apple is considered to be the oldest cultivated fruit, with records of Alexander the Great finding the first recorded dwarf apples in 328 BC. The first apples to appear in the UK were brought over by the Romans and since then apple varieties have been adapted
and improved to the climatic and landscape conditions.
There are over 1200 native apples for eating and cooking, as well as for cider making and crab apples for pickling. They have enchanting names: Acklam Russets, Barnack Beauty, Nutmeg Pippin, Knobby Russet…and many more.
Despite this over the last few decades the arrival of cheap imported supermarket fruits has led to a rapid decline of many traditional orchards, with the loss of many old apple varieties. Not only do traditional orchards supply food but also they are also important for bio-diversity as the habitat structure is complex and supports a range of invertebrates, mosses and lichens, birds and bats.
There are however many groups across the UK who are working to save the traditional orchard and apple varieties. Chloe Ward, a gardener at CAT and member of Dyfi Valley Seed Savers, recently published a new book entitled Growing Fruit in Powys. As part of the project she surveyed 240 apple trees, and of the 105 varieties has identified four apple varieties in Powys that are “Star performers,” and another 5 that are reliable.
In my local area it is striking that many fruit trees produce well but the fruit is not commercially valuable because of the way it looks. In this study I wanted to find varieties that would thrive in our damp air and look beautiful in the shop.
Apples that thrive in the Powys area include Discovery, Laxton’s Fortune, Sunset and Charles Ross varieties; others that do well are the Egremont Russet, Ashmead’s Kernel, Blenheim Orange, Bramley’s seedling and Newton Wonder.
There is an aspiration for our Welsh landscape to blossom with fruit trees on sunny slopes, shops full of local fruits and pubs selling local cider – it’s an alluring idea.
Growing Fruit in Powys also explores sources of grants for fruits trees in Powys, training and information and other exciting projects in the local area such as the Apple Mach Cider project and the annual Apple Festival at CAT. It can be downloaded for free from
the Dyfi Valley Seed Savers website.
The Apple Mach cider project started when local lad Guy Shrubsole noticed that lots of fruit was not being picked from apple trees. With a penchant for cider he decided to approach the owners of the trees, collect the apples and turn it into cider. The result is the
Apple Mach project now in it’s second year and has around 20 people who participate in the group.
The Apple Festival at CAT is an annual event to celebrate that humble but wonderful fruit – the apple! Visitors can bring their own apples for identification and try their hand at pressing them, and there are kids’ activities, talks, music, locally made cider and a competition to see who can make “the longest apple peel”.