Apple Blossom and other good causes. May 05 2015

It’s always nice to get involved with a crowdfunder. We’ve had some really good local ones in Brighton recently and they’re such a nice way to find out about, support and get involved in some fabulous projects.

Crowdfunders are win-win for everyone. The good cause raises money, awareness is raised exponentially by the amount of facebook and twitter sharing that goes on and the rewards can create loyal fans of the cause. The hiSbe funder gave us vouchers as a reward, ensuring that we frequently visit he store to redeem them. And the Real Junk Food Project (14 days to go people!) just emailed me to say they’re going to give me a chocolate egg as well as my main reward!

I’ve digressed already! But the purpose of this post was to tell you about the completely glorious few hours I spent at Stanmer Park on Saturday, being shown around the orchards. It was my reward for supporting The Fruit Factory, a Buzzbnk campaign by the Brighton Permaculture Trust to create a permanent venue to process a mountain of surplus fruit. The campaign raised £12,000 in 30 days which they’ll use to convert an old tractor shed into the fruit factory by the end of summer 2015. Starting this autumn, the project hopes to process up to 40 tons of fruit a year, transforming surplus crops from all over Sussex into tasty juices, chutneys, jams and preserves!

So my prize (reward – whatever) was an Orchard Tour at blossom time. The best time of year if you ask me, the blossom was breathtaking. What will now follow are some of the dozens of photos I took along with some snippets of information I remembered from the tour.

There are over 30 varieties of Sussex apples known and many of them are being grown at Stanmer. The orchard was planted up in the 50s and formerly used as a commercial orchard. Most of the varieties were traditionally earlies, apparently a common practice in coastal towns to capitalise on the tourists visiting the seaside during the summer months.

         

The orchard is now maintained by Brighton Permaculture Trust and used for teaching permaculture principles, orchard management and pruning as well as being a space for humans and wildlife to enjoy. The orchard is managed using permaculture principles, that is, sustainable ecological design focussed on working with (rather than managing against) nature, caring for all life systems and returning surpluses to the system. An example of this in practice is that, for example, the grass is only cut (by scythe) twice a year. This creates a welcoming habitat for wildlife and allows the wild grasses and cow parsley to develop very long roots to bring nutrients up from deep in the earth.  

If you’re interested in finding out more about permaculture gardening and design, I recommend the HIP Beginners Toolkit to Permaculture Design. It’s a superb introduction and was created by  a permaculture teacher and a graphic designer. In their words it “aims to inspire you to create a better life for yourself” and it definitely shows that permaculture is more hip than hippy. The orchard is also doing it's bit for Sussex lichen diversity, with dozens of varieties to be found on the trees. 

         

The trees in the orchard require pollination by bees (or by human intervention in the case of some of the experiments being led at the orchard) and many of the trees require pollen from another variety of apple tree in order to fruit. Honey bees and bumble bees can get involved but the trees are most commonly pollinated by solitary bees. This means it’s really important to provide homes for them. You know those bamboo-filled bug houses that are en vogue for urban gardeners at the moment? Well it’s those that provide a home for the solitary bees. The bees will lay eggs in the little tunnels then block them up just like you can see here if you look closely. So if you’re growing apple trees, it’s worthwhile setting up a bug house or two. Angle them facing downwards so they don’t get flooded when it rains. 

The orchard is really worth a visit. The tour was given by Bryn and Peter, two self-confessed apple geeks and members of the Permaculture Trust. They gave us so many insights and will be giving more tours in the Autumn, including on Apple Day, a seasonal celebration of apples which will take place on 27th September this year. Don't miss it. 

Anyway, with all the talk of flowers and bees and trees, I haven’t been able to get Tree Hugger by Kimya Dawson out of my head. It’s lovely, so as a treat, here it is for you all to get stuck on too!