A heavenly harvest

Not many people plant apple trees these days; partly it’s down to lack of space, but there’s always the belief that they’re difficult to grow and need lots of care and attention.

Experts are keen to dispel the myth that apple trees are difficult to grow

But that’s not always the case, and apple experts like Ampleforth Abbey’s Orchard Manager, Cameron Smith, are keen to dispel the myth – he loves them. So much so that Ampleforth, the most northerly commercial orchard in the UK, expects to harvest more than 10 tonnes of apples, from more than 50 apple varieties collected from 2,000 trees.

“Planting and raising an apple tree is very satisfying for the soul as well as being a source of self-perpetuating goodness,” he says.

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“The orchard is so much a part of life at Ampleforth, particularly given Benedictine traditions of self-sufficiency. We run regular tours and tasting sessions.”

Whether you’re looking to plant a single apple tree or cultivate an orchard, the following pointers will help get you started:

Choose a fruit variety which grows best in the locality. Make sure the tree is planted in well-drained soil and choose areas which provide some shelter. If the site is prone to frost, plant late-flowering varieties; conversely, if you are planting on a slope, plant early-cropping varieties.

Buy from a reputable nursery and order well in advance if you want unusual varieties and make sure you buy the right rootstock – the wrong one can mean a tree far too big for its site.

Plant in winter if you can, when the tree is dormant. Any time between December and February should do, but planting before Christmas usually means the soil still has some warmth which helps the tree establish.

Dig the hole 12-15 inches deep and drive in a stake. Try to plant the tree about four inches from the stake at the same soil level as it was in the nursery.

All roots should be covered with soil mixed with well-rotted manure or organic fertiliser. Firm it down and fasten the tree to the stake. If rabbits are a potential problem, fit a good rabbit proof guard around the tree’s trunk.

Mulch around the base of the tree with chippings or well-rotted manure. This will keep weeds at bay and help retain soil moisture and warmth. Finally, pour a bucket of water over the planted area. This will help drive out any air pockets. Keep well watered, especially during the first summer. Job done.