Posts Tagged ‘Apples’


The bad harvest reports in the news this year prove, once again, that farming is very different from organic kitchen gardening. Not everything did well in the garden, but in general, I have to admit it was my best year ever. The brassicas suffered but are recovering now. My fault entirely, I should have covered the cabbage patch with fleece to prevent the cabbage white caterpillars making flitters of the lovely healthy green leaves. Such is life, thankfully the rainbow chard leaves have kept me going as a fall back leafy vegetable. Meanwhile, everything else has come good, more or less, apples, blackcurrants, peas, beans, beetroot, basil, parsley, potatoes etc. Leeks coming along nicely for harvesting over the winter and early spring hungry gap.

The glut at present is the Black Plum Tomato crop (Lycopersicon lycopersicon). I bought seeds from and they are described as ‘productive heirloom from Russia. A cordon, ripening from mid-August. Rich red mahogany plum-shaped fruits, delicious in salads and sauces’. The south facing greenhouse, rich soil and a regular comfrey liquid feed gave these Russian plants a good chance to produce prolifically. Glad they are good for sauces, as they will all find their way into various dishes requiring bruschetta topping

Black Plum Tomatoes on one of four plants, two in the ‘phone box’ and two more in the ‘Fingal Greens Greenhouse’. South facing garden helps tomatoes ripen fully on the cordon.

, pasta sauces and for the remainder, good old chutney. Thank you people of Russia ( and the Irish Sed Savers Association in Scarriff) for the ‘black plum tomato’.



Apple juicing demonstration for local schools in Sonairte lecture hall during National Organic Week using some of the 27 varieties in the garden.

The trusty James Grieve apple tree in Trevor’s Kitchen Garden is down a little on last year’s bumper harvest, but the apples are big and juicy. They sell well at Balbriggan Fish & Farmers’ Market on a Friday morning and brighten up our packed lunches over the last few weeks. Some are juiced and others are stewed for desserts. As an early apple, they are nearly gone now, but the harvest in Sonairte’s 2 acre organic orchard up the road in Laytown, Co. Meath, is just coming on stream in time for Apple Day.

Apple Day in Sonairte was a great success with primary school students enjoying the funny names of old apple tree varieties, like Sheep’s Snout, Golden Spire and my favourite Kerry Pippin which dates back to 1802. Today 210 years later even the sagely visitors like Joe Barry the Farming Independent forestry correspondent was young by comparison. Joe reckoned the coastal location of Sonairte had saved our harvest in the light of the frost damage he incurred in Co. Kildare.

With 127 varieties of apple tree at Sonairte, some quite rare, we feel a huge responsibility to look after this precious aspect of Ireland’s heritage. Being volunteers, we can do with all the help we can get! So do call in if you missed Apple Day soon – ADMISSION TO SONAIRTE IS FREE -the Sunflower Cafe is open and the orchard, garden and river walk are all looking good. If I am around, I will make you some fresh apple juice from some of the organic apples. We had great practise juicing during Apple Day. Beannachtaí na n-úll ort!


A top tasting apple crop ripening at the Irish Seed Savers Assoc. orchard in East Clare, confusingly called ‘Irish Peach’.

Not a great year for apples many people are saying, but there is fruit about, perhaps not as plentiful as in other years due to the inclement weather. My ‘James Grieve’ solitary tree is giving me the usual large red and green apples which often fall into the mint patch below before I get around to picking them from the tree. Picking is of course preferable to avoid bruising the fruit.

On a visit to the Irish Seed Savers Open Day in Scarriff, East Clare recently, Pat was on hand to guide us all around the enormous collection of apple tree varieties growing in the orchards there. This is some of the advice he proffered:

RIPENESS TEST: Twist the apple half way, then turn it up a third of the way. If it comes off the tree, then it is ripe. If not leave it to ripen further.

PRUNING TIMES: (1) Shaping is done in the dormant season (2) Disease pruning if necessary is done when the foliage first appears. (3) Fruit pruning is when some unripe fruit is taken off to ensure the remaining fruit ripens well. (Grafting takes place in March or April and budding takes place in August).

ORGANIC DISEASE TREATMENTS: SCAB – this is a fungus and one needs to break its life cycle, so leaves should be removes after the fall or at least mown when on the ground. CANKER – cut back sick branches or gouge out affected parts of trunk until no brown infected wood is visible.

SELF-ROOTING APPLE TREES: These are vigorous, often native Irish trees such as Castletownbere, Foley and Ballyvaughan Seedling. After the tree is growing for atleast 2 – 3 years, take a 6 inch cutting, (see previous week’s blog entry on herb cuttings).

CHOOSING HERITAGE APPLE TREES FOR TASTE: Good tasting apples we sampled at Seedsavers Open Day were Irish Peach, Gladstone and Sovereign.

Irish Seed Savers Association  is on the go 20 years. A huge debt of gratitude is owed to many, especially Anita Hayes and her husband for initiating the whole project and to Dr. Lambe in UCD who collected so many endangered apple tree varieties during his lifetime which are now the core of the ISSA apple collection. Many of these trees are now available again along with other heritage fruit and vegetable varieties to bu by mail order. Just check out to find out more and consider becoming a friend of the Irish Seed Savers Association.


Harvesting continues throughout the garden. Onions, peas, beans, cabbage, kale and courgettes all need regular picking. The biggest job this week is setting up the apple juicer, retrieving empty bottles from the attic and containers  to keep juice in the freezer for the months ahead.

Someone with a larger kitchen garden would be thinking at this time of preserving and storing many types of fruit and vegetables. Any USA or Canadian kitchen garden website would be more helpful perhaps. The coming winter on a larger landmass brings snow and ice. Unless root vegetables are dug up before the freeze there, they must remain in the ground until the thaw. In Winnipeg, Canada, which has good farmers’ markets, the winter temperature reaches minus 40 centigrade creating one metre thick ice on the Red River.

However juicing is the best way for me not to  waste the crop of apples on my solitary James Grieve apple tree. This variety gives a generous crop of large mottled red and green apples. In July, they are a little bitter but can be used as cookers. By the end of August, they have ripened further as a good dessert apple. However, once picked they are good for about a week after which they deteriorate. I have found over the years that they juice very well and once defrosted they are available until next August and September’s crop is ready for harvesting.

So thank you James Grieve, the Edinburgh apple breeder who crossed a Pott’s Seedling and a Cox’s Orange Pippin in 1893 to create my juicy apple tree. I need to prune this venerable tree back each winter so that there is enough space and light in the garden to grow the other crops, but that is a story for another day.