Day’s Cottage: how drinking apple juice and promoting biodiversity can go hand in hand.
Britain is now one of the most nature depleted countries in the world according to a recent report.
Yet there are many beacons of hope in Gloucestershire, one of them being the traditional apple orchards of Day’s Cottage at Brookthorpe. Day’s Cottage produces apple juice, perry and cider using traditional apple pressing methods, and each time Stroudco customers purchase from Day’s Cottage, they are helping to support a haven of biodiversity.
Helen and Dave, who have run the buisness for almost 30 years, explain how traditional apple orchards are one of the most biodiverse habitats you can find. Yet sadly 75% of the orchards in Gloucestershire have been lost in the past 50 years.
When Helen inherited such an orchard from her great aunt who planted the trees back in 1912, they set about building on and preserving this biodiversity while building a business.
“Ancient orchards mimic forest pasture from medieval times”, Dave explains, “that area of open trees between the deep forest and open pasture which fosters the richest swards of plant and animal life,” (something that anyone who has come across the inspiring book “Wilding” will recall).
“The oldest apple trees on our orchard are over 100 years old, but still produce a wonderful crop”, Dave explains.
“What is more, as apple trees age, hollows develop within them which provide wonderful nesting sites for all kinds of birds, while branches that do fall can also be left as habitats for many species. We have three types of woodpecker, tawny owls, jackdaws, buzzards, gold finches, nightingales, tits, collared doves, not to mention bees, butterflies, bats, many other invertebrates and small mammals” he continues.
Over the years the couple have replanted 20 acres of trees. They have also developed an interest in preserving and promoting traditional Gloucestershire varieties of apple in conjunction with the Gloucestershire Orchard Trust and now have 250 varieties on the farm. These are sold as young grafted trees to customers at the farm and have benefitted hundreds of gardens across the Stroud valleys.
As well as producing apple juice and perry, Helen and Dave have developed considerable expertise in producing cider, all using traditional apple pressing and fermenting processes carefully regulated to approved health standards.
Perhaps most fascinating is the way the couple have employed nature friendly methods that eliminate the need for any kind of artificial spraying to ward off pests and diseases.
The promotion of a wide range of local apple varieties rather than the monoculture seen in so many commercial orchards means the trees are better adapted to the soil and climatic conditions of the area and less likely to need chemical interventions. Moreover, the range of flowering periods of so many varieties helps to foster a far wider range of pollinators while reducing the vulnerability of the orchard to harmful frosts.
In addition, Dave and Helen have been gradually planting over the past 30 years a whole Forest garden based on the principles of companion planting, where different plants forge mutually beneficial relationships and help to ensure that the plants are kept aphid free. The range of fruit from this garden is now impressive, including plum, pear, quince, mulberry, apricot, hazelnuts, cobnuts, red, white and Japanese wine berries and grapes.
In order to keep the grass in control, sheep are allowed to graze beneath the trees at certain time, while the planting of a kilometres of hedgerows around the orchard has helped provide protection from frosts and added to the habitat for birdlife.
Birds in their turn provide effective natural predators for the codling moths which can so damage a healthy apple crop.
While our UK agricultural policies have now woken up to the need for agricultural methods that promote biodiversity, Day’s Cottage have been quietly doing so for 30 years, producing high quality juices and cider while serving the natural world at the same time. Such a resource of both nature and human expertise deserves all the support we can give it.