Scotland’s apple orchards are a real source of optimism – Stephen Jardine
Not so long ago, apple production in this country was on a one-way trip to oblivion. Orchards were rapidly disappearing under development with a cultivation area the size of the Isle of Wight lost in the last century.
On top of that, lab-grown and overseas-grown Frankenstein brands filled every supermarket shelf, no matter the time of year.
Then things started to change. Seasonal and local fashions have helped resurrect great Scottish apple varieties like Bloody Plowman and Tower of Glamis. Then came the emergence of community orchards on small plots of land.
Apple varieties once grown in the walled gardens of large rural estates were now grown in public parks in Glasgow and on plots in Edinburgh as part of a greener scheme.
Now nature has stepped in to offer a final helping hand with favorable weather conditions to make 2022 the best year for apples most of us can remember.
It all started earlier this year.
Scotland had its sunniest March since records began and the warm weather in April and May prepared for flowering and allowed the bees to do their job. Strong sunshine proved perfect for ripening and produced a bumper crop of sweet tasting apples.
The proof is in the picking. I have an apple tree in the garden that is groaning with delicious fruit after many lean, inedible years. I once took some shriveled specimens to an apple festival where a sage in a tweed jacket sniffed the fruit and declared it to be a James Grieve.
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When I asked what to do to make it grow and taste better, he stared at me the kind of look chefs give customers when they say they can’t eat anything green.
Fortunately, nature has succeeded where man has failed and this year’s harvest is bigger and better than ever.
At a time of skyrocketing food prices and growing environmental awareness, this should give the idea of community growth a big boost. Earlier this year I was in Dumfries where my old school planted an orchard in the space where we used to gather for fire drills.
The goal is to create a calm and contemplative space for the community, but also an asset that can teach children about food and the care of nature. It seems to work well.
Despite all mankind’s best efforts to screw everything up, the apple tree is a wonderful symbol of hope. From dormancy to flowering, from fruit to harvest, it represents the power of nature to overcome adversity and this year’s record harvest is cause for optimism.
Scotland already has hundreds of community orchards, but more are popping up all the time and now is the perfect time of year to plant. The state of the harvest next year will depend on the weather, but the more apple trees we plant, the more we help the environment and the more likely it is that the decline of the Scotch apple has been stemmed.