Archives for posts with tag: orchard

At Swan Barn Farm the sun was shining and the birds were singing today. You could feel spring threatening to burst onto the scene.

At this end of the winter we are always struggling to try and get everything we wanted to get done finished, sooner or later the season will overtake us and we will have to surrender to the sun, but for now it is all hands on deck.

Our orchards are getting their annual prune, and today we planted a new apple tree.

planting tree 2

It was kindly sponsered by Transition Town Haslemere, it is a Cornish Aromatic, it has rather wonderful red flushed, smooth, sweet flesh. I will look forward to some of its apples making an appearance over the next few years.

planting tree 1

I am so pleased to see the trees in our orchards growing well. Orchards are cultural landmarks. They give us a direct link with the past as well as the ability to provide food for the future. They are havens for wildlife and genetic variety, at blossom time they provide sights smells and sounds to stir the soul. We do everything we can to look after the orchards in our care, and would encourage local people to get involved, even simple actions like eating English apples, drinking local cider and apple juice and making a nice apple pie can directly support these treasures of our landscape.

In the background of the picture above you can just make out the progress we have been making recently on our Orchard House. We are building it to house our historic apple pressing machinery and over the winter we have put in the braces and rafters.


It has been hard work with frost on the ground and on the timbers. But progress has been steady.

The braces hold the frame steady and stop it from racking in the wind. I am so pleased with the way some of them look, especially these triple ones holding this upright in place.


The rafters form the frame on which our roof will sit. Putting in roundwood rafters on a roundwood frame has been quite a challenge. Especially in the cold, but I am so proud of how they look now they are all done.



There are plenty more challenges to come to get it finished, but the main frame is now complete and freestanding, and that feels like an achievement. For now I am looking forward to the warmer months, and seeing the blossom in our orchard soon.


On Friday 23rd January from 7-9pm we will be hosting our annual Wassailing event at Swan Barn Farm. It will be a family friendly event and all are welcome.

A Wassail is a traditional way of giving a good luck blessing and banishing evil spirits from your Orchards to promote a happy, healthy and fruitful year ahead. It is great fun and a lovely way to see the countryside on the doorstep of the Town in a way you wouldn’t ordinarily get chance too.

Park in Haslemere Town centre and then walk in to Swan Barn Farm either down Collards Lane or through the farm on the footpath behind the Collingwood Batchelor Car Park. Bring wellies to ward off the winter mud and pots and pans to bash and clatter to ward off evil spirits!

We will meet outside Hunter Basecamp at 7pm and then follow a torchlit procession to find Old Man Apple, our oldest apple tree. We will sing songs and read poems in the orchard before offering traditional good luck blessings of toast dipped in cider to the trees.

We will then head back over to the basecamp where refreshments of apple juice, cider and burgers produced here on the Black Down Estate will be available. Entertainment will be provided by local band The Burning Glass. it should be a great way to see in the new year and look forward to the longer days and sunshine of spring and summer.

Hope to see you there.

2014 wassailing



I have got a little bit behind with news on our Orchard House project lately. Mostly because we have been so busy building the timber frames for it. I will try to set that right over the next week or so. First though I just wanted to let everyone know that, providing we manage to actually get all of the framing work done in time (all fingers and toes crossed!) we have a date for the frame raise. It is going to be on 11th September, and if you are in the neighbourhood and in interested is seeing the frame being raised into position visitors will be welcome to watch the process for themselves from our orchard.

I will never forget watching the frame for our last building going up. It was such a privilige to see frames made of timber from our woods, put together by local craftsmen and people we knew being raised upright to form the skeleton of a wonderful building.

Speckled Wood frame raise

Before we could start putting together the frames for the Orchard House though we needed to build a framing bed. Its a bit like a map of the building combined with a giant work bench all in one. We built it on larch posts which were levelled accurately to provide a solid and stable base.

Supports for frame bed

On top of the posts went beams made of Western Red Cedar from a nearby NT woodland.

Top on frame bed

These frames for the building are jointed together on top of theses beams. As I said they act partly as a workbench, but also as a map. They are positioned at points which give us the positions of the beams in the finished building. By having all of the measurements we need marked out on the framing bed it should (if we are any good at our job) mean that the finished building will sit level and true, with all of its beams and posts in the right places.

To make this happen we had to be really careful to make sure the bed was completely level and true and straight. It all had to be accurately measured out before being fixed into place.

Putting together framing bed

Next we lowered the round chestnut timbers that make up the building onto the bed, ready for being jointed together.

Poles onto bed

We have been hard at work jointing together timbers on our framing bed for the past few weeks. I will post more on this soon. If you are around on the 11th and are interested feel free to come along and watch as the frame goes up. Fingers crossed it should be an exciting day.

This friday evening (17th Jan) from 7-9pm we will be holding our Annual Wassailing event in the orchards of Swan Barn Farm in Haslemere. I hope you can come and join us, it should be great fun. A wassail is a traditional winter orchard blessing, as well as a chance for the local community to come together and banish some of the post christmas blues.

Last year we were wassailing in the snow, hence the winter wonderland pictures.

Wassailing old man apple

The plan is for it to be an evening of fun (and possibly superstition!) as we lead a torchlit procession from the Farm through the orchard to find our oldest apple tree. We will offer up poems and blessings to old man apple to thank him for the bounty of last year, and in hope of a good harvest this year.

Wassail Torchlit procession

Once the trees have been blessed we will head back to Hunter Basecamp for an evening of fun where music will be performed and songs sung. Cider and apple juice produced on the farm and beefburgers from our own herd of rare breed pedigree Belted Galloway cattle will all be for sale.

Wassail torches by basecamp

Entry to the event is free, we will also provide the torches for the procession. The meeting point is at the basecamp on the farm next to the new Speckled Wood building. You can either walk across the fields from the Collingwood Bachelor car park or follow Collards Lane to the end at GU27 2HU. You will probably want to wear wellies after all the recent rain!


Thank you so much to everyone who came along on Saturday and made our Community Apple Pressing Day such a success.

apples on community day

We reckon around 300 or so people made their way down Collards Lane to the Farm, many bearing trugs, buckets, bags and other containers of apples, goodness knows how many apples we processed in the end, but we were flat out all day long.

Everyone got stuck in and saw the process through from beginning to end, fist chopping the apples.

apple day 2013

Then scratting (the scratter processes them into mush by squeezing them between toothed rollers).


Before they were stacked in “cheeses” in the press. The screw of the press was then wound down to force the juice out through the cloth’s and seperate it from the left over pulp or “pommace”.


It was great fun, it is always fantastic to see so many people getting involved and having fun using our traditional machinery. It really makes the orchard come alive. Our press has been making apple juice in this corner of the country for well over a hundred years and it is still going strong. That first taste of fresh apple juice each year makes all the work tending and planting the trees worthwhile. If you still have apples on your tree and want to get involved our machinery and some of the Black Down team will be at the Lodsworth Community Pressing Day this Saturday, so there is still time!

Many, many gallons of apple juice were taken away from Swan Barn Farm last weekend. It tasted absolutely fantastic on the day, and keeps well for a few days in the fridge. Any longer than that and it needs to be frozen, but in the freezer we find it lasts till at least Christmas really well.

We also gave out cider making instructions to lots of people on the day, I have had quite a few people asking questions about this since then. So, for them, here is my duffers guide to cider making.

apple juice

I tend to use a bought yeast, and add it to the juice in a demijohn as soon as possible. The airlock and bung then goes on and over the next few days the yeast starts to act on the natural sugars, releasing bubbles of CO2 and converting the sugar to alchohol. The plastic demijons with cork bungs are often not completely air tight and so the bubbler airlocks dont always work as well as in glass ones, but it will all still work, don’t worry! Look closely and you will see little bubbles rising through the cider showing you all is well.

After a couple of weeks (although the timing is very temperature dependant) the fermentation will start to slow, at this point you rack off, which just means seperating the cider from the settled out mass that will have appeared at the bottom. I use a syphon tube, but you can pour it gently into another container if you don’t have one. Then wash out the demijohn, getting rid of the sediment before pouring the cider back in. I usually top up with a bit of water back to the same level. If you want you can add a desert spoon of white sugar to kick off a secondary fermentation (beware though, this will add strength as well!). Either way it will continue to ferment away, more slowly this time. Over the next few weeks the cider will clear as the last of the sediment settles out and the fermentation slows and eventually almost entirely ceases.

When it has finished fermenting, has cleared and it is no longer producing carbon dioxide it is ready to bottle. Old beer or lemonade bottles are perfect as they can take pressure. Add sugar at a rate of 1/2 a teaspoon per pint for a lightly sparkling (hopefully a little bit classy) cider. You can probably have it ready to drink by christmas, but it will be even better if left in the bottles until the spring.

It isn’t a conplicated process, if you are careful and use clean containers you should be able to make something pretty nice. I suppose the point partly is to preserve all that fantastic fresh produce and keep it long term. But for me what it is really all about is looking after our orchard, and giving it a long term future, through the mechanism of getting people to appreciate it. When you sit down with a glass of chilled, clear, lightly sparkling cider on a warm spring day and think of the bees back out pollinating the orchard blossom it makes it tastes pretty sweet.

Swan Barn Orchard


Plenty of apples here at the moment. This weeks working holiday volunteers have been picking them in our orchard. Community Apple Pressing Day is coming up soon (28th Sept), hope to see you there.


The orchard has done really well this year, a combination of good weather (not least for the bees at pollination time), the age of the trees and good pruning. Its really nice to see the traditional varieties thriving and providing both wildlife habitat and food. I am really proud of what we have achieved in the Town Orchard, and am just as excited seeing the Speckled Wood Orchard which we planted 2 years ago starting to develop and grow.

apples ripening 2

Meanwhile over at Slindon the cider press restoration project has been completed. Jointing and fitting together of the timbers was carried out in their workshop with the help of the Slindon Ranger Team.

Assembling the press 1

Seeing the journey of our sustainably produced timber right through from tree to final form gives me a huge kick. There is nothing more pleasing than seeing our wood being used for something which I hope will encourage people to get involved in their local countryside and localy produced food.

Assembling the press 1a

Traditionally oak from this part of the country was thought of as the best quality you could get. Of course I am biased, but it is certainly fantastic timber to work with.

assembling the press 2

We took over pretty much the whole workshop as the press came together. Everyone wanted to see what was going on, I really hope they all like it!

assembling the press 3

We made it to a slightly different design to the Swan Barn Press. But the principle is the same, the metal screw is turned to excert force downwards on a big wooden plate, this presses down on a stack of crushed apple and the juice flows out to be collected in a wooden box. When you remove the bung from the box the juice flows out into whatever you want to collect it in. The spent apple (known as Pommace) was traditionally fed to pigs, but also often found its way onto compost heaps. One of the traditional old varieties we have growing in our orchard was grafted from a tree that was found growing out of a pile of discarded pommace in the 1800’s.

finished press

I am chuffed to bits with the finnished press, I hope lots of people get the chance to use it in the coming years. The timbers that make it up were pretty heavy, and we think the whole thing weighs just over a tonne. The only way to move it is by tractor!

press on tractor

If you are near Slindon and want to see it in action they have an apple pressing event on 12th October and it is going to be at the Arundel Food Festival on 19th October. I couldn’t be more pleased with the way the Slindon Press turned out, but am really looking forward to using the Swan Barn Farm press again at our pressing days over the next couple of weeks. I have challenged them to a Cider tasting competition later in the year!

In the orchard here at Swan Barn Farm the fruit is ripening nicely. We are having a really good apple year and the colours on the trees look stunning.


The sight of hundreds of apples ripening in the sun has to shed a small ray of light in even the heaviest heart.


Coming up on the 28th September from 10-4 we have our annual Community Apple Pressing Day. Its usually great fun, if you are not too far away and can make it over you will be very welcome. If you bring your own apples you can take home a fair share of juice, this can be drunk fresh or if you want we will even teach you how to turn it into cider.

Our expert countryside team will be on hand to answer any of your apple, orchard, pruning or fruit tree related questions. If you havent any apples you can still come down to take a turn on our fascinating historic pressing machinery and have a taste of the finest, freshest apple juice that will ever have passed your lips… not to be missed!


Our collegues over at Slindon have had green eyes for our press for a few years now. They have managed to scrounge an old press screw and asked me to help them restore it and make a new press for it to drive.

The screw was rusted solid and was missing several key parts. The first of these was the piece that connected the screw to the plate of the press (the square bit at the bottom below). Fortunately a friend of the property who is an expert metal worker was happy to step in and help us make a new one, he even managed to make a new threaded hole to bolt it onto the bottom of the screw. It was a really tricky job doing this in old cast iron and I am so impressed with what he achieved. Thanks John!


With a restored screw the next job was for me to get busy on the sawmill and make all the parts for the press. The screw is massive, much bigger than ours and so the wooden beams have to be bigger too.


We are making it out of Swan Barn Farm Oak… nothing but the finest!


A good bit of head scratching went in to the design, I think from looking at the size of the screw that it may well have been mounted in the tie beam of a barn in the past, so making a stand alone press is going to be quite a challenge. I do like a challenge though.


Below is the all new flat pack press, with beam sizes of up to 11 by 9 inches I dont reckon there are many places you can get one of those off the shelf!


All we need to do now is put the thing together… its going to be tricky, but, fingers crossed it will work out well. If it does I think it is going to be quite something. Look out for it in use at a Community Apple Pressing Day at Slindon soon.

If you are interested in orchards, apples, apple trees, cider or just fancy trying out something different this Saturday afternoon why not pop down to our Swan Barn Farm Community Apple pressing day.

We will be here from 10.30 till 3 for this family freindly fun event.  If your apple tree at home did well this year why not bring along your own apples and join in using our fantastic heritage press and scratter to turn it in to the finest tasting apple juice you will ever have come across.We will check how many apples you bring and you will be able to take home the equivalent in juice (bring a container!). The juice is pretty fantastic, but if you want to go the extra mile we can also instruct you how to turn it into your own delicious cider. Our orchards did pretty badly fruit wise this year due to the terrible weather at pollination time, but we have managed to beg, borrow and steal enough apples for the day so even if your tree was bare (or you have no tree) you can still come along and join in.

Our press has been making apple juice around Haslemere for over 100 years and is still going strong.

The scratter was kindly donated by a friend of Black Down, it came from a small farm in France. They are both fascinating machines, that require quite a bit of human power to get them working, they are great fun to work with.

The Black Down countryside team will be on hand to offer advice or answer any of your orchard, apple, or cider related questions. In the light of this years bad harvest we hope to increase chances of good luck for next year by holding a community wassail and bringing some positive appley luck to the orchard, further details coming soon.

Refreshments will be available on the day and there is plenty of space for kids to run around and have fun, hope to see you there.


Our new chickens have arrived.

They are Light Sussex chickens, and its great having them here. We have four that were kindly funded by our local supporters group, they are a dual purpose meat and egg laying bird that are traditional for the local area. The act of going out and collecting your eggs for breakfast puts you in touch with the local countryside and its management in one of the simplest ways I know, I hope the many volunteers who stay at Speckled Wood and the Basecamp will get to know them well.

We have also sourced some Speckled Sussex Bantam fertile eggs that we will be hatching out in an incubator to add to the flock. Bantams are miniture chickens, about a quarter to a thrid of the size of a normal chicken. The name fits so well with the project we just had to have some. They lay little eggs which taste delicious and make the best cakes. The eggs arrived today, its going to be fun seeing them hatch, really looking forward to it.

Meanwhile up in the orchard our Knobby Russet (yes, that is a real name) apple tree has been looking a bit poorly lately. There was a ram lamb in there last year who was uncastrated, he had a bit more vigour about him than the castrated males I usually raise and he unfortunately set about butting, nibbling and scratching against this particular apple tree with such enthusiasm I fear it will not survive. A trip to the abbatoir and several very tasty home cooked meals dealt with the problem of the errant lamb, but what to do about the tree. Its the wrong time of year for grafting, but it is the right time of year for chip budding…

All fruit trees are grafted onto rootstocks, normaly in the spring you graft a twig onto a rootstock, but for trees that are either very rare or where you need to do something in the summer chip budding is the answer, using this technique you can use just a single bud to grow an entire new tree.

I headed up into the orchard and fetched back a twig from the knobby russet.

Form that I selected one single heathy looking bud and carefully cut it from the twig. You need to use a nice sharp knife to do this with, so you get a good clean cut.

I then took this bud to where we have some rootstock tree’s growing.

We grow these specially for grafting our new apple and pear trees on to. We use old fashioned rootstocks which grow a much larger tree than you would get in a modern orchard, it gives us bigger trees, better for wildlife and much prettier, even if the picking is a bit more awkward!

From the rootstock tree I cut a small sliver to correspond exactly with the bud I had prepared.

Its important to get a really good match, poor contact will mean the new bud will fail.

The bud was then held in place using a bit of cling film. Beeswax or proper grafting tape would be a bit more traditional, but time was pressing.

Early next spring the cling film will be taken off and the top of the rootstock tree above the new bud will be pruned off entirely. The single bud will then sprout and a shoot will emerge which will form a new tree, of exactly the same genetic make up as our original knobby russet. In a year or two from now it will be ready to be planted back out in the orchard.

Over the next few years we will be raising as many of our own trees as possible to boost the stock in our traditional orchards here at Swan Barn Farm. If you are interested in finding out more, or want to get involved with the apple pressing and cider making at harvest time look out for our apple pressing event later in the year.

Last friday we had our first apple pressing of the year. A group of working holiday volunteers who had spent the week with us on the building and in the orchards got to see the process in action.

First of all the apples were all quartered and any rotten bits were discarded. There was a fantastic collection of varieties of apple on display, including some which are quite rare these days. That’s the best thing about making apple juice and cider in this way, it is such a product of the place it grew, no two pressings (sometimes even bottles) are ever going to taste quite the same.

From the chopping boards the apples were taken over to the scratter (its the machine with the big fly wheel on it to the right above). The scratter squishes the apples and turns them into pulp. It was restored in our workshop a couple of years ago having been kindly donated by a freind of the estate. It is hand powered, and takes a bit of effort to get it going, its really effective though and processes a trug full of quartered apples in not much time at all.

From the scratter the crushed apples go over to the press. A frame is set up with a cloth inside it, the scratted apples go into the cloth which is folded over, the frame is taken off and a board put on top of the “cheese”, as it is known.

Several of these cheeses are built up, and as the weight starts to build the juice starts to flow. when the stack is high enough the press is wound down to squash the stack and force out the rest of the apple juice.

Our press has been in action in this part of the world for at least a hundred years. It was also restored in our workshop using Swan Barn Farm oak and plenty of TLC. The result has been a machine which people really enjoy using. It takes a bit of hard work to process the apples, but the required teamwork and resulting flood of apple juice is always really satisfying.

It collects in the wooden tray at the bottom, when there is enough there the cork is pulled and out flows the juice. We drank plenty of it on the day, and it tasted fantastic. The rest was put into fermenters to be turned into cider. A lot of this was sent home with our volunteers (along with some cider making instructions), but a fair bit stayed here too. I’m looking forward to some of it being ready in time to toast the building with when we have finished.

If you want to find out more about the mysteries of cider making, why not pop along with some apples to our community pressing day this saturday, 10.30 till 3.

Meanwhile, on the building, another piece of significant progress has been made, we have started to put some of our shingles on the roof.

I have no idea how many people have worked in the woods helping us to make them, but I know its a lot. Its something we are all very proud of. When the roof is finished it will be the result of so much effort by so many people I think it will be really quite special.

The shingles are made of coppiced sweet chesnut, and any number of volunteer groups have been helping us to make them over the past year. We have 12000 or so made, we think we will need another 3000 or so in the end, but the onsett of autumn has meant we really had to start getting some of them in place so the main section of the roof at least could be finished.

Chris and Sam have come in to help us get the roof right, and we are glad of the help, as it is quite a complicated job, especially as our hand made shingles are not exactly uniform in size and shape.

I think the overall effect is pretty spectacular though. There is a long way to go to get it finished, but we are all glad they have started to go up.


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