The orchards at Swan Barn Farm
An impressive range of heritage and local fruit trees can be found in the two orchards at Swan Barn Farm. Growing among a sprinkling of pear, plum, damson and cherry trees are over 50 varieties of apple, which are harvested in autumn to make cider.
At the bottom of the hill near the estate office lies Speckled Wood Orchard. This is the newer of the two orchards, having been planted in the last 5 years. The orchard by the town walk is much older, and is home to some impressive veteran trees 100 years old or more.
The trees we’ve selected are mostly local Surrey and Sussex cultivars. There are also some trees of general interest, such as the Court pendu plat, which is the one of the oldest varieties in the world, and the Isaac Newton’s Tree, grafted from the tree that dropped the famous apple.
An old and valuable habitat
Though manmade, orchards are a valuable habitat for wildlife. In spring they provide a source of nectar and pollen for bees and other pollinators, and can support a range of wild flowers. The old and dead wood of the trees can offer a home to many invertebrates as well as birds, small mammals and bats. And of course the fruits are a favourite of many birds, badgers, hedgehogs, insects and other animals.
Making new apple trees
It’s not too easy to plant new varieties of apple. When planting an apple seed into the ground, there is no guarantee of the variety that the new tree will produce. The only way to be certain is to carry out a process called grafting. Grafting an apple tree involves taking a small branch of the desired tree and taping it to a generic apple shoot called a rootstock.
Rootstocks are small whips of a standard variety which are grown on until the main shoot is about an inch in diameter. They are then cut off at a very sharp angle ready for grafting. A small branch of the same diameter is cut from the desired tree variety at the same angle as the rootstock was cut. The branch and the rootstock are then bound together very tightly using grafting tape.
If successful, the two pieces should eventually form one and grow into a healthy tree of the desired variety. Once the tree is big and stable enough, it is then planted out in the orchard with the other trees.
Taking care of the orchards
To help stop the open ground from being colonised by scrub, the orchards are grazed by a small flock of Jacob sheep belonging to our tenant farmer.
The trees’ bounty is harvested in September, and the local community is invited to come and help us make cider using a traditional scratter and apple press (see our [event page] for details of the next apple-pressing day). The cider is sold at our other events to help raise funds to care for the habitats at Swan Barn Farm.
Once the excitement of harvest is over and the leaves have dropped, it’s time for a health check. The trees are carefully pruned, trained, and checked for signs of disease, ready for another bountiful harvest.