Harvesting at Ardress House
- 27 September 2023
The orchards at Ardress House have been growing apples since 1855. The orchard's are managed and maintained to produce a new harvest of crop every year. Family's can enjoy apple picking on Apple Sunday event days to connect with the harvesting process.
Why the Bramley Apple
They specifically grow Bramley Apples because the region of County Armagh is underpinned by limestone rock. This produces the well-drained, loam soils on which apples grow best (loam soils have roughly equal parts of clay, silt, and sand). Armagh Bramley apple trees flourish in this highly fertile loam soil. Their roots can penetrate the soil to a considerable depth and it is particularly high in calcium and essential nutrients, with a pure and abundant water supply.
Location and Climate
The Bramley apple is regarded as the best apple for culinary use as it retains its intense flavour when cooked. Ardress House is nestled in Armagh, the Orchard County and enjoys an inland location, protected from the cooling breezes of the sea by the Mourne Mountains and the Ring of Gullion to the east, and the Sperrin Mountains to the west. It also benefits from the moderating influence of nearby Lough Neagh. As a result, it gets fewer late frosts than most other areas and the well-maintained hedgerows around the orchards act as protective windbreaks.
In addition, Armagh’s mild, damp climate is particularly suited to the production of cooking apples. The lower temperatures mean there are fewer invasive insects to attack the fruit and the cooler conditions allow Armagh Bramley apples to grow more slowly than fruit in other orchards, giving the apples their unique taste and texture.
Apples are harvested by hand between early September and late October. The exact time of picking varies from year to year as it depends on such factors as the type of season, fruit maturity, tree age and rootstock type. Apples are usually harvested once they have achieved a minimum average diameter of 75mm (about three inches). Maturity is another key factor – they must be picked before more than 20 percent of their stored carbohydrate has been converted from starch to sugar. Picking requires great care and skill, so pickers are trained to handle fruit in ways that will not mark the skin or damage the flesh.
In the past, apples were placed into wooden cases and stored in barns for no more than three months. However, modern storage involves the use of low oxygen storage units. These refrigerate the apples at a constant 4.3°C, allowing them to be safely stored for up to one year.
Orchard biodiversity and wildlife
Traditional orchards have been among the chief beauties throughout several national trust landscapes for many centuries and have a natural connection with visitors. They are hotspots for biodiversity in the countryside, supporting a wide range of wildlife. The combination of trees, the grassland floor, hedgerow boundaries and scrub, fallen and standing deadwood mean that traditional orchards offer a home for so many different habitats and haven for biodiversity. Great care is taken in to protect the wildlife. For example, during the blossom period, pollination is undertaken by honeybees, so great care is taken with all spray applications in order to protect the welfare of these and other beneficial insects.
Cooking with Bramley Apples
Bramley’s work well in pies, cooked fruit compotes and salads, crumbles, and so many other bakes. They are also used for chutneys, juices and a base for cider due to their acidity. Whole Bramley apples, cored and filled with dried fruit, baked, and served with custard is an inexpensive and traditional dessert. Bramley’s are also used for apple sauce.
Apple Sundays at Ardress House
Set in the middle of orchard county, Ardress House is the ideal location to hear all about Armagh's famous apples have some family fun. Have a go on the apple press, and taste some local produce and enjoy music in the beautiful orchard setting.
With Apple Sunday's just around the corner, here are our top tips for getting the most out of your day at Ardress House:
Get there early
Open from 11am there will be plenty to see, do and eat in addition to apple picking and pressing. So, come early to avoid missing out. Parking spaces are limited, so if you can car share with friends or family, please do.
Enough for everyone
To ensure that everyone can experience apple picking, we will give out bags to apple pickers. These are £5 a bag. We ask visitors to think of others when picking their apples, so there is enough to go around.
No dogs, sadly
While we love dogs, and love having them at our other properties dogs are not permitted at Ardress House as chickens roam freely in its farmyard. If you're looking for a day-out with your dog, why not visit The Argory, complete with a dog exercise field and just ten minutes up the road from Ardress.
Cash or Card?
While some of the traders and vendors will accept cards, we advise bringing cash with you to avoid missing out on any treats. Patterson's Spade Mill and forge will invite visitors to have a go at forging for £15 per person.
Normal admission applies
Please note we are not able to accept the Escape into Autumn access passes at Ardress House for Apple Sundays.