Earlier this month, just before old twelfth night, we held the second Wassail event here at Ruskin Land. The evening was a few degrees warmer than last year and the atmosphere slightly damper, although we were spared the heavy showers forecast earlier in the week.
This year, I think it’s fair to say, the occasion was a little livelier than the first. We have the scratch Morris dancing side – calling themselves the Wassail Morris – and accompanying musicians to thank for that. Particular thanks are due to Lucy Greenwood for leading the wassail ceremony and organising the group which came together especially for the event and provided great entertainment and dancing opportunities during the evening. It was great that a trio of musicians specialising in Irish music, some of whom came last year, were also able to join in once again. One particularly memorable moment (though perhaps not for folk purists) was when the Wassail Morris gave an extemporary performance inspired by the Irish dance tunes.
It looks like the Wassail at Ruskin Land will become an annual event. This is good news for the orchard at St George’s Farm where the trees require all the help they can get to establish themselves so that they can bear fruit for decades to come. Sadly, a small number of trees that we planted last winter, mainly varieties of cherry, have not survived their first year. I suspect this is partly due to that winter being a particularly wet one, creating waterlogging for weeks in parts of the field with heavy clay soil. We will shortly be replacing these lost trees shortly with new specimens sourced from specialist nurseries such as Keepers in Kent, Frank Matthews near Tenbury, and the Walcot organic nursery in Gloucestershire.
A meeting for local orchard enthusiasts is taking place at the Ruskin Studio at Uncllys Farm, a neighbouring smallholding, on 14 February. The aim is to discuss a long term vision for the orchards of the Wyre Forest, no doubt considering what the future holds post-Brexit for public funding for land management. It is worth noting that agri-environment funding available under the Common Agricultural Policy has helped pay for most orchard conservation, and other environmental land management schemes, in recent years. This issue has been explored in a recent Parliamentary report produced by the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee. We need to make sure that funding for such vital work continues after Britain leaves the EU.
We also need to discuss how we can make the most of our orchard produce in future, including through stepping up our juicing and cider-making activities. On that note, shortly before Christmas we were delighted to be offered by friends a hydro-press juicer, scratter (which pulps the apples before pressing), and other juicing equipment. This will help us increase our output just as many of the trees planted recently round here start to produce increasing quantities of fruit. Look out for top quality, Ruskin Land Apple Juice at a retail outlet near you soon!