Matt Baker: Curating an orchard for the future

Countryfile presenter Matt has been gathering expertise to manage his own orchard

Apple tree

We’re very lucky to have an old orchard where we live, with a fantastic range of apple varieties. We had no idea what they all were, so for Countryfile a few years ago, an apple expert came to have a look at our trees and help us identify them. We now know we have various different Pippins and Cox’s as well as good old Bramleys, and even a ‘Winter Banana’. 

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My Countryfile travels have helped to shape and future proof our orchard,  as fruit trees weren’t something I’d had much experience with before working on the show. The age and history of our orchard puts the pressure on slightly as we want to be able to keep it going as long as possible, so in years to come we can hand it on, hopefully in better shape than it was when we inherited it. With that in mind, my wife went on a restorative pruning course aimed at trees just like ours and the orchard now looks in better shape than ever.

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Recently, I visited the actual mother of all Bramley trees; every Bramley you’ve ever tasted originates from it. It was incredible to stand underneath it and discover its story. I often say that luck is a lifetime of preparation for a moment of opportunity, and the Bramley apple tale is a perfect example. A young horticulturalist walked past a passerby carrying a basket full of the most beautiful apples he’d ever seen. His intrigue made him stop the gentleman to ask where he’d got them. “Old Mr Bramley’s Cottage” was the answer. He knocked on his door and the rest is history.

Over the years, I’ve met many experts, from artisan cider producers, commercial growers and even scientists mapping apple genomes. They’ve all happily given their advice and wisdom, which has helped us choose new trees, both for edible fruit and to aid pollination.

Novel varieties to sample

We have a lovely apple from the Isle of Wight and a ‘Red Love’ that the kids really like, as it’s red inside instead of white. Excitingly, all our new trees have fruit this year and I never tire of picking a fresh apple and eating it straight from the tree. It’s just getting harder to decide which one to choose. 

Although the really hot weather this summer has had quite an effect on some of the trees, which don’t have a lot of fruit, others seem to have loved it. A couple of the red varieties look amazing. So much so that we might pop them into our village horticultural show this year, where we may be
able to improve on our previous second place.

Or better still, some young horticulturalist may turn up asking: “where did you get those from?”.

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Watch Matt on Countryfile on Sunday nights on BBC One