Apples aren't the only Fruit

Fruit and Nuts

September brings the very pleasant days of early autumn.


 The apple harvest is gathering pace and the very early varieties, such as Exeter Cross have already finished.   It's easy for other fruits (and nuts) to be overlooked.

My plum tree (variety unknown) is fruiting now.  It's only about 10 years old and has been prolific for the past 5 years.   I have to support some of the branches so that they don't break under the weight of fruit, which is sweet and juicy.   I need to put a tarpaulin on the ground to catch the windfalls.   The only care that it gets is some summer pruning to encourage it to develop a good structure that will allow light and air to the fruit. 


The plum seems to cope well with the Devon hill climate, except that it doesn't like waterlogged ground and I lost a young plum tree in the wet winter a couple of years ago.

As usual a tree like this can suddenly provide you with a glut of fruit.   I haven't gone through the process of drying plums but I've found that freezing them works well, after they have been halved and stoned.

 Frozenplums Web

Plum, or maybe plum and apple, chutney is worth making.  Plum pie, or maybe the traditional plum cobbler are also possibilities.  I've also discovered that up in the 3 Counties they used to brew a plum cider, called plum jerkum, so I can see that be an innovation for Snoring Dog Cottage

 The damson (a sub species of the plum) also does well around here and can produce bumper crops.


The trees seem much more straggly than the fairly upright plums.  Their seedlings turn up along every fenceline where the birds take a rest and where they have escaped into the wild or hybridised they might be called 'bullace '.  Too small and sharp for good eating, the damson goes for jams or brewing and distilling.  My old damson trees have straggled all over the place, often borne down by the weight of fruit.  They seem to be very susceptible to wind damage, usually when the wind comes from an unusual direction.  The timber twists in the wind without breaking.  Sad though it is to lose a tree, the damson wood is very hard and the hottest burning I've come across.  Good for saving for a yule log, or maybe a turner or carver might like some.

I have no experience with another related fruit, the cherry, though neighbours here have had a record crop this year.  Generally you are always competing with the birds for that particular fruit.   There is a sweet cherry, called the mazzard, which is particularly associated with North and West Devon and if you visit the village of Landkey try to find the mazzard orchard or 'green' of 65 trees planted in 2000.  

I'm also not having much success with a Conference pear tree, though to be fair it's not in a very suitable site.  Pear trees grown as espaliers against sunny walls seem to do well. 


Crab apples are another possibility for the garden.  Their blossom and fruit are very pretty and they are a good pollination aid for apples. They also don't need a lot of space.  I have varieties John Downie for pink/red fruit and also Golden Hornet.   The birds will love these fruits.


Neighbours have tried growing ancient fruits such as quinces and medlars with mixed success.  I'm thinking of trying kiwi fruit and, in a polytunnel, peach.

The widespread reference to 'nutting' in folksong suggests that hazelnuts from coppice woods could have been an important part of past diets.  Nowadays some folk suggest that increasing the nuts in our diets is a good way to feed ourselves sustainably.  Transition Town Totnes has had a nut tree planting project for some time. 


I've planted a variety of the native Hazel called 'maxima' - the cobnut.  I must admit that I'm not expecting a great crop because of the attention they get from grey squirrels.  George Monbiot has suggested that we eat more of these pests.


Chestnuts have also been an important food source, certainly on the European continent and in the U.S. and chestnuts have been included in woodland agriculture projects.  In the Devon hills chestnut trees thrive but they don't produce large nuts.  I've experimented in germinating French, Italian and Chinese chestnuts sold in the shops but I think the trees prefer  warmer, sunnier climate.