Lanyon Plant Fair

This weekend past has seen the last of the Open Garden plant fairs to be held at Lanyon Homestead. Sadly the Open Garden Scheme will cease operating at the end of June this year.

Lanyon looking its best for the Plant Fair
Lanyon looking its best for the Plant Fair

We took the opportunity to make a foray into the world of specialist bulb suppliers, succulent growers, iris, perennials, obscure bulb and rose specialists to name but a few of the offerings. We also went to hear Owen Pidgeon of Loriendale Orchards (and contributor to the food section of the Canberra Times), speaking about his life as a farmer and his special interests in growing both heritage and modern apple and pear varieties.

Owen, discussing his favourite apples and pears
Owen, discussing his favourite apples and pears

Not only did Owen talk about his fruit he also provided samples of the same for the visitors to taste. We selected several Early Gold apples and some Beurre Bosc pears to try. If you’d like to try some of Owen’s apples and pears you can visit the orchard next Saturday for their annual Apple Day:

Saturday 28th March 2015
1.30 – 5.00 pm
At “Loriendale Orchard”

Travel along the Barton Highway, north of Canberra
Turn right at Spring Range Road
(2km north of border between ACT/NSW)

A hatful of tasty Early Gold apples and Beurre Bosc pears
A hatful of tasty Early Gold apples and Beurre Bosc pears

While I wasn’t able to find the specific plants I was after at the Fair, you won’t be surprised to hear that I did manage to buy ‘a few’ plants. The Plant People had just what I was after, Australian plants and those rarest of beasts, small grassland plants! I know it doesn’t sound very exciting but finding small plants to fill in the garden understorey is quite difficult. I bought, Pterostylis curta (Blunt Greenhood Orchid), Microseris lanceolata (Yam Daisy) and Libertia paniculata (Branching grass flag).

Plant purchases from the Lanyon Plant Fair
Plant purchases from the Lanyon Plant Fair

At the back is a ring-in, my Alpine strawberry (Fragaria ‘Golden Alexandria’). I’ve transplanted the orchids into the terracotta pot where, hopefully, they will grow happily out of the reach of marauding snails. On the right front are the Yam Daisies whose flower resembles a dandelion, but are much larger and flower on a tall stem. Yam daisies are one of the highlights of the summer season in the Australian Alps where they form swathes of yellow across the landscape. I understand that their tubers are edible, not that I’m planning on eating mine anytime soon. Just behind them are the Libertias which are members of the Iris family. These white flowering plants have been in cultivation outside of Australia since the early 1800’s.

Anyway as Autumn is now officially upon us we are starting to make inroads into our major garden task of the year, redeveloping the front garden. After the delays caused by the termite infestation we can now re-start filling in the large void where our (formerly termite infested) hardwood plank path used to be. Hopefully all these plants and more will be finding their way into the ground very soon.


Apple picking time

At last we’ve made it out to our favourite foraging spot to pick this year’s feral apples. It’s a good year with the trees slumping over with the large number of apples on them.

One of the trees we picked from
One of the trees we picked from

Its clear that others have also been picking, but there is so much fruit at present that even after we’ve had a go there’s still plenty left. Three of us managed to pick about 100 kilograms of fruit in under two hours. We picked from some 10 different trees and there were easily twice as many we could have choosen from. From here we will move to pulp the bulk of the fruit to make apple juice and apple cider.

Literally bags of apples from our foraging foray
Literally bags of apples from our foraging foray

There are also a small number of quince trees that sit alongside our favourite apples trees. For once, the person who normally picks them out before I get there, left quite a few quinces behind. I plan to make some quince and vanilla jelly, I may even try a quince vanilla and rose geranium variation. I need to get onto this quickly as I just finished eating my last batch of the same.

A bag of lovely quinces
A bag of lovely quinces


Gutted and bent out of shape

Winter is the time of year when the pruning takes over. This year there has been some major work, focused on our Japanese Maple and our apple trees.

Our Japanese Maple had taken a major hacking last year when the electricity lines were checked and we received a notice to cut both it and some of our other trees back. As the work was carried out by contractors it was a matter of just cutting back rather than carefully pruning our trees.

Grey Currawong in the unpruned Japanese Maple
Grey Currawong in the unpruned Japanese Maple

I thought it was definitely time to ‘tidy’ the tree up. I feel my efforts may lack the subtlety of a Japanese gardener. Yes,  I gutted the centre of the tree and tried to remove any branches growing vertically. I just hope that when the leaves re-shoot in spring the horizontal effect will be emphasised.


Gutted, or pruning with extreme prejudice.
Gutted, or pruning with extreme prejudice.

In the interim I hope you are being distracted by the cyclamen’s which have now been planted at the base of the tree.

Meanwhile in the chook pen TB was training our apple trees. You see we didn’t quite factor in a chook pen when we first planted the apple trees along the back fence. Now TB has run the trellising wires through the pen so that the two trees in the pen and those outside the pen can be trained into espaliers. It looks very stark as present, but again we hope it will be much improved when spring comes.

espaliered apple inside the chook pen.
espaliered apple inside the chook pen.




On 30 September 2008 I recorded the planting of 5 new heritage apple trees in our garden. Today we have eaten the first apple from those trees.


This is a Braeburn apple.

The Braeburn is believed to have been discovered as a chance seedling in 1952 by the farmer O. Moran from Waiwhero in the Moutere Hills near Motueka, New Zealand. It was cultivated by the nursery Williams Brothers to export this variety of apple. It is thought to be a cross between Granny Smith and Lady Hamilton. The apple itself is named after Braeburn Orchard where it was first commercially grown. (source Wikipedia).

To be precise this is the only apple that we have eaten from any of our trees, because it is the only apple to have survived that far. We almost had one last year, but something, we think a possum, nabbed it just before we could. To be fair our apple trees have had rather a tough time of it. They are growing along our back fence line and suffer from regular neglect. Perhaps the best thing that has happened recently is that two of them got incorporated into the chook run so they do get more regular water when I empty out the chook’s water bowl.

The original five trees included, in addition to the Braeburn (1952), a Stayman’s Winesap (1866), a Golden Delicious (1905) and Granny Smith (1868) and a now sadly departed Cox’s Orange Pippin (1825). Since then I’ve also bought a Kingston Black apple (1900) which is a special cider making variety. I think it will be some time before we get any cider out of that tree!

An Apple a Day

We tried to make cider last year with limited success, I think the term ‘small scale production’ took on a new meaning with our 1.5 litres of finished product! However this year we are determined to do a bit better.

Following our visit to Reidsdale Old Cheese Factory to wassail the apple trees in September last year we knew exactly where to find professional help. Sully’s Cider House offer an apple pressing service to members of the public. They will also take your juice through the full pasteurisation or cidering process if you choose not to do this yourself. Their press requires some 200kgs of fruit to operate so you do have to have either several large trees of your own or access to trees to get a pressing done.

First we needed to get some apples so we hit the roads around the ACT to find feral fruit trees, of which there are many, growing on the roadsides. Feral fruit always makes me think of fairly ratty, spotty, insect infected fruit. Surprisingly that’s not what we found. Here are some pictures of two of the apple trees and a pear tree that we collected fruit from. Picture perfect as you can see (well OK the pear had a few ratty leaves). You can quite readily mix apples and pears in the same cider batch.


Having lived in a kitchen full of fruit and plenty of small spiders for several days we were quite pleased when the day came to get the fruit processed. We got underway with our trailer load of fruit (not to mention some more bags in the boot) and headed out to Braidwood.


On arrival we got there we got stuck straight into the pressing. First washing the fruit, to get rid of the dirt and bugs,


then putting the fruit through the chopper (most home cider makers use a garden chipper),


and finally carefully building up the layers of the cidery ‘wedding cake’.


Building up layers with some nylon curtain netting in between is critical to ensure that the juice can flow out between the layers and avoid the massive build up of pressure that could result in the fruit exploding out of the press. (Aparently very ugly, not to mention sticky, when it happens).

Even before the fruit is pressed the weight of the layers is enough to start the juice flowing. In this barrel is over 20 litres of juice that was collected before any pressure was placed on the fruit.


Then on go the sides of the press and the main action begins.


From our near to 250 kgs of fruit we got 115 litres of apple juice. We didn’t bring all of it home – Sully’s will buy back from you any suitable juice that is excess to your requirements.


No rest for the wicked as we had to get stuck into bottling and preparing the fruit juice for fermentation as quickly as possible. We have a number of uses for the juice. Roughly half is being made into cider, TB is seen here adding champagne yeast to the juice. We decided not to go down the ‘wild’ yeast path for our first large batches as the process can be difficult to control and may well deliver a product with some very unpleasant flavours.


Of the rest we have fresh juice to drink this week. We have also saved most of the remaining juice in sterilised bottles, which are then pasteurised in the same way as you bottle fruit, ie heated in a water bath for 30 minutes. These we will be able to keep for later use.


The last remaining 10 litres is being devoted to two small projects. Firstly I’m making a demijohn of cider which has had leatherwood honey added to it. The higher sugar levels will raise the alcohol content of the cider. However, we will have to wait and see whether we get any trace of the leatherwood flavour in the final product. TB is turning the rest of the juice into apple version of vino cotto (or what ever you would call it) by very slowly heating the juice at low temperature, over several days, to reduce the juice to a viscous lushness.

If nothing else we have a delightful apple scent throughout the house accompanying the slow bloop, bloop of the fermenting cider in the kitchen.

If you are interested in making your own cider you might find the pages of the Whittenham Hill Cider Pages useful.

Preservation Order

At present we are focussed on harvesting our summer crops and preserving our food for future use. We’ve harvested apples, and more apples, and more apples so not surprisingly we have been drying


and bottling




and pulping, in this case quinces and pears for marmalade


so we’ll have plenty of fruit to eat in the coming months.

I’m still working my way through Rachel Saunders’ Blue Chair Jam Cookbook, so there are several marmalades to add to the proceedings. The unmarked jar is Quince, Pear and Lemon Marmalade, the labelled jar to the left of it is Peach and Lemon Marmalade and the jars with the not inspiringly greeny brown coloured contents are the 6 kilos of spicy apple butter I made last week.


And its not only fruit. Autumn is the time when traditionally you’d kill a pig for eating over winter. While, much to TB’s regret we do not grow our own pigs to kill, we did get some pork belly from our favourite pig producers Ingelbrae, who are at the Northside Farmer’s market. TB has salted/cured the pork belly


and after this it will be smoked in the Webber for several hours thereby being transformed into luscious bacon. If that is not enough he has also made some confit duck. Things are looking good for the coming season at Chez Fork!


Sunday Scrumping

According to my dictionary the term to ‘scrump’ means to steal (apples) from an orchard or garden and all you old folkies out there will know that its is closely related to the term ‘scrumpy’ meaning a rough dry cider made from those selfsame apples. Of course the practice of scrumping these days generally refers to picking fruit from neglected street trees or abandoned trees on waste ground. There was even an article in the Canberra Times recently extolling the virtue of collecting these under utilised resources.


While driving between Canberra and Bairnsdale a few weeks ago, we noticed that there were plenty of trees on the roadside verges that were covered in fruit just waiting to be picked. We paid close attention to some trees that were fairly close to Canberra and this weekend we actually got out there to see what we could find. Lots as it turned out.

Our spot had the advantage of hosting a number of trees spread out along several hundred metres. Its not clear whether there were several varieties in the original planting or the variety was a result of the natural variability of apple trees. We tried five different trees and had five different flavours. What did surprise us was the almost complete absence of codling moth and other pests. I found two crisply refreshing tart varieties, one green and one red, while TB and R favoured the three sweeter versions we found. This composite picture shows just how much difference there was to be found.


We had anticipated fruit that thefruit would be small, bitter and/or riddled with pests. This was so far from the quality of the fruit we found that there was a distinct danger of getting ‘scrumpers tummy’ from taste-testing so much fruit.


From the look of some of the scats at the base of some trees it looked like the local fox population was suffering from exactly that.

An added bonus was a small cluster of quince trees from which we managed to find enough fruit for us to stew up for dessert later that evening.


As TB was cooking up a pork loin for dinner I also made some apple butter to go with it. We were ‘forced’ to eat the leftovers on our pancakes for breakfast the next morning. It’s OK I can hear you sobbing in sympathy even as I write this.


Between the three of us we managed to pick 82 kilos of fruit in about two hours. Of course now we just have to process it all!


Wild Targets #2

Friend M, who is a cunning forager in her own right, managed to find another source of ‘wild’ food on the same weekend as we went blackberrying. Well perhaps the apple tree at the nursing home where her Mum lives isn’t a ‘wild’ so much as an ‘unruly’ food.

Having finangled her Mum into helping her pick the fruit another resident wandered up and volunteered to help as she was bored and happy to lend a hand. Go those ‘old’ ladies – boy did they pick heaps of apples. We were delivered about half the batch.


An apple and blackberry pie was a start but we soon moved on to more pressing matters.

Loriendale Apple Day

We decided to get out to Loriendale organic apple farm as early as possible to get a jump on the crowds that would turn up to celebrate this, their 20^th anniversary year. This was a good idea. We were able to get some chairs and sit ourselves in the shade of a Golden Ash that was just starting to turn its lovely golden colour.

It was disappointing that in their anniversary year the hot season and the cockatoos had resulted in a very small offering of apples compared to previous years. My guestimate was that they had a bout a third of the varieties I’d tried there in previous years. It shouldn’t be too surprising that the more familiar commercial varieties were dominating the offerings while the less common heritage varieties were fewer in number. I was particularly taken by Topaz variety, from the Czech Republic, and the Russian Svetava apple. I bought a bag of the Svetava’s which have the nice, slightly acidic finish that I enjoy in an apple. I also bought some figs. The apple offerings were supplemented by produce from other organic growers. We picked up several kilos of Dutch Cream potatoes from Ingelbara farm, as we have eaten our small crop already. The one thing that hadn’t diminished this year was the queue for the famous Loriendale Apple Pie.

Our companions stocked up on a range of Loriendale jams, pickles and chutneys. These were carried off in bags that had been decorated by students from the local primary school. As ever the day is helped along by the live music. This time we heard from the Forest National Chamber Orchestra and then by the Austrian International Choir.

After a cup of coffee and some lovely scones spread with Loriendale jam we collected our freshly squeezed apple juice and headed home.



Our apple trees are currently too small to be producing fruit and I’m sure that our hot dry conditions have not helped in the least over the past year. However there is no shortage of apples available in and around Canberra.

TB has been making regular runs out to Pialligo on his day off and is bringing back all sorts of goodies for a variety of apple projects. A good listing of the Pialligo Orchards and their products can be found here.

Our favourite place to buy apples is Pialligo Apples, 10 Beltana Rd. You’d possibly be more familiar with it as the very rustic roadside shed with large shrubs growing all around it. There are always samples to try and as they grow over 60 apple varieties there’s plenty to taste and experiment with throughout the season. So far we have tried Boskoop, Cox’s Orange Pippin, Cleopatra, Royal Gala, Golden Delicious and Reine de Reinette.

So far TB has made two batches of cider. The first batch has been made out of ‘seconds’ of Royal Gala and the second batch which, is currently bubbling away, is predominantly ‘seconds’ of Golden Delicious.

TB has also been making lots of high-top apple and apple and blackberry pies which have been very well received by friends and family alike. Last night he made us a small galette of Reine de Reinette, topped with some raspberries from the garden and glazed with our home-made apricot jam. I’d love to be able to share the aroma with you but you’ll just have to do with the photo.

Speaking of apples there is a great annual event on next Saturday 27 March from 1.30 to 5.00pm, Apple Day at Loriendale Orchard 2 km north of the ACT border on the Barton Highway. We went last year for the first time and were overwhelmed by the variety of apples growing and available for tasting. Take some sturdy bags if you are going because you’ll need them to carry all those tasty apples home. Apple juice and other goodies are also available on the day.