Pruning a variety, but which one? (Juliet’s Orchard Blog January 2024 #2)

Shepperdine Silt

Come the first agreeable afternoon this month I intend to start pruning the apple trees. Pruning is not difficult and whatever you do you are not likely to kill the tree, but good pruning results in higher production and better quality fruit. The mantra is start with dead, damaged, diseased, and crossing but I would prefix that with “why am I going to the effort of pruning it at all”. In my experimental orchard of about 100 varieties I’ve had them long enough to know that there are some I can hardly be bothered with. Result – they don’t get touched until they are overcrowding a variety I like and then they get a severe chop for firewood – Shepperdine Silt was the first to get this honour, a highly vigorous tree with large quantities of disgusting little fruit going rotten before they dropped. Cut at about knee height three years ago it has resprouted vigorously. Remember, I said I cut it off at knee height. Had I done it at ankle height it would still probably have regrown, but it would be from the rootstock below the graft union so it would no-longer be a Shepperdine Silt.

I don’t want to lose any variety in my collection. It is entirely possible that I haven’t discovered the best use for this variety yet. It took me years to discover that Green Two Year Old becomes edible after Christmas and currently is a nice crisp tart green eater, and will go on well for several months eventually becoming yellow. It is fine for cooking too.

All the varieties I planted were thought to be Gloucestershire varieties at the time. Thanks to DNA analysis, where GOT is sending off “our varieties” for testing, we now know that Green Two Year Old matches the variety held in the National Fruit Collection as French Crab, and Shepperdine Silt is Lord Lambourne. All credit to the pioneers of varietal conservation in Gloucestershire, Charles Martell, Richard Fawcett and Alan Watson; without their work more than 20 years ago we wouldn’t have the luxury of testing the varieties which they secured against possible extinction to find out how unique each one really is. Though my Green Two Year Old matches the description of French Crab fine, my Shepperdine Silt can’t be the same high-quality dessert fruit as Lord Lambourne. Summat wrong somewhere