There are a lot of great things about living, and gardening, in Scotland. One of my favourites is the humble but incredibly versatile apple.
Apple growing, known as pomiculture, has a long history in Scotland dating back to medieval times when monks developed and tended large orchards throughout the country.
Apples are a great crop for self provisioners. As far as providing for your nutritional needs, apples tick a lot of boxes: they are easy to grow and store, and can be turned into a variety of dishes from delicious apple crumble to dried apple rings – a big hit with my kids. Try Dina Watt’s fabulous Apple Galette recipe here.
Now is the Time to Plan Your Orchard
Apple season might be drawing to a close but this is also a great time to plan and plant your very own orchard. You do not even need a lot of space – apples can be trained up walls, fences, or trellises. I even know people who plant apple trees in derelict or abandoned land with a view to foraging later down the line.
Most apples are ‘grafted’ – when a productive ‘scion’ (branch of an edible apple) is attached and fused with a hardier related tree like a crab apple or quince. There are different types of these ‘rootstocks’ that will dictate how tall your apple tree grows and how heavily it crops. A good nursery will be able to advise you on what rootstock to go for (but more on that later).
Apples do not like to be crowded with each other so leave a bit of space between trees. Two to three medium apple trees will give you more apples than you can eat within a few years so do not go crazy with the planting unless you have a plan for storing them.
Where to Buy Apple Trees
Although local garden centres sell apple trees, I would strongly advise going to a specialist nursery or dealer so you can ask about which varieties are right for your area. These stockists are more likely to sell one of the many delicious heritage Scottish varieties. My favourite is ‘Bloody Ploughman’ which also has a cool name.
Winter is an ideal time to be planting as you will have a better choice of bare-root stock from specialist dealers. Get your orders in quick though, I designed and planted an orchard for a client recently and we were struggling to buy trees locally.
The key with pomiculture is to have fun with it. Apples grow well in most parts of this beautiful land, we have some of the best varieties, and the storage and cooking opportunities are endless.
Neil M. White lives in Perthshire with his wife and three children. He has worked in horticulture as a landscape gardener and in a tree nursery. Now a ‘hobby’ gardener, he spends most of his time growing fruit or veg. Juggling gardening, family life, and a day job, Neil also finds time to write – his latest book on gardening ‘The Self Provisioner’ was published in April 2020. Catch up with Neil on his Twitter feed.