Scotland's apple orchards are a real cause for optimism – Stephen Jardine

We desperately need some good news. With rampant inflation, the war in Ukraine, political upheaval closer to home and Covid still hovering the background, we could all do with some optimism right now and just in time it has arrived in the shape of the humble apple.

This year has been particularly good for growing applies (Picture: Gareth Fuller/PA)
This year has been particularly good for growing applies (Picture: Gareth Fuller/PA)

Not so long ago, apple production in this country was on a one-way journey to oblivion. Orchards were fast disappearing under development with a growing area the size of the Isle of Wight lost in the last century.

On top of that, Frankenstein brands developed in laboratories and grown overseas filled every supermarket shelf, whatever the time of year.

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Then things started to change. The fashion for seasonal and local helped resurrect great Scottish apple varieties like Bloody Ploughman and Tower of Glamis. Then came the emergence of community orchards on small pockets of land.

Apple varieties once cultivated in the walled gardens of grand country estates were now being grown in public parks in Glasgow and on allotments in Edinburgh as part of the greener agenda.

Now nature has stepped in to offer a final helping hand with favourable weather set to make 2022 the best year for apples most of us can remember.

It all started earlier this year.

Scotland had its sunniest March since records began and warm weather in April and May prepared the blossom and allowed the bees to do their work. Strong sunshine proved perfect for ripening and produced a bumper crop of sweet-tasting apples.

The proof is in the picking. I have an apple tree in the garden that is groaning with delicious fruit after many lean, inedible years. I once took a few shrivelled specimens along to an apple festival where a wise man in a tweed jacket sniffed the fruit and pronounced it to be a James Grieve.

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When I asked what to do to make it grow and taste better he fixed me with the kind of stare chefs give customers when they say they can’t eat anything green.

Thankfully nature succeeded where man failed and the crop this year is bigger and better than ever before.

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In a time of spiralling food costs and growing environmental awareness, that should provide a big boost to the idea of community growing. Earlier this year I was down in Dumfries where my old school has planted an orchard in the space where we used to gather for fire drills.

The aim is to create a quiet contemplative space for the community but also an asset that can teach children about food and caring for nature. It seems to be working well.

Despite the best efforts of mankind to screw things up, the apple tree is a wonderful symbol of hope. From dormant to blossom to fruit to harvest, it represents the power of nature to overcome adversity and this year’s record-breaking crop is a cause for optimism.

Scotland already has hundreds of community orchards but more are constantly appearing and this is the perfect time of year to get planting. The state of the crop next year will depend upon the weather but the more apple trees we plant the more we are helping the environment and the more chance there is that the decline of the Scottish apple has been pipped at the post.

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