Our apple season runs from August to April, so at this time of year the last apples are coming out of storage. All our apples are picked and then kept in controlled atmosphere stores with low oxygen levels, which essentially makes them go to sleep, meaning they come out in exactly the same state as they went in.
Some varieties, such as Discovery, Windsor and Scrumptious – typically the early varieties – don’t store quite as well so they need to be picked, chilled and sent straight out. Later varieties that are picked in October store much better, like Crimson Crisp, which is just coming out of store now and is at its peak quality. It’s an amazing apple; it stores really well and has a really nice sugar-acid balance, with beautiful flesh that is deep crimson one side and yellow the other.
My farm is on around 100 acres of land across the High and Low Wealds in Kent, designated areas of outstanding beauty just south of Tunbridge Wells, with lovely rolling hills and flat valleys that are perfect for growing apples. There are several large apple growers in the area, but very few are doing it organically. I started out as a hobby farmer with a small area of pears, and when that went well, I started full time and converted to organic in 1999. It seemed like a natural progression to grow things in a kinder way. Nowadays, I grow three varieties of pears (Conference, Comice and Sweet William) and 17 apple varieties, including Crimson Crisp, Cox Royale, Gala and Red Pippin.
We’re also constantly trialling new varieties on the farm’s experimental plot, such as Blaze, which won tastiest organic apple in the National Fruit Show two years ago. As organic growers, we have to veer away from varieties that are more susceptible to disease, which makes the choice that bit trickier.
For me, tasting the first apple is always the best part of the job. You can’t beat tasting the first Discovery of the year, which can be any time from early August to late September, depending on how much sunlight we get and the general climate. A few months to wait!