Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Apple Day

Seed Savers tree - a cooker without a name - in my own garden

A few weeks ago I had a phone call from someone at the Irish Seed Savers Association asking would I volunteer to help out at their Apple Day. At this annual event the public are invited into the gardens to look around, taste the different varieties of old Irish apples grown by the organisation, learn how to make apple juice and cider and buy young trees. I said yes.

It was a gorgeous September day - amazing in itself. I think we've come to expect the worst of weather this year more, even, than previous years. I was to do an afternoon so turned up in good time outside the National School in Scarriff. The road to the gardens is tiny and twisty, so small buses are used to transport visitors in a one-way circuit.

On arrival I was given a Seed Savers t-shirt worn by the volunteers but not a job. I could have a look around first, then come back to find out where I would be. There was a gluten-free cookery demonstration going on in the marquee close to the entrance so I popped in there first. It's always interesting to see how other people do their gluten-free cooking. The chef was demonstrating how to prepare quinoa and talking about how to make pastry. I think she was American and was doing her measurements in cups which always loses me a bit, but at least you get a sense of the proportion of ingredients. There were only half a dozen of us in the audience, but the largely elderly crowd was interested and asking questions. I didn't stay long though - I wanted to see the gardens. It was ages since I'd been there.

Back at the desk and it was all a bit uncertain, but Marianne decided I should go to the Apple Tasting Tent where staff and volunteers would be glad of a changeover. I was with Ute (pronounced Oota) and we had a sharp knife each and several plates of apples on the table in front of us. We had to cut slices for anyone who wanted them and chat about the apples. Ute and I talked about our own apple trees too - I have a few Seed Savers varieties, though not as many as I used to since a willow fell on one of them, then the deer munched at the few struggling new shoots and it gave up in despair.

Ribston Pippin in my own garden

I'd been there less than an hour when suddenly a young woman was behind me.
'Can you go and stand over there,' she said. I was trying to work out her accent. Eastern European? German? I was confused. What was going on? 'Can you stand there and direct people into the tent?'
'But they can see the tent. They walk right past it.' I protested. 'And I'm crap at that kind of thing.' I was still confused, but then the penny dropped. Here was someone returning to her post and she wanted me out.
'We can swap every half hour,' she said. 'Yeah, right,' I thought as I went, under protest, to become a human signpost, a non-job of supreme boredom. I lasted maybe five minutes.
'Bugger this,' I said to Ute as I collected my bag. 'I'm going to see if there's a proper job. This is ridiculous.'

I took my time winding through the old gardens, the ones I was familiar with from the early days of the Seed Savers when I did some work there setting up databases and doing admin. It was delightful though a little short on information in places. I wasn't sure, for example, what Tommy's self-rooting orchard was. Possibly apple trees that don't need grafting onto a root stock although I prefer the image of the trees, on dark autumn nights when everyone has gone home, shooting out roots that arch over the ground to settle in a new spot and sprout a new tree.

There was no other job. They had too many volunteers for the number of people. I was allowed to go home! It felt like being let out early from school.

Down in the Hollow I set about clearing the potato bed. The dogs sat in the sun and dozed. Afterwards I took a few photos. This one is looking down into the lower hollow with a glimpse of  the small river.

This one is of the carrots I pulled. I've never had carrots like this before - the slugs always cut them off in their infancy. Such pride! I'll be using the organic slug pellets again next year just to get them going. The slugs are welcome to small snacks but not to a banquet.

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