There were plenty of apples on the trees in the small orchard when we first moved into St Olaves in August. However, the previous owners had warned us that we would be in competition with the deer, who had a knack of waiting until the fruit was just ripe before bothering with it.
So began the waiting game - apple roulette. Nine of the trees are on dwarf rootstock, making the apples easy to pick but also very accessible to even the smallest fallow deer.
We saw our first deer in the large field to the west of the garden in early September. Three animals - probably roe deer- in the early morning light, alert and bounding away across the field once they sensed our movement. A couple of weeks later in the late afternoon we glimpsed a couple of young deer bounding through the undergrowth on the hillside, just above the river.
As the September days shortened into October we gradually picked more and more of the apples. Some fell as windfalls and started to be eaten by slugs. Sunset was the variety that had the heaviest crop this year - well over 100 small eating apples on a tree with five main radiant branches. The Egremont Russet only produced about a dozen fruit, but they were delicious.
With storm Ophelia predicted for Monday 16th October we harvested nearly all the apples rather than losing them to the strong winds. Three large bags in total - around 14 Kg. But a few apples were left on the trees, the slightly more inaccessible ones and some small misshapen fruits. By now there were also plenty of windfalls littering the grass.
Earlier this week, (probably 1st November), we were walking back through the orchard when we realised that there was not a single apple left on the trees and that all the windfalls had also vanished - spirited away by the deer the night before.