TIME TO HARVEST THE APPLES
Every person I speak to about their apples, plums and pears seem to have a story to tell, and none of them are positive. The keen gardener can dig, drain, manure and cultivate his soil to improve it as necessary. We can buy strong healthy plants of good varieties. We can provide shelter and irrigation (in a dry year) but we can’t do a thing about the weather. I am very conscious that this year almost every article has had a reference to how the weather has adversely affected most flowers, fruit and vegetables. Now it is time to assess how the top fruit has fared in this unusual climate.
I grow six varieties of apples though next year it will be nine once my new grafts start to fruit. I also have a huge thirty year old plum tree, a pear tree with four varieties grafted onto it and of course my peach tree. I am sure my experience this year will sound familiar with many others all over UK.
That wonderful sunny March
The growing year started with great promise when the summer arrived in early March and stayed the whole month. It was very warm and sunny and got many trees off to a great start.
My peaches were the first to flower and although I hand pollinate with a fine sable brush, there were a few early bees around to assist with the pollination. I got an excellent fruit set.
The plum tree was also laden with blossom and bee activity was in evidence. I have a Berberis darwinii planted underneath it which flowers at the same time. Bees absolutely adore it so they go for the berberis then fly up to the plum for a wee change of diet. Everything looked great.
If this is the effect of global warming in Scotland, fantastic!!!
Into April, but winter’s not yet finished
We all got fooled. Winter came back, temperatures dropped and the rain came on, and never went off. In fact it is now October and it is still raining!!! The pear tree varieties Conference and Comice came into flower in early April brought forward by the brilliant March, but the bees had disappeared so pollination never happened. However some people have had good pear tree pollination with good crops. Results are very variable.
The plum tree flowers never had a chance. Instead of my normal one hundred plus plums I only found two that survived. It did not take long to bring in that harvest and this year there was no risk of me falling out of the tree trying to reach that gorgeous Victoria plum hanging at the end of a long branch at the top of the tree.
Apple trees were a beautiful sight on a few sunny days towards the end of April and did manage to get pollinated. The pollen has to grow down the flower pistil to the ovaries to fertilise the embryo and needs mild conditions. It did not get this so a successful fruit set was very patchy.
Dessert apples were quite good except for Fiesta a biennial bearer in its off year so no surprise there. Though to be fair getting about twenty large apples in its off year was quite pleasing.
Bramley was the big disappointment with only about a 20% fruit set, and the fruit is small and misshapen. Apple seed produce growth hormones to swell the fruit. If some of the seed is infertile because it never got fertilised then that part of the fruit does not develop and results in a lumpy misshapen fruit.
A cold and wet summer
Good crops of Oslin, Discovery, Red Falstaff and Red Devil gave a lot of early promise, but constant rainfall together with cool weather allowed brown rot to attack the fruit and take out a lot of fruit, especially the Oslin. Then fruit cracking affected a lot of the Discovery. Cracking can start with very small fruit affected by a late frost, or too much water. This causes the fruit to swell faster than the skin can grow so a small crack appears. Discovery is quite resistant to scab, but in this very wet year scab gained a hold and the scabs can cause cracks to form often allowing brown rot fungus to enter. In a normal year Discovery is one of the best early apples for our area. The poor fruit harvest in 2012 has affected growers all over the UK as well as Europe and the USA.
However Red Devil and Red Falstaff are the success stories as neither has been troubled too much, though sweetness and flavour are not at their best.
My good crop of peaches slowly succumbed to the wet weather and one by one the fruit rotted and fell off, though we did get a few sweet juicy survivors.
Plant of the week
Nerine bowdenii commonly known as the Guernsey Lily provides a very welcome splash of bright pink flowers from September to the end of October. They come from South Africa so prefer to grow in full sun. They need good drainage and are quite happy in poor to normal garden soils that can retain moisture. Good soil only encourages foliage at the expense of flowers. Once planted leave them undisturbed for many years as they flower best when overcrowded. Bulbs planted in autumn should be mulched for winter protection in the first couple of years, or plant them in spring. The foliage appears in spring and grows through summer, then dies down just before flowering.