Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Tayside Top Fruit


Very few pleasures in the garden can match the delight in late summer of picking that first bright red apple from your own home grown tree. Very few adults let alone children can resist the temptation to pick an apple once it has turned ripe. Nothing from any supermarket can touch the home grown apple for taste.
They are not difficult to grow once you have a grasp of some basics practises.
Apples are the starting point and once you have your first crop harvested, (usually about three apples) you are now ready to take on the next top fruit tree on the list. This will either be a plum or pear, and once they start to crop why not accept global warming will happen and try those more exotic fruits previously only grown in warmer locations.
Lets look out an early variety of cherry and peach tree.
It is always a good move to do a wee bit of background research to find out where it all started, how top fruit growing has developed over the years and how that affects us today.

History and culture

Apples have been grown in Scotland for hundreds of years. They were an important food source in monasteries or private estates, then more recently, grown commercially to supply local markets. Every area would have its own varieties peculiar to its needs and history.
However the world today is a very different place and top fruit culture has seen massive changes. People now prefer to shop at supermarkets and they demand a product that looks good, has a long shelf life, is cheap to produce, handles and travels well, and is evenly sized with a blemish free skin. Growers in turn require a variety with a heavy yield producing apples that don't bruise when bulk handled and can resist or tolerate the majority of pests and diseases..
In the past apple trees were sprayed with chemicals every ten days throughout the whole growing period, but this is now frowned upon, so they prefer to grow strong vigorous varieties resistant to scab, mildew and canker.
To keep costs down the trees are grafted onto dwarfing rootstocks and the apples grown on a hedge row system so all pruning and picking can be done from the ground. It is too slow and costly to send pickers up ladders to harvest the fruit.
Thus today, there is a very limited range of varieties grown commercially as few of our older heritage range would pass the stringent criteria demanded by the supermarkets. Unfortunately good flavour does not seem to be a high priority.

Plums and pears were also once a major crop in Scotland, but economics has wiped them out commercially.
Life however, moves on and there could be a return on a smaller scale to some of our older varieties grown to supply local farmers markets as demand increases for quality fruit with flavour and ripened on the tree before harvesting.
Many older fruit varieties are being found in old derelict orchards and are now being propagated and promoted as interest grows in our past history.
The Bloody Ploughman, Scotch Dumpling, and Tower of Glamis may yet emerge from the mists of time, and my Arbroath Pippin, also known as the Oslin, may be very old and non commercial but is hard to beat for a very early apple.
For the home gardener this is the time of year to be looking out the wide range of varieties in nurseries and garden centres while many have fruit on the young trees and selecting those you wish to try out.

For more information on our heritage fruits visit the Carse of Gowrie Orchard Festival starting at Glendoick Garden Centre on Saturday 9th October and Sunday 10th then continuing all week to Sunday 17th October with events all over the Carse of Gowrie.


If you only have room for one tree then go for an apple. They come in all shapes to suit every ones needs. You can have a bush, tree, espalier, fan, low step over form or even a slender minarette. They also come with one, two or even three different varieties all on the same tree.
In a later article I will cover grafting so you can learn how to add additional varieties to your tree or even rejuvenate an old tree. There is no limit on how many varieties you can have on one tree. My James Grieve apple has now been grafted with Discovery, Red Devil and the Oslin and I will add a few more varieties next April. I am afraid I was just not impressed with James Grieve, though it is still very popular.
Other good varieties for Tayside are Scrumptious, Katy, Red Falstaff and Fiesta. However the latter has a tendency towards biennial bearing.
The best cooking apple has to be Bramley as it is very prolific, has huge apples, is quite disease resistant and the fruit store for a long time.


My favourite has to be Victoria which crops well and has a fantastic flavour. It freezes well and ends up in jams, stewed for a mixed compote and crumbles. It is very reliable. I assist pollination with a Berberis darwinnii planted below it. It's bright orange flowers come out at the same time as the plum and attract the bees who cannot resist it.


In the past I would have said a Comice and Conference combination would be best for good cross pollination and when we get a good summer Comice is outstanding. However as the last four years have been very wet my Comice has suffered badly from scab and the crop has been lost. Conference resists scab but is not as good as Comice.
I will be looking out for a better variety to graft over some of my Comice branches early next year. Pear trees can grow quite big so if space is limited go for a minarette, cordon or espalier trained tree.
Scab in a tree is hard to control as there is very few chemicals available now and anyway a large tree is hard to spray.


I grow Peregrine on a south facing tall fence and now that I have peach leaf curl under control I am getting a decent crop. The fruit is quite large, well coloured, very juicy and sweet. As my small tree is fan trained, the pruning, which can be quite complicated at first, has to be carried out thoroughly. This allows light into the tree, restricts excessive growth and ripens up young shoots which will replace this summers fruiting wood.
I control peach leaf curl with two sprays of Dithane at leaf fall and just before bud burst.


I will try out a bush sized trees grafted on the very dwarfing Gisela 5 rootstock so I can net the tree for birds. My favourite at the moment is the self fertile Cherokee, but by winter I may change my mind after a wee bit more research.


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