In the Orchard


One area that growers have talked about is low crop weights. M25 seems to cause some people problems. Research has shown that this rootstock, if allowed to flower and fruit within 5 years of planting, will have a smaller root system and reduced cropping. It also has a tendency to have branches too upright and tight to the leader growth. If this is your problem try to festoon branches. Tie a short length of cycle inner tube around branch and attach a length of thin rope to the tube and a building block at the other end to rest on the soil and tease branch slightly outwards.

Pyrodwarf for pears is another rootstock that seems to cause problems. Dwarf 'it is not' and it easily gets out of control; if it gets wet feet the crop is terrible and it soon dies.

The Search for Old Trees

We continue our search for old trees and new chance seedlings growing in hedgerows.  I would be grateful for any graft wood you can send me so that I can check if they are old lost varieties or new ones worth looking at.

Did you know...Christmas Pippin was a chance seedling growing on the side of the M6 motorway!

Field Voles... Mice... Rats!

We are all at risk of serious damage to our trees from Field Voles. These small mouse-like rodents with short tails attack plants and trees both below and above soil level. They are likely to attack in large numbers and very quickly strip bark from shoots to such an extent that the tree can die. They may also attack roots and again cause the death of your trees and plants.

Check your trees on a regular basis as these rodents are now endemic in Britain.  Field Voles, Mice and Rats can be kept at bay by putting drops of diesel on dried teabags and placing these at the base of your trees. Red Diesel is much cheaper than normal Diesel. You can also paint diesel around the base of sheds to a height of about six inches to stop Rats nesting under the shed; this also works for mice.

Time to Mulch

Winter is the time, if you have not already done so, to put a mulch of well rotted compost or animal manure around your trees but not in contact with the bark. I stress 'well rotted' because if the material has not heated enough it may still contain living fungal spores, one that quickly jumps to mind is Fire Fang Fungi. This will move to tree roots and damage growth and fruiting potential. When it first attacks it looks like fine pure white cotton. Never apply lime at the same time as fertilizers and mulches. This combination can produces gases that will cause severe burn damage. If you put bark around the base of trees to suppress weed growth remember to sprinkle a small amount of sulphate of ammonia on top. This is needed because as the bark breaks down it will pull nitrogen out of the soil thus again reducing growth and crop. I have seen some people put thick layers of newspaper and magazines at the base of trees. Avoid this because carbon builds up and this can be very toxic.

The 3 'A's - Awake, Alert, Action

Walk your orchard on a regular basis and look with care to see any signs of problems. If you do not take prompt action to deal with them, insects like aphids, if left alone, are able to increase the speed of reproduction by producing wingless offspring in half the time of winged ones. A simple spray of very dilute soft soap will clear the problem in 24 hours. Do not use washing up liquids because they contain chemicals that may cause burning of leaves, flowers and fruit.

When did you last check the pH (Potential of Hydrogen) of the soil in your orchard?  When did you last apply a well balanced fertilizer that contained all feed elements?  When did you last clean all pruning tools with methylated spirit? When did you last sharpen all pruning tools? Paying attention to these items will really help to increase your crop and the quality of the crop.

Do you have a craft cider or perry related question or fact that you'd like to put to global cider enthusiasts?

World Forum, coming soon!

Country Focus
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Programme serving people living in the countryside, including blessing the tree for a good harvest and preserving old Welsh varieties of apples and pear trees.

...and we invite you to join us! Within the walls of Caldicot Castle, we bring together producers from across Wales to showcase the craft of cider making. Come for a day, stay for the weekend.