Thursday, 21 October 2010

Crop: Vranja

A good crop again, 11.5 kg (25 lb) not counting the early windfalls. The scent is wonderful.

crop: Pixie and Rosemary Russet (our late varieties)

A very disappointing crop of both Pixie and Rosemary Russet, our late apple cultivars. Rosemary was probably having a slightly 'biennial' year after cropping well last year, but Pixie was very badly affected by codling moth for the first time, leaving us with only one medium-sized box to see us through into Spring.

Rogue Red

Just a couple of pears on one spur again this year. 

Crop: Winter Nelis

A much better crop of Winter Nelis this year, weighing in at 3.5 kg, despite quite high losses to squirrel damage at various points. Picked October 16, for reference.

Saturday, 16 October 2010

Pear Crumble

My patent recipe for pear crumble (in case I forget!)

6 oz ( 200 g) plain wholemeal flour
3 oz (100 g) margarine or butter
3 oz (100 g) soft dark brown sugar

6 large pears
3 tablespoons soft dark brown sugar, or to taste
1 tablespoon cinnamon powder
glass of Marsala, Sherry or Madeira

Sieve flour into bowl with cinnamon; add sugar, having broken down any lumps. Rub fat into flour/sugar until 'breadcrumb' consistency is achieved.

Peel pears, core and chop coarsely. Place in quite a deep oven-proof container, preferably glass. Sprinkle on sugar and add alcohol. Cover with crumble mix. Place in pre-heated oven at about 160ºC for about 35-40 minutes, until caramelised juice can be seen bubbling around edges. Take care not to burn the dark sugar.

Photo shows a mixture of Sucrée de Montluçon, Conference, Rogue Red, plus a small amount of finely diced quince.

Crop: Sucrée de Montluçon

I deliberately restricted the crop of Sucree de Montluçon to 7 fruit, as I wanted some decent-sized ones to enter in the culinary pear category at the local show, though in the end I did not bother. The theory worked, and I had nice, large even crop, which started dropping this week. The small crop weighed in at a respectable 2.1 kg (nearly 4.5 lbs).

Sucrée is an odd pear, and I can't say I'd agree with other descriptions of its qualities. The texture is very coarse (see photo) and slightly gritty, but very juicy like slightly chewy melon. The flavour is sweet with a slight aromatic quality reminiscent of guava or star-fruit, though overall a bit thin. I usually cook them while still hard. I expected the very hard, green ones I prepared today to be under-ripe, but one just starting to yellow was just right for eating raw.

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Using over-ripe pears

Although poorly-ripened pears are usually extremely disappointing eaten fresh (hard on the outside, brown mush on the inside), they actually cook very nicely, as long as they are not too far gone. If the centre is only slightly discoloured, just scoop out the soft bit, and will be very nice for recipes such as fruit crumbles. Even soft pears will keep some substance once cooked, rather than 'fall' to mush like a cooking apple, and the addition of a little brown sugar and a dash of Marsala will compensate for the thin flavour. Not suitable for poaching, use large, slightly under-ripe pears such as Comice or Bartlett types. Varieties with higher acidity, and a more astringent skin flavour often have the best flavour once cooked. I do grow a couple of varieties of 'culinary pear' just for the sake of having a full collection, but so far they have not yet produced fruit. My rationale is that a variety such as Catillac will keep longer than even the late desert varieties, and be ready around January.

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Mea Culpa

I have a confession to make, I have ruined my crop of Conference/Concorde and Comice by leaving them on the tree far too late. All these varieties will fail to ripen properly if picked too late, softening from the core before the outer fruit ripens. I foolishly didn't document when I picked them but it was around the beginning of October; the ideal time would probably have been about a week earlier. I have just had to put nearly all in the 'green bag', all yellowing slightly but so rotten one's fingers almost go straight through. My poor excuse is that we didn't not have enough boxes to hand, and I hadn't had time organise the storage space in the outhouse as life has been chaotic of late.

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Red Comice

Only a single fruit again this year, but the espalier is beginning to spur up nicely so maybe croppin will take of next year?

Sunday, 26 September 2010

Beurré Gris d'Hiver Nouveau

A similar spur on Gris d'Hiver - decided to leave these a little longer as they didn't want to part easily from the spur.

Crop: Beurré Hardy

A nice crop of 4 from a single spur of Beurré Hardy, still rock hard but ready for picking to ripen in store.

Thursday, 23 September 2010

Rogue Red

Nowhere near ready yet, but this year they have developed a lovely red flush which explains their name !

Bishop's Thumb

Left these too long on the tree, they look wonderful but have dried up and turned a little spongy. This variety can be very juicy, and needs an abundance of sweet juice to offset it's astringency. There is a very tall full standard Bishop's Thumb near my printmaking studio, I sampled a couple of less ripe-looking windfalls last week which were much nicer, so I'm convinced they are the type that benefit from picking while still green and fairly hard.

Final Nemasys treatment

Final Nemasys treatment was applied last Monday, a couple of days over the suggested interval of 7 days, due to lack of time and terribly strong winds.

Saturday, 11 September 2010

crop: fondante d'automne

These have started falling, which prompted me to pick and store them properly. Today's crop weighed 5 kg, in addition to 1 kg spoiled on ground and 1 kg sold at local shop, making yield just 7 kg or just under 15 lbs in total, rather more in total than last year. The fruit has not coloured as much as last year, looking back, which has been the case with the early pears (which had less flavour than usual). Small amount of superficial tortrix moth damage.

Nemasys - second treatment

Not very exciting, but just for my records I applied second treatment of Nemasys codling moth treatment this afternoon, six days after the first one. It rained this morning, so it was nice and damp for spraying but the sun came out later, I hope this doesn't mean the nematodes are spoiled by drying out.

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Crop: Devoe

Having found them a little disappointing last year, I forgot to pick any of the few that the squirrels left this year. My husband brought me some for breakfast today, and they were much better, skins less hard and papery than last year probably because of the recent lack of sun. Note to self: pick around the same time as Beth (last week of August) as once they have started to yellow, the core will turn soft very rapidly.

Fig: Brown Turkey

I'd forgotten how nice home-grown figs are, much better than the flavourless imported ones. Pure honeyed nectar that melts in the mouth.

Sunday, 5 September 2010

Crop: Bishop's thumb

Fig: Brown Turkey

My standard Brown Turkey eventually deigns to produce a single fruit!

Nematode treatment for Codling moth

The Nemasys nematodes turned up on Friday, and the weather was cool and dull enough to spray today. I was a bit worried that they would not be sufficient for all our various trees, but I needn't have worried as the cordons are very easy and efficient to spray. The sachets had to be dissolved in 10 litres of water, but my sprayer only takes 3 litres so I had to make up 1 litre of concentrate and then fill up in three sessions. I now realise just what a boon cordons are, much easier to access and spray. The M25 standard Grenadier was a nightmare, and took half the treatment volume alone, so we've resolved to remove it in stages as there's absolutely no point in maintaining a large producer of inedible fruit that rots and poisons my poor poultry.

The second treatment should be done 5-7 days from now, exactly when will depend on the weather conditions. Only time will tell if this is an effective treatment though.

Fruit supplier!

Basket of Gorham and Red James Grieve destined for our village shop. Gorham crop was quite light this year, only about 1.5 kg.

Saturday, 28 August 2010

Poison fruit - Grenadier

One of my lovely pullets, poisoned by rotten fruit.

We have inherited a large standard cooker in the new garden, almost certainly Grenadier. I've sometimes thought what a pity the fruit was always left to rot on the ground by our late elderly neighbour. We tried baking a couple of them but they were absolutely vile; even smothered in sugar, they tasted of neat vinegar. Even the wasps have barely touched the windfalls.
I'd been letting my small flock of new silkies range around the area. So many 'experts' exhort gardeners to let poultry free range under fruit trees, to clear pests and help clear up the windfalls, which were quite sparse to begin with but then started to drop in great numbers a fortnight ago. One morning I found one of my black pullets paralysed in the house. She was unable to walk, but had drooping wings. I brought her in, rehydrated her after which she brightened up but then started producing bright turquoise droppings (previous experience tells me this indicates poisoning). She be came increasingly more paralysed, head down and wings drooped, and died a couple of days later. I suspected botulism, but a one off instance wasn't enough evidence to be sure. A couple of days later her sister developed the same symptoms and declined very rapidly, and died within 12 hours of showing the first symptoms, which were classic ones of botulism poisoning. 
Examination of the ground under the Grenadier revealed many completely black, rotten fruits embedded in the ground, and quite a few that had turned completely brown. In poultry the usual source of botulism poisoning is rotting vegetable material, (birds are susceptible to a different form of the disease to that that affects humans).
So please don't let poultry free range among windfalls, rotting fruit is not a good food source for them and can be deadly. Pick up all rotting fruit and either burn or put in the re-cycling bags, most of the early windfalls will be infected with codling and be half-rotten inside before they even touch the ground.

Crop: Beth

Terrible storms this week meant that we lost a sizeable percentage of the Beth crop as windfalls. I should have noticed that one or two had started yellowing on the tree, and a kilo or two ended up on the ground as wasp food. If I'd checked last years records I would have seen they were ready exactly the same time as last year. I picked the remainder yesterday, the crop weighed in around 5kg - about 7kg /15 lbs total, remarkably consistent with last year's crop. The local shop took a tray, will be interesting to see if it's worth supplying fruit on an ongoing basis. Fruit quality was a tad disappointing this year to be honest, lacking the usual intensity and sweetness.

Friday, 13 August 2010

More Codling Moth

No mystery about the source of the codling moth, the ancient cooking apple in the newly-acquired neighbouring garden is absolutely full of moth larvae. The fruit has not been picked or cleared for years.

A lot of the Morettini fruit has developed signs of infestation since being picked and stored, quite a significant percentage now. I'm not sure why it's taken so long for the infestation to build up on the other side of the fence, but now it has. I think the apples are less affected as most of them are quite strongly biennial, so over-wintering females have found no fruit to infest.

Lets dispel some myths about control. Most of my cordons are grown between regularly dug vegetable beds, this has made very little difference to the incidence of pests that spend part of their life cycle in the soil below. I also have chickens, and a very wide variety of wild birds that feed enthusiastically, which also has made little difference. I haven't tried any barrier methods of control (greasebands) yet, or pheromone traps, so this will be the first approach.

I might try the biological control, as there aren't many other fruit trees in the vicinity and I'm sure the main reservoir is probably the cooker next door. Pheromone traps are an option, but will catch some of the males, not enough to make a real difference, so their use would probably be only as a guide as to when to spray as a last resort.

Sunday, 1 August 2010

Pests: codling moth

Just found one that didn't manage to escape! Spotted a Glou Morceau that had a large amount of frass emerging from the eye and cut it open to find a large grub devouring the core. Very large in comparison to other fruit-mining grubs, even cut in half it was nearly 1cm long and 2-3mm wide, a greyish colour with a dark brown head.

Pest: codling moth damage on pears

The first pears to fall were all infested with some kind of fruit-mining larvae. This time I'm inclined to think the culprit is codling moth, rather than fruit mining moth which was a problem last year. The latter tends to make multiple tunnels nearer the surface, whereas the damage here is mostly to the core with one escape tunnel.

Only a handful of fruit were infected, so not a major problem as yet. If the numbers increase next year I might have to think about controlling it down the line, but not at the moment.

crop: Morettini

The first windfalls made me think that the rest of the crop is ready to pick, though most of the early droppers were infected with codling moth which didn't help judge the timing.

In past years I've found timing picking quite critical; too early and they dry out before ripening, too late and the fruit is dry and prone to rot from the middle. I hope my timing is good this year as I have just picked the whole crop, a whopping 12kg (26 lbs) in one go. The reason for this is that, if allowed to ripen on the tree, they attract wasps in large number, which makes it impossible to pick the rest of the crop. I think I probably picked a tad too early, as a number shrivelled. Next year I think I'll leave a little later. 

I'd been expecting large losses from pear midge this year, but the spraying was obviously effective and I then forgot to thin, meaning that much of the fruit was very small. Nevertheless, the crop was still heavy enough to bend all the branches horizontal and it was a miracle none broke, especially with the strong winds we've had constantly for the last month. If a similar crop develops next year, I think thinning by 50 % would probably be advisable.

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Crop: Vista Bella

A good crop from M27 cordon of Vista Bella, I haven't picked it or weighed it but there will be sufficient to keep us happy until the next variety ripens.

Flavour is good. When first picked are crisp with a good balance of acidity and sweetness, which quickly mellows to a softer, more strawberry-like sweetness particularly on fruit with extensive blush. The skin is thin, with no trace of bitterness, so often the problem with early red varieties. The fruit quickly goes soft, mellows but then looses flavour, so they must be eaten quickly. The season lasts for 2-3 weeks at most, which is about right for this time of year when there is plenty of other fruit available, but home-grown apples are still a treat. Best eaten straight from the tree, as they drop or part easily.

Squirrel damage

This has been an awful year for squirrel damage, with significant losses on some varieties. All the apples on the Worcester Pearmain were removed or damaged, the blighter then moved further up the garden to the pear cordons. Worst affected was Winter Nellis, where 2/3rds of the crop were nibbled and subsequently lost to brown rot. Nearly as bad was Devoe, where very few of the fruits escaped being bitten. Some bite marks will heal and go corky as with scab damage, but I doubt they will keep well. 

It took me a long time to catch the culprit, as there were several squirrels around and the fruit-nibbler was also the most wily. Plus my squirrel trap disappeared one night, whether taken by two-legged or four-legged vermin I don't know. I imagine squirrel trapping probably upsets some of my neighbours (particularly when they devote quite a large proportion of their income to feeding both them and the local rat population) but the losses they inflict on fruit are unacceptable, and it would be completely impractical to cage a quarter of an acre. The damage stopped immediately with the removal of the last squirrel.

Sunday, 6 June 2010

Not an orchard fruit, but the first fruit of the year of any kind deserves some sort of celebrations! To my shame, I have no memory of the variety, probably Honeyoe; Marshmello seems to be virtually the only variety that is long-lived and productive in my soil. The bed had Florence but this has more or less failed completely.

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Midge success!

I think the pear midge spraying experiment was a success - the only fruits affected were the first ones to set on Morettini, before the rest of the blossom had dropped; so far neither this or any other variety has developed any maggot-bloated fruitlets. My aim was to lessen the incidence, rather than eradicate it completely (the affected varieties all require thinning anyway) so I'm very pleased with the result of 'spot' treating.


Within only a few days of the worst Spring frosts I can remember, we had one of the most intense May heatwaves, with temperatures reaching the low 80s. Not really a big issue for fruit, though it has hastened the waning of the Quince blossom.

Thursday, 13 May 2010


This is the first year I have noticed significant frost damage, to both blossom and foliage. A couple of pears in the front lost all their blossom overnight, and the leave are significantly stunted on a couple of others. Today I noticed quite a bit of apple blossom browned and dessicated. Ironically the earliest varieties seem to have escaped completely, as the May frosts have been more severe than those earlier in the Spring.

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

Blossom - Passe Crassane

I should have posted this on 17th April, I'll include it now for the record.

Harmonia axyridis - a new fruit pest?

We've been concerned for some time about the rising numbers of Harlequin Ladybirds (Harmonia axyridis) and the effect they will have on native ladybird ecology, including the predation of native ladybird larvae. However, I hadn't realised until now that they can also be pest of fruit. In addition to feeding on aphids, they will also suck ripe and soft fruit in late summer, and even damage the skin of pears. I haven't noticed any damage here, but the numbers continue to rise inexorably, so it may well become an issue in the future. 

Blossom - Rogue Red

I'm surprised by how late Rogue Red has blossomed, and by the length of flowering span. It's virtually the last pear left in blossom, and there are buds yet to open beside large fruitlets. I suspect this might be quite a good strategy to avoid the worst effects of pear midge, as I can't remember ever picking a distorted fruitlet of this variety. It will be interesting to see if any of the later buds set fruit without any other pollinators.

Pear Midge

Morettini is the most precocious pear, so it is hardly surprising that it is the earliest to show signs of pear midge damage, despite my spraying experiment. This variety actually blooms over a long period relatively, and the very first ones to set ('king' fruitlets) are now clearly affected. I didn't spray until 100 % petal loss, so these first fruits would not have been protected anyway. I suspect the exercise will prove ineffective anway. Picking off distorted fruitlets will be another daily task from now on.


Moth picking will be a tedious task for now on. The various kinds of fruit-boring moths have not been a problem to date, but last year there was a sudden increase which resulted in a small degree of fruit loss.

Spraying at this stage would be a complete waste of time, as the larvae have by now wound themselves up in their leafy cocoons, so the only effective control is to hand-pick them. Look for damaged, curled leaves, leaves/blossom stuck together and dark dots of 'frass' which are the droppings of the grubs. Unfurling the leaves will reveal a sticky web, and eventually a green grub. 

After a while it gets easier to spot them, and I removed a large pot-full of dubious, sticky leaves, mostly from apples but one or two from pears. This task will be repeated every day from now on.

First Spray

I haven't sprayed for fungal diseases for quite a few years. Very few of the varieties I grow seem to be affected by fungal ills, but those that do are affected badly enough for spraying to be worthwhile. The worst is pear Santa Claus; the fruit that set on the cordon was completely 'corked' by infection, and the arch was almost completely defoliated, so these really need to be treated or grubbed up. Conference is affected by some sort of dark smut which doesn't affect the internal fruit quality but causes bad coarse russeting and discolouration of the skin. So I've just treated these for the first time, and will do so again at appropriate intervals, dependent on weather conditions. I use a saturated solution of Bordeaux mixture, with a tiny squirt of washing up liquid as a wetting agent. Conditions were perfect today, absolutely no breeze at all and no rain predicted.

Blossom: Vranja

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Pests - Pear Midge

Well, the midges are still there in force. At least I think they are as the whole internet does not have a single picture of an adult pear midge to help identify them. However, midge-like insects are floating around the tops of most of my pear trees. And I do mean the tops, I saw none on the shorter cordons or step-overs. It will be interesting to see if there is any correlation between what I think are the adults and the trees/fruit which is eventually affected. At the moment they are most in evidence on Morettini, Bishop's Thumb, Santa Claus, and the cordons of Comice/Rogue red and Devoe.

Saturday, 1 May 2010

Suppliers of incorrect varieties?

The fruit shown here was supplied on maiden whips labelled as Spartan (left) and Tydeman's Late Orange (right). Both took a very long time to come into fruit, but clearly neither bears any resemblance to the varieties ordered. The red is quite an early September cultivar; the green one is still hard, acid and barely edible even in January, never develops any colour or flush and fruit in full summer sun often develop scorch marks from which brown rot sets in quickly.

When buying fruit trees, it is entirely down the good word of the vendor that the varieties supplied will actually be correctly identified, as it may be quite a few years before maiden whips actually flower and fruit. This is one of the reasons why one chooses a fruit specialist, as planning a fruit garden, especially one with intensively-trained forms, requires specialist knowledge of pollination compatibility and habit of growth. Tip bearers or unusually vigourous varieties will not be happy as cordons so it is particularly important to avoid planting these as anything other than half-standard specimen trees.

One of the main reasons many people appear to become disillusioned with growing fruit is because varieties so often turn out to be not as expected; either too big, self-sterile or incompatible with existing pollination partners. It would not surprise me if large commercial nurseries quite often mis-label fruit trees, but I think it is unforgivable for a so-called specialist nursery to do so. Of the 14 or so varieties of fruit tree and graft-wood I have bought from Deacon's Nursery, 4 were definitely not as described, although it took many years before all came to maturity and could be evaluated. 

I had the foresight to keep the original order receipt for 2 of the wrong trees, and last year send this and photographic evidence of the unidentified varieties to Deacons. My request was not unreasonable; for them to help identify the two apples and resupply graftwood for the varieties I had ordered originally (Tydeman's Late Orange and Spartan), although I think I would probably have been entitled to a full refund for these trees in law. No reply. I emailed several times, and tried calling but the answer phone appeared to be permanently turned on.

They also supplied a cherry labelled as Sunburst, which has turned out to be a yellow, self-sterile variety of very weak growth and medlar graftwood which turned out to be the small-leafed Nottingham (which I already have), rather than the more attractive Dutch.

I think 28% of varieties incorrectly labelled is more than a mere coincidence, and their refusal to engage with customer enquiries is apalling. I mainly graft my own trees with wood from Brogdale now, but if I were buying maidens for a project I'd source them from local enthusiasts or Keeper's Nursery, as I've found Mr Habibi very helpful in the past and the varieties from his nursery have all been correctly identified.

Unknown - Devonshire Quarrenden?

This is a variety that was supplied to me labelled as Tydeman's Late Orange, but which when it eventually produced fruit over 5 years after planting proved to be an early, red-skinned variety that I've cautiously identified as Devonshire Quarrenden based on the season, appearance and flavour of the fruit. Whatever the actual variety, it is strongly biennial and this year every single flowerering cluster is on a tip, with no sign of any spurs. I've checked the literature on DQ and nowhere does anyone suggest it is a tip-bearer, so I'm back to square one. I have headed it back to about half it's original length. Although it's not a great idea to try to grow tip bearers as cordons (for the obvious reason that it is difficult to keep the growth compact without pruning the fruiting tips away) it is possible, particularly with biennial bearers, which can be pruned back hard in barren years, then the tips headed back in early summer to make a more compact set of tip growth for the following fruiting year. I follow the same routine with St Edmund's which, although it is only supposed to be a tip and spur bearer, has only produced tips for me.

Blossom - Mother

New cordon, planted last year. The step-over version seems to be having an off year.