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.

Blossom - Cox's Orange Pippin

My tiny Cox, in prolific bloom at only 18" in height.

Blossom - Worcester Pearmain

I moved this tree rather late in the season, and despite the month-long April drought, it seems to be doing quite well. This photo shows quite clearly that this variety is a tip-bearer

Blossom - Roter Ananas

Another first - blossom buds on Roter Ananas which hasn't bloomed before. This is still very much a maiden, so I'm not sure if I will let anything set as the stem does not really have the strength to bear the weight of any fruit. This is another very late blossom, in comparison with the other apple varieties that I grow.

Blossom - Rosemary Russet

Probably one of the last apples to bloom in my orchard, most of the buds are at tight 'pink' stage today.

Blossom - Orleans Reinette

Orleans Reinette is having an 'on' year, being very strongly biennial. It is a heavy cropper in a good year, but I must remember to thin quite aggressively, as it is prone to over cropping. Although the fruit is aromatic and of good quality, it does not keep very well.

Blossom - Catillac

This is the first year this variety has bloomed, so I hope something will set, especially as it is a little isolated from the other pears. I think this would make a lovely specimen tree, the grey foliage is very attractive in itself, and the blossom is large and clear white. I will definitely move it in the Autumn, but will have to choose a prominent location so it can look its best.

Blossom - Irish Peach

This was one of the first apples to bloom, and most spurs have now gone over.