Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Terrible season

In summary, this has been an absolutely terrible season, one of the reasons I haven't bothered posting much this year. To start with, no pollination as the insects didn't come out in the rain. The few pears that set are all abnormally small. Lots of scab on leaves and shoots. The quince set more fruit, but then a terrible attack of scab make everything drop off. The medlar set a lot of small fruit but it has now all browned off and rotted on the tree.

The plums were similarly affected, either no fruit set, or a small number of undersized fruit (which was all taken by the rogue squirrel anyway). The apples have done better, but with a fair amount of cracking or scab, and the early varieties have largely been spoiled by jay or squirrel damage before they were ripe enough to be picked. 

This has been by far the worst year we've suffered here, normally only one or two susceptible pears are affected by fungal ills, but this year everything has suffered in some way or other from the terribly wet weather. So there will be no boxes overflowing with lovely clean, large, beautiful fruit this year. Very depressing and disappointing, I have been so ill this year it would have been lovely to have had something cheering to look forward to.

War on Squirrels and Jays

Having posted on how well the codling moth traps were working, I can't say the same of the squirrel trapping. We have had a huge influx of squirrels this year, and one in particular seems impossible to trap. They have just stripped the Denniston's of its small crop completely and are randomly biting into our small crops of apples and pears. I trapped one last week, thinking at least that only left one hard nut to crack, but I'm blowed if another two didn't appear almost immediately. 

In addition to crows this year jays have done an extraordinary amount of damage. I'd been wondering what had been hacking lumps out of my Grenadier, and then moved on to the Worcester and my un-named early red. I'd been thinking it must be pigeons but then I caught a jay actually doing it shamelessly right in front of me. We have a very active extended family of jays which are continually attracted to the area by a neighbour who tips peanuts into his garden as if they were garden mulch, one reason for the influx and high breeding numbers of squirrels. 

I hope the jays may be a temporary problem. They haven't been a problem before, and I think they initially started pecking at the fruit because of scab-related soft patches on the fruit. Having started off with these, they then discovered that the rest of the fruit was palatable. I hope they don't remember next year, but they are bright corvids and they do have a remarkable capacity to remember and teach others of their kind. If they don't forget, then sadly we'll be getting towards the stage of having to net everything soon.

Pheromone traps - verdict

Really pleased with the traps, despite reservations they worked well. Sadly the plum didn't set any fruit at all, so no way of evaluating how well the trap worked other than to count the moths, but the one attached to Rosemary Russet caught approximately 10 moths and there is no sign so far of any holes in the surprisingly good crop on this cordon, and that without spraying. Unfortunately, the full standard Grenadier on the other side of the garden is full of the things again, so clearly they aren't effective over a very large area, and I'd need at least one more to help clear the problem over the full area. But certainly well worth trying again next year.

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Pest/Damage Quiz

I was going to write a few boring paragraphs about all the tedious things that had gone wrong this month but as I was asking my husband to guess what had gone wrong this time, I thought I'd leave my few readers to guess too.

Okay, answers:

a. Apple sawfly (nibbles paths along surface before burrowing into core). Control: spray after petal drop if you can be bothered, remove all affected fruitlets.

b. Squirrel

c. Splitting due to seasonal June torrents

Monday, 11 June 2012

Mea Culpa - pheromone traps

I meant to post quite a while back that I'd decided to try moth pheromone traps for the first time as a couple of apples and one plum are very badly affected by the relevant species. I bought some from a common-or-garden centre in Bicester, and managed to get them both in place by mid may. 4 codling moths appeared in the trap around the last couple of days of the month, and I notice the first plum marauder turn up about a week later. All dark, dull, undistinguished moths  about 5mm long. My aim was to spray the trees soon after to catch the tiny caterpillars just before they started to burrow their way into the fruitlets, but the weather was so bad that it was just impossible. Yesterday I found a nice, plump fruitlet with a pin-sized hole, and cut it open to reveal a surprisingly large grub around 4-5mm long, so it's now completely pointless attempting to spray the affected apples; I will try to spray plum tomorrow, deluges-permitting.

The moth 'reservoir' Grenadier tree in the new plot of land has been thinned by one third for the third year in a row, so that hopefully there will be fewer infected windfalls to dispose of or infect the neighbouring garden, as well as the hope of better quality fruit overall. 

Saturday, 19 May 2012

Disasterous rainfall


The non-stop rainfall we have been experiencing for the last couple of months has had a disasterous effect on the pears. Cultivars that are usually fairly robust and reliable have been affected by scab for the first time, and pollenation has been very low. Morettini is usually very healthy in growth, but nearly every fruitlet is completely covered with deep scab lesions. Beth is affected in both leaf and fruit, Winter Nelis and Josephine de Malines don't have a single fertilised fruitlet on the whole tree. Fondante d'Automne has just a couple that I could find. By contrast, Bishop's Thumb, Comice and Conference so far have bumper numbers of fruitlets, but overall I think it will be a very bad year for pears at least. A lot of the apple blossom was by contrast spoiled by unseasonably hard frosts but so far the fruit seems to have set. Fingers crossed that the season isn't an entire washout.

Nether Winchendon House

Visited Nether Winchendon House a couple of weeks back and was amazed to see how well the rather extensive, ancient orchards had been managed and brought back into production. The trees were of quite some age, and although originally pruned into nice open shapes had been planted far too close together. The branches must have been completely intertwined, each shading each other. One quite often sees orchards like this out and about, branches all dead and covered in lichen. Often people are really apprehensive about pruning old standard trees so it was lovely to see that someone had bitten the bullet and taken out all the dead wood and headed the huge trees back to a manageable size. As I was saying this, and admiring particular details, the gardener overheard and interrupted the conversation! I guess she doesn't always hear such appreciative comments. We had a lovely chat. I'm not generally a huge fan of pollarding old trees but if it is done well, with the good of the tree in mind the result can be both attractive, productive and keeps the tree in health for many years longer.

A very nice pear espalier.

Nether Winchendon House itself

Monday, 23 April 2012

Santa Claus - keeping test

I'd planned to keep my last few of Santa Claus's until Easter to test how late they would keep, but then forgot all about them. Today I noticed the neck of one was browning off so I decided to try them. I know now that they would have benefitted from being wrapped in tissue to stop them drying out, so will do that next year but, appearances aside, they were still quite edible. I thought they would probably have just gone brown at the core but no, the flesh was still quite firm. The taste was slightly vinous, very much like an Asian pear that is slightly over-ripe. 

I'm now quite impressed with this variety, I like firm pears with a tendency to crispness and the taste is also good. They are much later than the catalogues suggest, I don't think the first one was even ready in January and with care, they will keep in reasonable condition until April. The only down-side is that the variety is rather prone to scab, so needs a sheltered location that also has good ventilation, quite a challenge. I had given up on the cordon planted against a south-facing fence as the fruit were perennially riddled with scab lesions, but planting an additional tree I'd grafted into a more exposed position in my south-west facing front garden has been a lot more successful.

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Three variety espalier

And at the bottom, and example of "playing with novelty grafting to add many different scions to a fruit" - espalier of three varieties, Passe Crassane, Beurre d’Anjou, and Bergamot d'Esperen

Blossom - Morettini

The first flowers of Morettini have just unfurled, heralding Spring! A sight to cheer the heart!

Poor Quality rootstocks

Very skinny stock, had to find an equally weedy bit of scionwood to match

Poor amount of root

Again, not much root, with nasty split at the bottom of the wood

As I left it too late to order stocks from Frank Matthews, I ended up ordering them from a new supplier, Blackmoor nurseries. I have to say I was very disappointed with the quality of the rootstocks. The pears in particular were very weedy, they only matched the width of average-sized scions within a few inches of the root, much lower than I would normally like to position a graft. One was completely dead, and a few had minimal roots. The single apple stock of m111 had barely any root, and this was also split down the middle, annoying as I really want this one to succeed as my stock tree for my new variety.

I won't be buying from them again!

Grafting session

Just a few photos to illustrate my grafting method (namely the 'whip and tongue' technique.

I found this page on whip and tongue grafting, which made me laugh. I don't think the author would have much time for the way I do things! The instructions are quite good, apart from the bit about twine and sealing wax - I've tried that when I first started and believe me, crappy, cheap, low-tack duck tape and clothes pegs are much easier!

Last pears - Santa Claus

We are down to our last 3 pears of 2011, Santa Claus which has proved to be the longest keeping. Although they have shrivelled, they are still remarkably firm and crisp, just beginning to soften slightly now. Considering that we are almost in April, the flavour is remarkably good - not as fine as the few that ripened earlier but still of a quality that is welcome at this time of year. Next year I will wrap them in tissue paper to stop them drying out so much, now that I know that they take quite so long to mature.

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

3rd National Scionwood swap day - Stowe nr Buckingham

3rd National Scionwood swap day 2pm- 5pm where you will be able to swap your scion wood or buy pieces for only a £1
to help cover the events expenses. Trees can be grafted to order on m27,M9,M116 M106 or M111. scion wood already promised to arrive includes Bramley, SturmerPippin, D'Arcy Spice, Brownlees' Russet, James Grieve, Queen Cox, Egremont Russet, Ashmead's Kernel, Chivers Delight, Lord Lambourne, St. Edmund's Pippin, Worcester Pearmain, Norfolk Royal, Margil and Costard. Lord Derby, Charles Ross, Court pendu plat.........and many many more.

Both events take place at The Estate Office, Home Farm, (1st left down the hill past the Green Security PortaKabin) at National Trust Stowe Landscape Gardens., nr Buckingham. Tel 01295 810516 /0795000 6813 or email

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Expensive morning

Finally got round to ordering this year's rootstocks and fruit. Frank Matthews had sold out, apparently they had full orders before Christmas so, note to self, remember to order early. Have ordered them from Blackmoor, a nursery I haven't tried before. I had intended to buy a couple of plums on the new VVA-1 dwarfing plum stock, but within the last week they had sold out. I decided to buy them from Keepers as I don't want to waste any more time as it takes so long for any tree to come into cropping, and I've not actually grafted or bought any new trees for quite a few years now, so am really just catching up. All in all, a rather expensive morning.

Pruning - Josephine de Malines

This is an example of what not to do. I'd rather forgotten about my Josephine de Malines. It in a slightly out the way place, behind my polytunnel, and was initially a very weak grower which I left to its own devices for too long. When it eventually started to produce, the weight of the fruit bend and distorted some of the main branches, which then started to produce water shoots where the branches had bent, and the result is a complete mess.

The first thing to do was take out any misplaced or crossing branches and try to re-establish a better framework for the tree. I'd would have liked to maintain a Y shape but the right fork was unfortunately sticking out at almost a right angle so had to come off. I left the bottom of the branch with one of last years shoots which I'll stake into a position to re-establish the Y shape; if it doesn't develop properly, I'll take it off where it joins the main stem and grow as a small, if slightly curvy, half-standard. The weak growth means this variety tends to form a 'weeping' shape naturally, so I hope it won't get too tall, but the tendency to bend under fruit weight does mean that we need to monitor it and support branches with heavy fruit if necessary.

Pruning - cordons

Pruning time again, starting with the cordons. Each year I mean to do a proper 'before and after', but usually end up doing it on the spur of a spare moment, and forget. Not great photos, but enough to show the principles of spur pruning. Basically the aim is to take off virtually all the extension growth of the previous year, by which I mean all long shoots. Most of these will need taking off either where they spring from the main stem, or just above the nearest fruiting/flowering bud (which are always a little plumper than those destined to go on to make just leaves.

The photos and details show just how much growth needs removing. If you look carefully at the second closeup, you will see that I have only left two short, stubby, knobbly little branches (spurs), one each on the right and the left. These are fruiting spurs, which will hopefully flower and produce fruit. All other growth is removed cleanly, flush to the stem with a saw (a fairly fine ordinary one, much to the annoyance of my husband).

The only time I leave any extension growth is where it springs from a 'knobbly' wood that looks like it will produce buds directly in the future, even if it currently only has a current shoot with a leaf bud. I usual prune to 2-3 buds beyond the thickened, wrinkled bit. Hopefully next year fruit buds will appear directly from the base, and the new spur can be pruned to a fruiting bud as usual. Cutting directly into this basal proto-spur before it has produced a fruit bud tends to make it produce more vegetative growth.

Friday, 20 January 2012

New variety promotion - some further information

I posted a query about this on Joan Morgan's excellent Fruit Forum, the answers were pretty much in line with what I'd thought, that sponsorship from a commercial nursery is probably the only way forward. Also link a useful precedent, Christmas Pippin.

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Roast Quinces with Mallard

Tried out the afore-mentioned roast quince recipe as an accompaniment to a roast, rather than as a desert. I was pleasantly surprised, the combination was far more successful than when we tried it as a desert dish. Having stewed the fruit to the red stage, we roasted it around a mallard (stuffed with pieces of cassia and the odd shallot and garlic clove, glazing the bird of medlar jelly. The roast quince absorbed the flavour of the duck and the somewhat grainy, gritty texture that slightly spoils its desert qualities gave the quince segments a satisfyingly meaty texture. I would certainly do it again, it would go particularly well with Barbary Duck (except that we don't eat them as I never bring myself to eat Muscovies!).

Good reference book - The American Fruit culturist by John Thomas

Just found this while googling the qualities of obscure pear varieties. Only available as print-on-demand by Amazon, but much of the useful information available on the sample

The American Fruit Culturist - Select List of Fruits

Sunday, 15 January 2012

New Year - January fruit and some resolutions

A happy new year, if anyone ever reads this blog. The new year has started well, with a reasonable amount of stored fruit still left in good condition. We have just finished the last of the Glou Morceau, half way through our box of Josephine de Malines and had the first Santa Claus, good flavour but still fairly hard/crisp on the bottom half, no not quite ready yet. None of the stored pears has shrivelled, despite being stored in open boxes (many recommend wrapping in paper individually, or covering boxes with straw, but I haven't found the need for this so far with late cultivars). We have finished the Rosemary Russet (mainly due to running out as they keep until March), and still have a few Golden Russet left, still vastly superior in flavour to supermarket russets we have bought recently. We finished the last of our own Wolvercote variety on New Year's day and found it fairly soft but still sweet and highly edible, so it's good to know it has quite a long storage life for this kind of apple.

One new year's resolution was to find out about registering plant breeders' rights for what seems to be a promising and fairly unusual garden cultivar. Plant Breeders' rights are controlled by DEFRA, and the information is presented in a typically labyrinthine manner. Having found the application form, it was then impossible to work out the fees. Fortunately DEFRA was swift to answer my email query personally, but the news was not good. There is no amateur category for fruit growers, which mean that the full annual DUS testing fees (a mere £1700 pa) apply, making it virtually impossible to register rights to a variety as an amateur without sponsorship. However, I'm not going to give up. I'll continue trialling it, on a range of rootstocks, and try to build a local market for the fruit, once I have built up sufficient stocks. If it fulfils expectations on yield, health and habit then I'll try looking for sponsorship/partnership with a commercial nursery. But a long way to go before that point.

The second new year's resolution is to find more land to grow build up stock and grow more half-standards and plums. Having contacted or looked at the rules of local allotments, again the news is not good. Most allotments have strict rules about fruit trees. Only the most dwarfing stocks can be used, fruit area must not exceed 33% of the allotment area (even half plots) and you can be asked to remove trees if your neighbour complains. Worst still, many have communal 'orchards', usually with a higgledy, piggledy assortment of donated stuff, and so can't see why anyone would want to have their own carefully chosen and managed trees when they could share a load of surplus rubbish. So, very difficult for the serious fruit enthusiast to make headway in terms of finding land to trial stock, grow on grafted whips to maiden stage or grow enough of a surplus to sell at the local farmers' market. Maddeningly we missed out on the chance to buy a nice, sheltered half-acre of land, partially walled, in the next village which would have been just about affordable. My lupus-like skin condition was just too distractingly painful at the time to focus on anything else. A shame as it would have been ideal, and the west-facing wall would have been ideal for peaches and the more frail continental pear cultivars.

Third resolution is to get an order for graftwood into Brogdale before the end of January deadline, something didn't get round to in 2011 or 2010. The aim is to try to extend the pear season by a month at each end (into July and March-May). Also to try more late-season apples as we really appreciate having our own late varieties at what is quite a bleak time for nice fruit, the empty months between winter and late spring. Hopefully this at least will work out.

For anyone wanting to acquire graftwood from the National Fruit Collection, here are the contact details:
Farm Advisory Services Team Ltd
Crop Technology Centre
Brogdale Farm, Brogdale Road
Faversham, Kent ME13 8XZ

t: 01795 533225 f: 01795 532422


Have also found a new supplier of rootstocks, Blackmoor Nurseries based in Hampshire. I emailed Frank Matthews (who would probably do a rather better deal with trade prices for a large order) but they haven't replied.