Years ago, during my spell as a student at Writtle Agricultural College our lecture on glasshouse lettuce production began:

‘L’ ‘I’ ‘G’ ‘H’ ‘T’                                                                      (C. I. Lambert circa 1977)

Lettuce are particularly sensitive to light intensity and duration, as so are most plants.

March and early April have been not only chilly and wet, but also seriously dull with often several successive days  here with no sign of the sun. The middle of April is correcting the balance somewhat and now the soil is warming and drying. Unlike the lack of soil moisture twelve months ago, we are at field capacity here which is excellent for the fruit trees particularly in conjunction with these warm temperatures.

Bearing in mind that full bloom for Cox here is, on average, the 5th May everything is so behind average that even with the current warm spell we are looking at 10th to 12th this year.

Anticyclones (areas of high atmospheric pressure) have a habit of plaguing fruit growers  between now and mid May. Lovely weather by day and an hour or so before most people are awake a damaging dip in temperatures silently influences the following months.

The rapid bursting of buds through’mouse ear’ and towards’green cluster’ means that the leaves are soft , not hardened as yet. Hopefully when this weather breaks we are not in for a strong, cold,easterly which the foilage will hate.

The leaves around the flower buds, which will gradually start to show a little pink at ‘pink bud’, are important for the strength of the flowers and a successful setting of fruit. The healthier these leaves , the greener they are, the more efficient photosynthesis  will occur especially if the levels of LIGHT are good!

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March is certainly rounding off on a very soggy note – completely opposite to twelve months ago.

Quince are slowly providing a visual reminder that Spring should be here as are nettles and thistles! All else is slow to break bud especially Plums and Apples. Looks like a late apple blossom is to be expected – better than too early at the beginning of April, which we saw several years ago.

Recently we hosted a party of conservation enthusiasts for the launch of Orchards East in Essex, (www.orchardseast.org.uk). Our prolific bryophytes and evidence of beetles have attracted further monitoring for later. Fortuneately the weather was dry.

Looks like a week of wet and chilly wesather to lead into April. Reminds me of chilly and damp sponsored walks on Good Friday as a youngster!

 

It is great when fewer pullovers are needed and the odd chance to leave off a coat presents. Still some piles of snow at the end of Rectory Road are left from the excavations of last week.

The Pears now join the Quince as their buds are obviously on the move. About the usual time regardless of the recent cold.

The land is pretty wet but our old land drains are having a good flushing – first since last summer.

As we no longer spray the trees there is no hurry to deal with prunings  – they can stay until the land is much more suitable to drive on and can be chopped up at the same time as the first grass trim. It all ends up in the same place – the custody of our earthworms.

No apparent harm done by wind chill or frost, just the inconvenience of snow  (only about 120mm fell) being blown off local arable fields with no hedges.

Time to check through our mailing list.

On the whole the winter has been most satisfactory here at Crapes with only our Vranja quince trees showing that they are alive. The cold spell at the end of February will have done no harm to established trees.

The chill has come from the East. Those travelling across Europe by land will observe  white tree trunks in gardens , orchards and municipal areas. The whitewash coating , often a metre or more above ground level is to reflect the effect of the sun  from the bark of the tree trunks during continental frosty periods. Without this there is a serious risk of the bark splitting as the tissues thaw too rapidly.  Obvioiusly this predisposes the fabric of the tree to disease.

Likewise, ‘the ice storm’ phenoema, the effects of which I have seen in Gracemont Oklahoma. Yes, Dust Bowl country more asoiciated with soil blows and the planting of Eucalyptus to help with soil retention, but harsh winter weather is experienced there also. Having tried pruning some fruit trees there which had suffered from ice storms over the years the current weather forecast for freezing rain in the southern UK with this extra serious windchill causes concern that a similar effect might happen here in Essex.

The harsh effect of the windchill on the youngest one year growth on the ends of the branches, and the blasting by ice particles, might  be seen once temperatures return to our usual for March. Anything which either cuts off or nips out the terminal bud whether it be with secateurs, powdery mildew infection or frosty wind  damage is, in effect, pruning and the tree will respond accordingly. At least with secateurs control is maintained.

Mother Nature  doesn’t believe in being controlled!

 

 

Almost a twelfth through the New Year, time for some anticipation but not forgetting the reflections of the season passed.

– A season to be remembered for the turbulent weather pattern  from early January when the prunings were not suitably succulent for the rabbits, indicating some unhappy trees right at the start.

-An abundant and seemingly, at the time,continuous rainfall during the peak of the summer months.

-The hottest June since 1976, which then , heralded a long drought. Not so in 2017 – with the rainfall and brilliant sunlight – all systems went!!

All this was bound to come out in the wash at picking time,with an earlier than average picking for everything. Some varieties made rather large specimens – Kidd’s Orange Red, others were scarred for life with the effects of the sun on their skin – Sunset in particular. The biggest disappointment being Discovery, Worcester Pearmain and Cox – the earlier varieties ‘cooked’ on the exposed branches, some becoming completely black and with spongy cheeks. Cox seemed to be similarly affected though their spongyness became apparent quite soon after picking.

This will explain to those who had hoped for their usual  late apple packs just why we have sold out.

All that has now been tucked away in the grey cells.

Now to be positive!

Pruning is the main task just now and the rabbits are very happy with the prunings. Not suprisingly the trees have made much one year wood, for trees on our light, hungry land, reason to be found in the above pargraphs.

Rainfall during December and January has been most satisfactory.

Earthworms are tunnelling, as are moles. Odd Ladybirds are about in the trees playing ‘dare’ with our secateurs. A hungry Ladybird is very useful to a fruit grower.

Even the odd hive bee has been heard on a cleansing flight. Again, there are no crops of Oil Seed Rape being grown close by so our trees and bushes should make a first port of call once the hives are truly active at the end of April.

A real sign that everything is on the move will be when the Quince buds just begin to show green. Some longer spells of dry, and less of the stormy winds would suit well now.

We have our apple juice here at the farm – should be available through into  the summer.

Our apple stocks may be virtually emptied now, but our land is filling nicely with water and December 2017 has been associated with a good spell of dormant inducing weather!

Some winter visitor birds are about but, to date, not the flocks of Fieldfares and Starlings seen during  previous cold winters. Recent lying snow reminded us of just how many rabbits have escaped the local foxes. All manner of evidence showed of others who reside at Crapes who we seldom, if ever set eyes upon.

Pruning ahead now, the author’s favourite job – I have been doing it since my early secondary school days! This winter, now the leaves are mostly off the trees some lengthy one year extension wood is to be seen. This reflects the vigorous state that the trees were enjoying during June and July when light , heat and water were abundant. It will be a winter of cautious pruning. With the sun damage to the fruit of this past season to bear in mind , I shall deliberately leave some growths for leaf shading.

Our apples may be almost over, but we have a stock of apple juice made from our own apples here. This can be purchased from the farm, delivered on our Colchester Friday delivery route, or indeed, for those further afield, sent by courier.

The next hurdle to watch  for are the land drains to be running at the end of March – then we know all is on course!

Our  apple season at Crapes is some two months ahead of the usual at this time of the calendar year. Even our robust, later  varieties are being enjoyed now, for the best. Every thing is much advanced with the best of the crop now either eaten or spoken for.

A disappointment for those who would normally be looking for our assortments in trays. It is one thing to take delivery of some fine looking apples but quite another if they have deteriorated quickly before they are all consumed.

For those local to us we have some of our pasteurised apple juice 700ml £3.25 which can be purchased at the farm or included within our Colchester Friday delivery round. Please note: bottles of apple juice are not sent by courier

Still some Medlars available – they are bletted.

At last , some evidence of earthworm activity. This shows that soil moisture levels are very slowly recovering. Judging by the mole hills appearing there is a good population of worms!

 

Any queries to tannandrew@gmail.com