The second week of August always  keeps us watching both the Victoria plums and Discovery apples as to the best time to pick over for the earlier ripening fruit. It being the 12th today, neither is ready. Apple colour is intensifying, even on later varieties, enhanced by the cooler night temperatures now. Colour does not fairly represent flavour or edibility!

Patience for the next few days will be worth it. The Victoria plums may be first!

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For the first apples of a new season.

It would appear that our picking dates can be modelled on those of 2017. Fortuneately some 20mm of overnight rain arrived just ten days before the end of July, and before the onset of some hot July days which are now  sending us all for cover.

My Grandfather had some ancient Beauty of Bath trees , long since grubbed , though now we have some younger trees of  Crimson Beauty of  Bath to finish this month with. They are notorious for their short lived crispness but still have a following by locals.

Come what may with the weather, our Discovery usually reach an edible state during the week of 14th August, becoming sweeter as the month progresses.

Our Early River’s Plum will just last until the end of July.

A visitor to Crapes Fruit Farm, observing the nearest two apple  trees by the yard would assume that,  come the Autumn, a busy time is ahead. The top trees of both Ribston Pippin, and Greensleeves, are showing a plentiful crop of, now swelling, fruitlets.

Move a short way from the shelter of buildings and hedges and the picture is less inspiring, some trees sporting barely a handful of apples.

Varieties which are obvious include, Discovery, Worcester Pearmain, some Sturmer Pippin, some Ribston Pippin, Red Ellison and some Cox, these mainly on the very old trees (1959 plant). Our collection of lesser known varieties, also, show very  few fruits.

Of particular disappointment are the lack of Arthur Turner,D’arcy Spice, Kidd’s Orange Red, Laxton’s Fortune, Michaelmas Red, St Edmund’s Russet and Sunset.

It seems that the fruit which has set was on flowers blooming during the last week of April. (As mentioned previously the Worcester Pearmain bloomed most unusually early).

The June drop is happening now. There are some fruits which have cracked – these often do not have an even distribution of pips within. There is some russetting which can be attributed to cold during early May.

Virtually  100mm rainfall has arrived during the last four weeks, a good start to rehydrating the subsoil in time for fruit bud formation ready for 2020 blossoming.

Our Plums look more promising, Quince are showing now and the Medlars, which flower mid May, should have benefited from rain at fruit set.

If February had of lived up to its folklore reputation ‘February fill dyke’ instead of  dehydrating everything, the picture might well have been different now.

Our Friday delivery round incorporating Colchester has begun . Watch Facebook ‘Crapes Fruit Farm’ for availability details of our fruit and vegetables, normally posted  during Wednesday.

Nocturnal pests include deer, Roe and Fallow –  particularly fond of self pulled beetroot!

 

Now is the time of year when, slowly, developing fruitlets should be showing themselves.

It is June now, and usually the tree selects those fruitlets which are strong enough to stay to an eventual  edible result. A process known as the ‘June Drop’

Why are some fruitlets stronger than others?

If everything has been perfect for the tree during the previous three years then we expect to see bunches of five fruitlets all containing a good full core of  evenly distributed pips. The main concern in these enviable situations is the matter of thinning most of the fruitlets off the tree!

Never mind the last three years. Just casting our mind back through the last twelve months and a list of challenges for the tree soon mounts up.

Although we have seen some rain during May , this has not replenished the desperately low water table of the last six months and from which the trees have not been able to draw on during late winter into Spring – especially the semi dwarfing rootstocks with more shallow root systems. Trees which cropped last season struggled through the drought and high summer temperatures which, in the ‘normal’ way would have recharged their batteries ready for blossom time in May 2019.

February brought some two weeks of very warm sunny weather. Good for half term school holidays but bad news for struggling trees. Bud break came early – which revealed that many trees were, as we suspected, under stress. Leaf growth was slow and not as lush as usual to protect emerging flower buds, although still tightly folded together. Leaves and buds, both under moisture stress, slowly developed through a dry March until a wake up shock on the morning of 4th April. A sharp frost, which, judging by the black tracks in our neighbours grass following a burglary, was enough to pinch out the still tight flower buds of apple in particular.

Chilly winds during blossom time also influence poor fruit development. Remember too, that during blossom time any fruiting  tree or bush needs plenty of available moisture. ‘ A Moisture Sensitive Period.’ April was very dry throughout – likewise the beginning of May.

Presently we can see that those trees immediately sheltered from the North are carrying some fruit. Some of our oldest Cox trees planted in 1959 on a stronger stock will justify their space. Favourite varieties like Laxton’s Fortune, Kidd’s Orange Red and Sunset look to be very few.

Remember, that the stresses the trees are under now will be reflected in their performance in 2021 and 2022.

We should have apples and plums beginning in August!

20mm rain each week during June and July will help .

 


Although the bridge over the Roman River has been completed, we will shortly be isolated from the A12, again, as long term work on a railway bridge begins in earnest the last week of July, closing the road until early November.


 

Despite the continuing dry growing conditions the blossom is about halfway through now. The earliest varieties to bloom are losing their petals whilst the very latest – D’arcy Spice, Orleans Reinette and Suntan are poised to open during this Bank holiday weekend. Worcester Pearmain opened rather earlier than is usual in the average sequence, whereas our Cox have flowered over a very long period with still some blossoms to open. To date, no alarms at night with frost.

At last, the road from Marks Tey to Aldham is passable as the bridge replacement over the Roman River nears completion. Don’t hold your breath, as shortly we will be marooned from the South again whilst the bridge over the railway by the station is repaired.

Rain still holds the key to  this season. No rain is better than a hail storm.

Well, so much for anticipating anything! Very, very little rain has fallen here since my last post – but still little as it may be, that is still  more positive than  our other nagging concerns at the moment.

The 12′ well on the premises still has only 3′ of water at the bottom. Usually this is full from the end of November and often into April. Over sixty years ago I enjoyed playing in the overflow channel!

Both Cherry and Plum are blooming. We have plenty of flying insects about including Bumble Bees, though the easterly wind is cold from Europe just now, the nights are a little less cold than of late when ground frosts were been frequent.

The apple trees are feeling the dry and the development of leaves and emerging blossom buds is sluggish. An odd flower is open, though just now apples are clearly behind here.

I haven’t mentioned much about our vegetable area in recent posts. Needless to say we are busy sowing ready for June onwards. Our sprouting broccolli and  spring greens have been popular both with the Colcestrians on the Friday delivery route, and also, the Vegan restaurant – Cradle C.I.C in North St. Sudbury. (The top end!).

Shortly we will be invaded by a team of biodiversity  surveyors, through Orchards East, as part of a lottery funded project surveying orchards of all sizes in East Anglia. This will be over a period of eighteen months

Easter week is upon us, with the forecast of some warmer air from our southern neighbours , France and Germany, only, 22 miles of water in the English channel does not provide a lot of oppurtunity for meaningful rain clouds to gather.

Happy Easter!

The end of March is within sight and all around there is evidence of  Nature waking after the ‘not so bad after all’ winter period’ which culminated with some particularly feisty equinoxal gales.

The unusually warm stretch  late in February, which I enjoyed part of near Bonn,  does not seem to have accelerated bud development generally.  In my opinion the dry land had a braking effect on root activity – yes, the sub soil here really is dry . Since then a succession of ‘Lows’ released only meagre amounts of precipitation here so we continue to have concerns for soil moisture.

Bumble bees are now more common and, already, moths are appearing on the windows in the evening. A colony of newly hatched Vapoura larvae have been found this week, fortuneately before they had ‘fled their nest’ to wreak havoc on emerging apple leaves.

Bud break on everything here is in line with our ‘average’ for very many years. Every thing will now speed up with longer daylight hours, warmer temperatures, and we hope, some ‘meaningful’ rain. By Easter some early apple blossom will be showing and perhaps temperatures will be warm enough for  some insect activity.

A season for OPTIMISM!