It seems many Springs have passed since the blossom period has actually occurred close to the long accepted ‘average’ timing for Crapes. Just now the blossom over all our varieties is at various stages, coinciding with the pollinator varieties like Worcester Pearmain and Discovery, well. Individual varieties actually blooming in the recognised sequence, for once! The frosty start to April appears not to have caused pre blossom damage to apples, though the earlier flowering plums may show some evidence later. Temperatures are holding up well, especially during nights and around dawn – this trend looks to be continuing towards mid May.

The recipe isn’t complete, however, without appreciable rainfall here as a matter of urgency. April has been very dry.

Derby Day, circa 6th June, is a long recognised date by apple growers for the initial gauging of crop prospects.

Not surprising with this current spell of warm weather drawing up from the south – some six days earlier than usual.

The chilly, frosty time at the beginning of the month appears not to have been harmful, beyond yellowing some of the early leaves of Quince. They are in blossom now and appear to have grown through the experience.

Some apple blossom is open in the most sheltered spots. Overall, the different varieties are expected to coincide well during the main blossoming, probably next week and into early May. Medlars will follow.

Doubtless the weather will turn cooler. Moonlit nights during May are definitely not appreciated!

Plenty of insects moving around. the bee hive tenants are adding soupers. Bumble bees are everywhere, also.

There has to be something missing – RAIN – March, and to date during April, have lacked meaningful precipitation.

Dismay best sums up the last month.

For tree fruit growers this recent spell of ‘fine’ weather will, from past experiences, commit us to six weeks of sleepless nights ahead.

We expect to see a few early Bumble Bees around now – at much lower temperatures than of late.

The eggs of Winter Moth will hatch once daytime temperatures climb to 12deg C consistently – usually in about a month ahead from now.

Apple buds are breaking – usually a slow, gradual progression from bud break, bud burst, mouse ear, green cluster and eventually pink bud (when the unopened blossom buds stand proud amongst some bold, green rosette leaves). These rosette leaves are rather important for supporting the nutrition of the adjacent blossoms. Should the general momentum of the tree metabolism be accelerated – as it will be after recent succcessive days – the blossom buds risk emerging too hard on the heals of the green cluster stage, then invariably the blossoms will be weaker.

Many overwintering insects are at risk of being awakened prematurely only to succumb to cold weather by mid April. Not only will they not be available to pollinate fruit tree flowers, they won’t be available to reproduce either.

The temperatures experienced here during this last week would have been more than adequate for a successful pollination of fruit tree flowers early in May. We haven’t reached April , yet. There are flowers open on Louise Bonne of Jersey pear today.

The brakes need to be applied for the next three weeks, at least, to avert the probability of frost damage to tender stages late in April and through much of May. Remember, the late frost during mid May last season left us some badly scarred fruits – they were the lucky ones.

Rainfall is another concern with March remaining rather dry.

A sustained period of cool and wet until mid April is to be preferred – and then everything will stand a better chance!

Snooze!

Indeed, the twenty fourth of February this year is of particular note, marking the 100th anniversary of Tann’s arriving at Crapes from their former London home.

Guy, my grandfather, just short of 22, his sister Lillie and recently widowed mother, Winifred, arrived in Aldham to the prospect of no mains water, no mains drainage and no electricity. In addition to a weather boarded cottage, a similarly clad brick based barn, some sixteen acres of grassland/pasture, with about 100 fruit trees dotted about, included in the acquistition..

Guy, escaped from the family stationary business in Chancery Lane to train in fruit growing, working for two years at W.Seabrook in the area around Boreham, just east of Chelmsford. His employer advised them on a suitable property to purchase.

The only market for produce at that time was London. The only sensible means of transport for goods, the railway to London, direct from Marks Tey.

An important consideration for fruit growing is the vulnerability to damaging spring frosts. The slight south facing slope and the proximity of the railway station at Marks Tey ticked two important boxes. Notably, the soil at Boreham is considerably more suited to the growing of apples than the gravelly glacial deposits here on the south side of Aldham!

Labour was easily found throughout the year. Charlie, the horse soon acquired, worked both the land and a constant shuttle between the farm and Marks Tey railway station taking fruit and often returning with shoddy railed down from the City to be loaded on to a cart for organic matter – by hand.

Much of the farm was soon planted with apple trees with a few rows of plums, Czar and Victoria. Seabrooks Black (currants) , loganberries and some flowers where grown. Forty women from the village used to bring wooden stools to pick the currants. At Loganberry time, Winifred sat in a makeshift tent out of the sun with a needle removing prickles from fingers!

Charlie was sadly replaced after 16 years with a small Ransomes tracked tractor for cultivating between trees, later, a Grey Fergie transformed the workload here with these able to tow a sprayer rather than Charlie pulling a tank of chemical with a pump. Mains water arrived in 1938.

Yes, it seems a lifetime ago, I don’t remember most of the above!

I do remember when the Grey Fergie was replaced by a Ferguson 35 diesel model, to this day we are using its immediate successor being the 35X and still younger MF135

Electricity first arrived in 1961, this was just after my father had begun replanting apple trees as the originals were both very large and time consuming, the varieties not so popular with the marketing scene beginning to change. From this time gradually we began selling our fruit more locally.

Weather has always been in control. Guy had problems with ‘frost years’ during the 1930s.

Hail storms during August bank holiday 1958 caused a devastating crop loss, as did some wet harvests during the early 1960s when Gleosporium rots caused high levels of loss in storage.

The frosts of April and May 1997 left just 12 bushels of apples from the whole farm.I secured the postman’s round in the adjacent village for a year!

The trends in weather pattern have now become cyclonic – very difficult to predict even from a regional weather forecast just how localised airflow or which side of a hedge a critical limit will be breached.

After the 1997 experience , a secondhand Dutch Light Structure was acquired from a local, retiring smallholder. It still stands – just. This marked the beginning of a venture to grow a range of vegetables for running alongside fruit for our local customers. For many years a source of labour during school holidays and Saturdays flowed from a neighbouring family, the youngest Ben, organises and oversees the vegetables to this day.

Probably the most significant improvement between the approach to growing here in 1922 and today, is that we are NOT using chemicals to control insects, diseases or weeds. Also a lot less tractor diesel consumed and no longer have annual pruning bonfires. Guy was routinely using DDT, Nicotine, Lead Arsenate, DNOC winterwash. Lime Sulphur was being used into the 1970s. We need every insect for pollinating, and plenty of soil fungal activity to release nutrients.

Remember, the weather will determine the crops grown here in the future. There are realistic financial limits as to how far extremes of weather can be mitigated against. Burning wax candles, straw bales and old oil along orchard rows during May night frosts are not environmentally acceptable.

It would be good to mark this year with an unscathed apple crop!

(Perhaps I should write a book).

Here we are, almost half way through January and as yet no sustained, proper cold weather for maximising fruit bud potential towards a meaningful crop later in 2022. In fact, it hasn’t been necessary to drain off the water supply in the yard, yet. All reminding us of the continuing trend in the turbulent cycle of air temperatures.

Fruit buds which have experienced several weeks of sustained cold prove to be stronger at blossom time and more likely to ‘hold’ set fruit. Healthy buds = healthy flowers = a robust fruit more able to ‘hold’ well after harvest.

For all my years of pruning apples, the emphasis has been on light and air penetration within the tree throughout the season ahead. Now, while pruning I am well aware that the trees are not truly ‘asleep’. I am also remembering where on the trees the few apples of last season were actually picked from – within the centre of the tree approximately mid torso height where there was marginally more protection from mid May frosts which scythed through all the fruit growing either higher or exposed where more air flow was actually a liabilty.

2021 presented us with a few headaches. By far, at the top of the league, unseasonal weather and its effects occupied us the most. We really do have to learn to live with this one. There is no vaccine or legislation to save us – just our instinct.

Usually we are picking Medlars at the end of October – many Medlars. Not so this year, more a case of hunting for thimbles with some rather pathetic, small, split and some only half a fruit. ‘Sorry’, to the many Medlar fans who I have had to disappoint.

The fruits displayed above, are of course, apples. The scarring evidenced is proof that we experienced damaging frost here during mid May. Medlar blossom follows on from the end of the apple flowering period. These fruits were damaged, probably just after the petals had fallen – at very early fruitlet stage. It is little wonder that the Medlars must have been caught whilst in full flower.

So another early finish to our apple season with just a few low grade cooking apples remaining for our locals to pick up for their apple crumbles, charlottes, dumplings or even simply just baked whole with a sweet concoction replacing the core!

Our mailing list for 2022 is open to join for those of you who are sensibly looking ahead positively to the chance of apples next season.

For now please note that NO QUALITY APPLES REMAIN either to be collected or by mail order.

Friday deliveries of vegetables continue locally around Colchester. We have increased our cultivated area under protection to ensure a more constant supply through the turn of the year. To request further details of this service apply to crapesfruitfarm@gmail.com

Gradually the season is returning to a more usual timing, with still, misty mornings – conditions ideal for overnight roosting small birds to take a peck from a nearby fruit.

The reason for this post is to inform readers that our Quince crop is now all spoken for . There are fewer of these than usual this year.

Also we are unable to accept any further orders for Medlars – there are many fewer than usual – sorry!

Seen any Wasps around yet? Not a sign of them here to date. As carnivores, they do have their contribution to make in the form of caterpillar control, especially both Codling and various Tortix, which are accosted within holes in the fruit. Each female caterpillar consumed now represents approximately 300 fewer eggs being laid on the trees during late Spring 2022.

Bumble Bees have taken up residence under several buildings here and have been active in numbers since mid May.

Seen any working combine harvesters around recently? You won’t with this damp weather. Usually the bulk of the local wheat harvest is over once Discovery apples are ready here. Like the fruit, cereals are delayed by the weather pattern of recent months.

Any August sunshine has been a premium in these parts. Occassionally a few hours of apple sweetening warmth have broken the norm. With this cool, the apples are colouring well – even the late picked varieties – they remain tight on and their pips within pure white. Some tentative tasting has not had me reaching for a hod yet!

Our Earwig friends are compensating well for the lack of Wasps. I have observed them in holes after caterpillars, also very young offspring crawling around within the fruit trees – best spotted while dew is still on the trees first thing.

At least dew is a sign of a sunny day ahead – looks like a patient wait until the new school year before this weather improves

Just need to excercise patience in the meantime!

Well, we survived the heavy down pours of July. Actually, we missed most of them and some serious hail damage which caught the North West of Essex just ten miles from here. We have also been spared the higher temperatures felt further west.

Cool nights are contributing to fruit colour on apples but not accelerating their ripening. Dessert apples are late – by at least ten days on our long term average, so are plums. One of the latest starts to a season that I remember.

Determining the ripeness of apples can either be achieved by high powered science and computer programming, or by examining the fruit both externally and internally using a knife, eyes and finishing off with tastebuds. I opt for the latter which has stood me in good stead throughout my involvement with apples and serves my requirements well.

Just before I expect a variety to be ready to pick a typical, coloured fruit, which is cracked, or even maggoty, is selected from the tree, ( do not use windfalls for this excercise). A damaged fruit will ripen more quickly. One can expect to find that the pips may be browning on cutting open. If they aren’t , then the final tasting test will confirm that a repeat of this process is needed again, a few days later. If the sampling on a Saturday afternoon proves acceptable then the ripe, perfect apples can be expected to be satisfactory the following Tuesday or Wednesday.

Stomachs beware of alluringly red apples with white pips!

Our Medlars, most unusually, have set very few which have already been sold, (once, at least!).

The rainy start to July is evidenced by the well on the premises being unusually high for mid summer – less than one metre to the top. This has been a bit inconvenient whilst trenching in an upgraded (and compliant now!) water system for vegetable watering.

The delayed maturity of all crops is ongoing, so a late season still predicted for everything. Volumes are low so supplies will be limited and doubtless their availability short lived.

Those of you already on our mailing list will have begun to hear from us during this week.

We will probably start to have some very early apples – cookers and eaters at the farm early in August. Saturday is the best day to visit for produce – apples etc.