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.


 

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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!

The dry January experienced here in Essex has left us short of ground water, the water table being very low for the time of year, as indicated by the measley one metre of water sitting at the bottom of what should be a brimful 3.5 metre well here.

February has brought chill, a smudging of snow, considerable winds and now, as we enter the final ten days this strategically placed anticyclone can be expected to block any chance of the meaningful, persistent rain for a long time ahead.

Anticylones are invariably associated with sunny and warmer days. Lady birds which had been hiding in the crevices of our trees, have responded to the temperatures and are roaming, foraging. Already a Common Lizard has been sighted on an apple tree trunk.

Yes, the Vranja Quince buds are definitely on the move.

Enjoy the school half term holiday, but remember, unseasonably good weather now can leave us growers with some furrowed brows for the rest of the year!

Not too cold for pruning, but persistent chill enough to deter any early movement. Rainfall has been on the low side, there is plenty of time to make up during the next six weeks. Judging by the gnawings on the lying prunings, the rabbits and mice consider the wood to be turgid enough for their teeth. (Some years ago the prunings were left, untouched which indicated the trees were struggling during a dry winter) – not so good for bulking fruit buds.

It looks like a similar weather pattern as we lead into February – no complaints! We should bear in mind folklore – ‘February fill dyke!

How do we measure winter in our minds?

The sight of  all clad in lovely white snow, hoar frost adorning the trees and hedges , a raw nagging Easterly from the Urals or a couple of straight weeks with a good bone in the ground day and night? The latter two need to be endured but are certainly the more beneficial in shutting down perrenial beings like fruit trees.

Usually the first signs of Spring not being so far off,  here, are the Vranja Quince buds just beginning to break , preferably during the first week of March, hopefully not before. I am surprised to see the brilliant white blossoms just appearing on some white violets before the end of December. To date, not so many Fieldfares have been sighted.

We have accepted some really useful rainfall during December, stashed away underfoot for future use.

2018 has presented some challenges from which we have learned of new dodges for  future consideration.  Unfortuneately some disappointments  too, as our range of apple varieties, overall volume and length of season  all fell short of the norm. Our apologies to those of you  who missed out.

However the Winter turns out during the next two months, the growing calendar develops day on day. For us here, at Crapes, we will be quite happy to keep our two pullovers on until the middle of April.  The need  to cast clouts at the beginning of March for a few days , like last Spring , sets everything out of balance for months to come.

Those of you reading this  from Poland, France, Germany, Michigan and elsewhere, it is always good to see on screen your national Flag pop up.

Best wishes for 2019 – hope that you are enjoying your ‘Winter’!