Here in Essex we are off to a dingy, muddy and raw start to 2021 and what’s more, we have seen some sharpish frosts. This is great for the fruit trees though not so clever on the fingers trimming leeks!

Judging by the size of foot prints in the mud our local Fallow deer are about, some are quite hefty beasts. A few tiny prints suggests that there are one or two youngsters with them.

Not such good conditions for earwig mothers turning their eggs, usually at ground level, prior to hatching. Too damp and they become mouldy and don’t hatch. Last summer we made up some refuges with two flower pots containing straw, tied about one metre up the trunk of some youngish apple trees, The intention to provide a comfort zone for earwigs – a major controller of caterpillars for us. I dismantled one after six weeks and found several earwigs , and also some ladybirds.

A spell of isolating ahead for many of us in the U.K., just now. Remember, that sunlight is just as important for yourselves as it is for plants, particularly at this time of the year. Think of the earwig’s plight in the damp – make sure of some fresh air breaking through your double glazing and into your lungs!

An early guide as to what might be ahead is often indicated by the buds breaking on our quince trees. This is not a totally unusual observation during the last few days of February. The further into March, the happier I will be!

Happy New Year!

In many respects, nationally, we are a little further forward from  this time last year. 
For some individuals the year has been dominated by illness and tragic loss. Now there is a glimmer of hope that, just maybe, this encompassing threat to our health will eventually  diminish during 2021 – thanks to the universal efforts, by scientists.
Illness aside, as a nation, we are wobbling out of 2020 into a future of fresh challenges and, no doubt, many obstacles – we will see.

This, you will have already noticed, is at variance to my usual commentary.

Each day WordPress kindly show a chart on my screen which illustrates the pattern of activity in statistical form. A highlight for me is the origin of the interest shown. Whether you are tuning in from Finland, Poland, Kenya, Singapore, Germany, from the North or South of the USA, France, Spain or elsewhere, I hope that you feel able to continue! It is unfortunate that my nation chose to follow an ‘independent’ path forward.

The third, and for myself and growers internationally, the most important concern is how the hitherto subtle local changes in seasonal weather have, in recent years, accelerated significantly both in frequency and marked change – often from one end of a week to the other, let alone the number of see sawing temperature and rainfall incidents within a month – any month. As I type, this wet December will bring our annual total for 2020 nudging 690mm.

Of course, it isn’t just the crop making knee jerk reactions constantly, but also the threats to it – insects in particular. A couple of very warm days late in February seem to wake up overwintering forms of flies and moths, particularly if  surface soil temperatures are rising already.
How often do the meteorologists mention the current position of the Jet Stream influencing our present weather event? We mortals will make little influence on the trends of the Jet Stream. What can’t be changed will have to be endured. That in itself might be easier if those of us on the ground had more grasp on the nature of the beast, which we have no alternative but to learn to grow along with.
A complex subject, yes. Another reason to not only fund  science, but to be more diligent at taking heed of it’s findings as they emerge and amending our ways..

You will recall that May 2020 holds the record for phenomenal sunshine hours. Possible, particularly, as here at Crapes we saw no precipitation for the whole month. That indicates few clouds were apparent.  Cloudless skies at night during early May, especially, are associated with damaging frosts. I need not continue.

Just as well we have another, albeit short, string in our bow. We expect to maintain our Friday vegetable deliveries throughout the winter to Colcestrians.

Hopefully by next summer, as a nation, we can all relax, just a little, though the need for crutches will be ongoing, no doubt.

Also, I hope to be reporting on an apple crop at Crapes!

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The Medlars are all sold now.

I have never seen them blett so quickly or so evenly before. They have been sent the length and breadth of the nation – mainly packed in egg trays!

A chilly start to December. Hopefully this seasonal effect will be with us for three months. We don’t want things hotting up in January (weatherwise)!

Yes, you have read correctly, just a few very well bletted Medlars left – a delicacy for only the few enthusiasts.

The speed at which the Medlars have softened is a reflection on the season as a whole. The few apples we did have exhibited a similar tendency to mature weeks ahead of usual.

For those of you included in our delivery round, rest assurred we have vegetables to supply through the winter. It is possible to make up a pack of vegetables (instead of apples) to send further afield. Simply log into Crapes Fruit Farm on Facebook at midday on Tuesdays to see what is on offer for either mode.

Please note that we do not supply the wholesale trade or other farm shops.

The orchard needs three months of proper winter weather!

We used to gather our Medlar crop at the beginning of November, particularly promptly following the first frost of the Autumn.

These days other considerations dictate the harvesting of this curious fruit whether they be for annual jelly making, or for enjoying them bletted, at their most squidgy state. Drooled over by some, or a definite ‘turn off’ for many!

Remember the very warm two weeks at the beginning of September, also the volumes of rainfall late in August? That combination has not been the best for apples just approaching their picking. Just as well there are only a few low grade fruits left.

Our Medlars blossomed just after the damaging May frosts. They have benefited from sun and rain up until now. They may well be ready to pick mid October – especially as already this month, by the 7th of October, 80mm has fallen. They are now increasingly vulnerable to stormy winds.

Medlars may be sent out whether they are still hard, or even later, when they are bletted. They could be accompanied in a pack with some late Autumn vegetables. Sadly there are no apples left to supply.

It must be fifty years since so many Field  (Horse) mushrooms popped up around the orchard. Many in the ‘usual’ spots where my father and, earlier still, my grandfather had gathered them for a tasty meal from a long time previously.

Worcester Pearmain were first planted here during the mid 1920’s. We have always grown them and they have always been a mainstay, during difficult weather seasons . This year is different, in so many ways, even  the lack of  of traditional Worcester Pearmain.

August gales certainly sorted things out, over 100mm (4″) rainfall did also but at least it heralded the end of the blistering days at the beginning of the month. There is late caterpillar activity following the high temperatures, evidence of skins splitting after the rain and some bruising from twigs in the gales.

Our Discovery are just finishing. Now just small quantities of some varieties remain for the rest of the Autumn.

If you are looking for apples to order please contact me on tannandrew@gmail.com. I will then give you details of another orchard to approach.

No more orders can be fulfilled with what can be seen on the trees here.

Not particularly welcomed, here at Crapes. With these sustained high temperatures volumes of rainfall are not to be welcomed either. July has passed with some useful, periodic rainfall, some 60mm. This does nothing to replenish the subsoil. An indication is the water level in the 3.6m well here of just 0.6m depth. So we are back to the levels of last September.

Victoria Plums and Discovery apples look to be in for a short window  of availability.  Damsons will be following on their heels.

Vegetables are being kept  growing by judicious watering.

Not many wasps about but earwig numbers are improving!

Cooler nights with  lingering morning mists needed for everything.

 

 

July has seen 45mm rainfall here during the first two weeks – not all at once and without hailstones, also. April , May and June totalled 55mm!

The full picture regarding the distribution of apples here is now clear. Half an acre of trees has a decent yield, the other twelve acres of apples have a good show of leaf with only an odd fruit here and there. Our south facing inclination has not helped us this time but some overgrown hedges and farm buildings have, in places. A re -run of last season with no apples available after November.

On a brighter note, our earwig population is gradually making an appearance, much later this year. In an attempt to encourage them to populate less mature trees some refuges constructed with two flower pots and a bunch of straw  tied within the tree against the trunk, approximately one metre above ground have been in situ for around six weeks. Dismantling one this week it was good to find an earwig and a ladybird inside.

Our deliveries,  of vegetables and what fruit we have available, all grown here, continue around Colchester.

Two eating establishments we supply have just reopened

Cradle C.I.C. North Street Sudbury, and

Nourish, 23, Crouch Street , Colchester.

There will be no apple picking jobs here this season.

 

It is some weeks since my report of early promising signs of apples to grow. Annoyingly this should now be amended.

Through the whole of May, no measurable rain fell here, which while concerning was not a total disaster for tree growth. The second week of May saw consecutive nights of low temperatures, and for early risers frozen windscreens. The morning of the 13th being the coldest –  spot on full bloom for both Suntan and Orleans Reinette. Consequently there are very few surviving fruitlets.

The trees carrying the most at the moment are those which blossomed before the late April rains, though a considerable number of fruits  are  now dropping.. Most of the blossom was fully out late April – early May. Cold rain drops inside a freshly opened flower invariably negate its viability. Frost on freshly set flowers likewise leads either to scarring of the fruitlet or  a fruitlet which falls during the next ten days.

Apart from a few russeted fruits, the Plums have survived.

The small shed here is now open for selling produce available – at the moment Broad Beans, Raspberries etc. Please come prepared with small change. Weights, qualities and prices are all calculated with 50ps in mind. Of course, social distancing applies here and just one household at a time in the self service area please. Friday deliveries continue as usual.

As for the June Drop?  This applies mainly to apples. The proportion of fruit which falls during the June/early July period reflects stresses which the tree has endured over several recent years whether it be waterlogging, drought, over cropping, or more recently, a cool pollination period, or varietal characteristic.

In my boyhood thinning Red Ellison was a most tedious task. Some of those trees remain to this day and actually are carrying fruit but they are shedding by themselves, as they did last year. The lightest cropping trees will yield some huge specimens – they stew or bake well , with natural  hint of aniseed.

Squirrels have taken to raiding pear fruitlets. They would not have risked this had my late father in law  spotted them!

 

 

 

 

Much of the blossom has now blown off except for Suntan and Orleans Reinette. So far fairly free from untoward weather events, though immdiately after this rearranged Bank Holiday  weekend a succession of coolish nights are expected into the middle of next week. The end of April saw the only, timely, rainfall here for the month approaching 20mm. The well here still has 1.5m water in depth so an improvement on the last two Springs!

An aerial photograph of the farm just now would reveal an interesting pattern of green. This reflects two cultural challenges.

We are on fine silty loam and very fine silty loam with just a few areas on anything more substantial. Those trees on the very lightest soil have struggled through two dry Springs which the effect of the rainfall of this last Winter has yet to influence the vegetation – a slow start for these areas and not so much blossom which is actually initiated the previous Spring and Summer. There were some areas where the grass failed to make enough growth to justify mowing such was the drought. Older trees, and yes we have several here, on older, more vigorous rootstocks are showing healthier leaves and some fruitlets.

Consistently around the orchard the three rows  nearest to any hedge are virtually devoid of  Winter Moth carterpillars, in particular. Our army of Blue tits and their cousins can be seen at sunrise foraging in the trees, the caterpillars dislike sunlight so are caught as they retreat within the new leaf. The further into the orchard is further for them to transport their haul back to nestlings. It is also more hazardous as we have both Kestrel and Sparrow Hawk  hovering here. Mild Autumns, Winters and Springs are favourable for increased Winter Moth activity.

Just prior to sunrise is a favourite time for our local Buzzard to patrol low over the hedges and plum trees to snatch a roosting pigeon for a meal. Pigeons just love tiny plums (and the blossom buds before).

There are no signs of either Lady birds or Earwigs, just yet.

We remain closed to passing trade at present. Any one collecting vegetables by arrangement will see that a designated area for strictly one person at a time has been organised through the main doors, with apppropiate instructions.

I anticipate that Apple Day events 2020 are unlikely to take place, even here. Allowing two metres in all directions consumes a lot of space – which I don’t have inside here!

For many years I have been present at Copped Hall near Epping for an Apple Day event. Also some apples of different varieties, from here, have been for sale there  Should this event not take place, then any of you who usually visit  may make direct contact for your annual supply.

At the end of this month I will draft out  information for those of you beyond Essex whom we send packs of apples to. I will brood on the draft for a few weeks before releasing details of varieties, pack size , and costs. Our courier is still operating. Packaging will remain the same unless there is a supply difficulty but it will not involve plastic.

The Medlar will soon be flowering!