Apple Scab Control

The Control of Apple and Pear scab by Sulphur Sprays

My James Grieve has for the past 3 years suffered some scab on the leaves. This wouldn’t be a problem, except for the fact that it can severely mark the fruit in due course and in wet seasons. By resorting to a regular spray of sulphur, I have managed to prevent it reaching and marking the fruit. Sulphur is a basic chemical, so relatively harmless to the environment. The weather conditions earlier this year in the east were very favourable for scab spores, but luckily this last week’s dryer conditions has improved the situation tremendously. In the west of Scotland it is a problem most years. Powdery mildew has also been prevalent on many apples this year also and sulphur will reduce this also. It attacks the new young leaves and slows down the growth of trees for many months.

I use 5.6 mls in 10 litres of litres water and spray the leaves every 10 to 14 days if I can. I start at the ‘pink bud’ stage and continue until the end of extension growth, around about mid- July. It is essential to achieve good coverage of all parts of the tree, especially the growing points – they will have the appearance of a smattering of snow after spraying!

Certain varieties of fruit trees and bushes may be damaged by sulphur sprays. In the old books they called this ‘sulphur shyness’. The following are reportedly susceptible to leaf damage: Beauty of Bath, Belle de Boskoop, Cox’s Orange Pippin, Lane’s Prince Albert, Lord Derby, Newton Wonder, Rival, Stirling Castle, and Doyenne du Comice.

My Hawthornden seems a touch damaged, and possibly my George Cave, but since the first few applications, I have restricted my sprays to Worcester Pearmain and James Grieve only, the only two in my garden showing any significant scab symptoms.The Boskoop seems to be ok in my garden, and none of the pears show any damage.

I have seen scab on Scrumptious this week, and many new so-called resistant varieties usually succomb after a few years in the field unfortunately. Knowing when spores are in the air is how the professional’s are able to time their spraying; we may rely on regular pruning and good open sunny sites as the best prevention!


Dancing with Faeries…

I am not a great enthusiast for lawns. Nothing against grass, you understand, and even when mown and edged it has its place – for picnics, sunbathing, throwing sticks for the dog, and so on. But the lawn is not exactly exciting, is it?

Faery Ring

Unless something Goes Wrong with it. To some people, the sudden appearance of circular, dark green patches on the lawn is Something Going Wrong. And it may be – the circular patch becomes a ring, and in some disturbing cases a double ring, with fungi on the outer edge for a brief time, and dead grass (soon followed by weeds) in between the rings. This is the worst scenario, and most people just see dark green rings and, often, no fungi at all.

These rings were noticed in meadows and pastures centuries ago, and largely attributed to the pattering feet of faeries dancing round in circles. Belief in “other” folk was commonplace and accepted, as was the presumption they could do some harm if crossed.

There is an old Scottish rhyme which sums it up:
“He wha tills the fairies’ green,
Nae luck agin shall hae,
And he wha spills the fairies’ ring,
Betide him want and wae,
For wierdless days and weary nights
Are his to his deein’ day!”

The more rational (or less imaginative) put the phenomenon down to lightning, the feeding of cattle or the mating rituals of moles. The fungi sometimes seen were thought to grow on the slimy trails of slugs attracted to the greener grass. In fact, as we now know, the fungi CAUSED the faery rings.

Think about it. Nearly all fungi grow outwards in a circle from a starting point. Penicillin mould on bread. The way an apple rots, with concentric rings of fungus. That fungal skin disease isn’t called RINGWORM for nothing! Below the soil, the perennial mycelium (“roots”) of the fungus grows silently outwards. Mushrooms (toadstools if you prefer) are produced on the outer edge of the ring when conditions are right – not necessarily every year. The mycelium consumes carbohydrates and proteins in the soil as it advances, and converts some of it to ammonia, which is then converted to nitrates by bacteria. Nitrates – yes, the basis of “greening up” lawn fertilisers. No wonder there’s a dark green ring! But with some species, such as the Fairy Ring Mushroom (Marasmius oreades), which is delicious but tricky to identify safely, the mycelium grows so densely in the soil it forms an impermeable layer of fibres, through which rain cannot penetrate. The grass behind the ring dies. Eventually, so does the mycelium. And as the grass and the fungal remains decompose, they in turn yield nitrogen – feeding the grass behind and forming an inner ring.

Year on year, the ring gets wider and wider, until we are scarcely aware of it. You may find Parasol Mushrooms (Lepiota), Field Mushrooms (Agaricus), Puffballs (Clavaria and Lycoperdon species) and many other edible species growing in rings – and quite a few non-edibles too! The most exciting one I ever found was as a teenager at the very start of my obsession with fungi, researching for my college project. It was a MASSIVE ring in dense woodlands, of the Giant Funnel-cap, Leucopaxillus giganteus, a species of edible mushrooms each a foot across, all glowing an eerie white in the gloom. This species can mither about below ground for half a century before producing mushrooms, so I was enthralled and very lucky.

I went home and promptly wrote a faery story…

© Margaret Lear, Bankfoot. Originally published in Comment, September 2011

First Fungi appear!

Alternating heavy rain and warm sunny days have prodded the first fungi of the season into appearing. We have a pretty ring of nondescript brown mushrooms on the lawn, but I don’t eat nondescript, because of the risk of misidentification. No such risk with the Dryad’s Saddle (Polyporus squamosus) which has appeared very conveniently on the end of a log I’m using to edge the soft fruit plot. This large bracket fungus with its distinctive beige scaly top and white flesh is very good when young, meaty and substantial. We had it for breakfast; being greedy I didn’t want to waste the stem part but that was a mistake, as it’s far too tough and chewy to bother with. I’m hoping this tree fungus will continue to crop through the summer.

Dryad's Saddle

Dryad's Saddle


Another edible tree fungus I found last week was Sulphur Polypore (aka Chicken of the Woods), in Latin Polyporus sulphureus. I found it in the woods at Killiecrankie-oh, when my mind was more on the Jacobite trail of John Graham of Claverhouse, Bonne Dundee, than wild food. It was just starting to grow, was beautiful, and of course, I didn’t remove it. That would NOT have been sustainable foraging! But I clocked its location for future reference…

And this weekend we came upon – and ate – our first chanterelles of the year, near Dunkeld. They were at a very young stage, but plentiful and delicious. I am still using last year’s dried chanterelles and Boletus, so that’s availability 12 months of the year. Just like my spinach beet. If I could live on fungi and spinach, I’d never have to go near another shop! Well, let’s be honest, I probably could, but having gone through the Lent thing, I’m glad I can find and/or grow plenty of other things too! The Lent challenge has left me with distinct squirrel tendencies…. I am worrying myself silly that I’m growing enough beans and peas for drying, have tucked two big bottles of elderflower cordial in the freezer already for winter use, and have potatoes growing everywhere, including the compost heap. It’s a bad year for carrots though, and also we’ve noted it’s an off-year for the ash trees of Perthshire. Normally I’d have made ash-key pickle by now, but there are none…..