Tonight’s the Night. For Wassailing.

We wassailed on Saturday at Gowanhill in Stirling, where Transition Stirling have created a community orchard. It was an icy, searing, brilliant, sun-soaked morning, with snow underfoot and the tracks of rabbits, deer, foxes mingling with the human and dog ones. Claire’s  mulled apple juice was zinging, and we all toasted the young trees (which had just been pruned under Andrew’s guidance), and bellowed our wassail to the ancient and productive apple tree, relic of an older orchard, at the centre.

By rights it should have been tonight, but there’s no tradition of wassailing in Scotland and therefore we can bend all the rules and make our own customs. Tonight is Twelfth Night in the “old” calendar, which had Christmas Day on January 6th.

Wassailing (making a lot of noise, singing to a load of fruit trees and drinking a lot of cider at its simplest) is steadily insinuating itself into the calendar of the Scottish winter party which begins on St. Andrew’s Day at the end of November, and continues through yule and the midwinter solstice, Christmas, Hogmanay and New Year’s Day, to stagger to a halt around Burns night – technically January 25th  but tends to stretch to incorporate the weekends before and after it. Aside from the obvious gap in excuses around mid-January, the growth of wassailing is largely thanks to the huge number of new community and private orchards planted in the last decade that are now blessing us with copious harvests.

The thing is, you have to keep wassailing to ensure the harvests continue. Grab a jug of cider and a slice of toast, choose your King Apple (or whatever) Tree in your garden or nearest orchard and get out there!

Wassail! Drink Hail! Sing!

(https://dochub.com/andrewlear/63bBXm/wassailing1  AND  https://dochub.com/andrewlear/8p3NL6/wassailing2  will take you to our favourite wassailing songs. You’re on your own finding the music!

cider

Morning sun gets the cider bubbling

 

Walnuts in Scotland

walnuts

The nice thing about Catriona’s walnuts is how easy they are to crack open. Christmas childhood walnut memories for me are of battles against wee brown rocks, broken nutcrackers, bruised fingers and mashed nuts I could never pick out of the remains of the shell.

Maybe in Scotland the shells don’t get quite so granitic. Anyway, Catriona’s walnuts break neatly and easily along the centre line and come out whole. Little wrinkled ovals of russety-brown, rustling with the papery bit that divides the cotyledons. Not the biggest walnuts in the world, but they taste fantastic. Any thoughts of making another nut roast (like the Christmas one I made to offset the goose) dissipate because they just go straight in the mouth like sweeties.

The variety is ‘Buccaneer’, and it’s about 10 years old, certainly not much more. It started bearing nuts the year after planting. Contrary to everything I believed about planting walnuts for your grandchildren! We once saw a massive walnut tree in a square in one of the east Sutherland towns – maybe Dornoch – and assumed it was very old. Since then we’ve found quite a few around the country (Scotland, that is) – all thriving, but I doubt many are as prolific as Catriona’s ‘Buccaneer’. There’s another variety called ‘Broadview’ which is said to best for the UK. I wonder?

At a Hogmanay party, we tried Ann’s pickled walnuts. Never realised it is the whole immature fruit (nut and its embryo shell and its thick green seed case) that gets pickled – or that several steepings in brine are needed before the actual pickling. Wow – amazing flavour and texture. Catriona’s walnut tree needs to be raided next year before the nuts start to ripen!

Andrew’s sowing some wild walnut seed, with a view to grafting with ‘Buccaneer’ scions….one day. How long for the straight Walnut tree-lets to germinate and grow? How long for my very own, pickled and unpickled, walnuts?

It isn’t Spring. Really it isn’t.

The clouds hang low across Birnam Hill in the sulky twilight and the air is turgid and heavy. Patches of pinkish light to the north, but the grey, oozy mist soon covers them. The oak and the sycamore on the lane stand out indignantly, black and convoluted against the gloaming.

I’ve been cleaning the wee greenhouse ready for seed sowing, unsurprised by the enthusiasm of shamrock spreading greenly in the gravel, but ecstatic to note that my Caucasian Climbing Spinach – the one in a pot – is already shooting. Alive! No sign of the outdoor ones yet, though they were more vigorous last summer.

In the garden. the rhubarb is up, leaves unfurling. Including the Lochgelly Miners’ Rhubarb. Little weeds everywhere I spread the compost rampage like they’ve never heard of frost. ice, snow, winter…. When I clear a border of overgrown perennials for replanting in spring, marching armies of daffodil shoots stand to attention.

Darkness deepens, I come in, the television news blares an icy message, not the latest pish from Trump this time, but of snow in Greek islands, temperatures of -30 degrees and freezing blasts and storms from Turkey across to Georgia, USA.

I wonder  if it is coming this way, any time soon.

Cider Apples

Whiteways Cider factory was about 5 miles from my home in Devon and we used to scrump rather horrible apples from their orchards as kids….probably Langworthy, and Dunkerswell Late among many others. And as a teenager of course I drunk some pretty rough ciders from big round barrels! As there is a great buzz in Scotland surrounding cider making and cider apples this year I thought I’d post a few thoughts on the subject. We have in the past grown Morgan’s Sweet, Tom Putt and Fair Maid of Taunton….and I have really enjoyed browsing through Liz Copas’s ”A Somerset Pomona” over the Xmas break. In this book there are some varieties reminiscent of my childhood climbing and scrumping trees! Cider apples come in different categories according to their taste….so don’t worry about what they look like in the books as it is the cider making qualities that are important here. In a nutshell they are categorised as Sharp, Bittersharp, Bittersweet and Sweet, and may be early mid or late ripening. At our cider sessions last year it was possible to catch these elements in different Scottish apples; getting a mix of these flavours is how to make a good cider.  Going for say a sweet and bittersharp mix would be good. Or you could make different single variety ciders and then blend before drinking. A bittersweet and sharp mix would in my mind do the same. The tannin content (the browning) of an apple is useful and the specific gravity content of the juice is important to cider making, giving you the necessary ingredients for alcohol production! Of equal importance to us here are the productive qualities of cider varieties, as there is no point in planting a cider tree that just isn’t going to produce anything under Scottish conditions; many won’t even ripen properly, and are just too late for our climate.  So, over the following year I will be propagating a small range of specially selected scab resistant, early, and precocious trees, ready for sale in winter 2015. A small amount of scab is acceptable for juicing, but not so much that the trees and production suffer. There are a few examples of cider trees in Scotland that I know of, and most are large and relatively unproductive. Growing central leader trees on a semi-vigorous stock is probably the way forward for us. Don’t be fooled by the unpruned large Herefordshire trees as a system, it would not suit us all here, unless you have a large acreage to play with. Our likely mix of sharps and bittersweets, sweets and bittersharps will be among the following: Langworthy, Porter’s perfection, Stoke Red, White Jersey, Brown’s and Slack Ma Girdle and  others.  Traditionally cider apples are grown as very big trees and they are shaken free of all their fruit. OK if you can wait 5 years for a crop, but most of our customers want to be making juice sooner. So we will be grafting some mm106 semi-dwarfing trees as well as vigorous M25 trees for sale in a year’s time. 79 Watch this space! And best wishes to all you apple tree growers for the new year…. and remember to Wassail your trees on January 17th!

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!

 

Hop production in Scotland

Hop Production in Scotland

For the beer making fraternity the subject of hops and the merits of its various clones are of great importance. To gardeners, more bent towards ornamental plants, the growing practicalities of this climber under Scottish conditions are of more interest.

What is it? Humulus lupulus is a climber related to cannabis, and has twining stems and tiny little hooks to enable it to grip onto to any upright object it can find.  It’s surprising how tough these stems are in mid season, I’m sure John Seymour would have recommended basket weaving with them!

It is a perennial, and would normally die back late in the year and send out new sprouts from a permanent root system every spring. It is a plant with purpose in several ways…the young emerging shoots can be eaten like asparagus. Professionally, four shoots are allowed to twine up from the clump of roots on 4 spaced coir strings to over 6 metres, creating a veritable vertical forest of growth by high summer.

 

Hop weed control

Well cultivated ground between rows of Hops.

I have seen an organic hop farm in Kent, where the plants are grown on a little ‘hillock’ and carefully weeded by rotavator between all the plants. The height and width of a hop wiring structure is a truly impressive structure to see!  I have also seen hop farms in Worcestershire, again on very good soil.  Overall though, the acreage is a lot smaller in the UK than even decades ago. A good deep fertile soil is ideal, perhaps the Tay Valley is the place for a Scottish Crop? Wye college in Kent developed some dwarf varieties, so the risk of wind damage might be reduced.

In late June, on the female plants, side shoots develop from the main stems and subsequently these produce the flowers which are so prized ornamentally. You don’t want male plants or you will get seeds which are undesirable!  Later the flowers form the ‘hops’ and all the stems are cut down to be taken indoors for extraction. The oast houses of Kent were once the drying rooms for the hop industry.

The hop damson aphid can be a big menace, and I’ve seen mildew on the leaves on our plant in wet summers.  Apart from that we have few problems and every year our golden-leaved hop scrambles up against a sheltered shed wall and produces little hops for us.

Propagation can be by division of the whole clump of roots, or fertile seeds can be purchased if you want to have a go of growing your own. To get a particular variety of course you would need cuttings or divisions, or layer a shoot across the ground and slightly bury it to encourage rooting. There are some lovely named clones such as White Knight, Fuggles, Goldings;  the RHS Plantfinder lists about 14 different sorts (page 365 ).

 

Hops - golden

The golden leaved hop, Humulus lupulus ‘Aureus’.

Seed grown plants can be supplied from plantswithpurpose, so what’s stopping you covering that horrible shed?

Ref: The RHS Plant Finder 2004-5, pub. By Dorling  Kindersley.

Spindlebush Apple Trees

The Spindlebush Method of Growing Apple Trees

Some of the small apple and plum trees i left in the field after i moved my nursery two years ago ( I move to a new patch every year), started to fruit this year in earnest. At the moment they have central leaders and i have the option of letting them branch out with 5 or 6 framework branches, and later cut out the leader to form open centred trees. This is an easy method of formative shaping to understand for amateurs and semi-professionals.

However, with the advent of dwarfing rootstocks, in the early 1940’s in Germany, and later in Holland, the growing of high density spindlebushes was becoming of great interest to growers. We in the uk were still growing very large trees on M7 rootstocks at a very wide spacing, and it was only post – war visits to Germany which opened our eyes to developments there.

So here are a few jottings on the subject:

So what are spindlebushes?

Its similar to my cordon grown trees, in that it is all about having fruiting wood in abundance and basically nothing else! Those of you who have attended my workshops will be familiar with the need to identify fruiting wood.

 

Its advantages are as follows:

Very high rates of production per hectare.

Small trees, enabling pruning, spraying and harvesting from the ground.

Very efficient use of land and available sunshine.

 

They are normally grown on very good land, and M9 rootstocks, a very dwarfing one. Basically, there is a central stem and lots of wee laterals to carry the fruiting buds. A tall thin pyramid is required. Thicker pencil sized laterals are cut back to 4 buds, anything thinner to 2 or 3 buds. Cut to downward facing buds always. So horizontal wood is the aim, use spacers if necessary. Unlike some methods I teach, this one requires very severe pruning. The leader is pruned – that is the new growth to 4 or 2 buds on a weak tree.

The common mistakes are to not cutting back the leader hard enough and allowing too much fruit early on leading to stunting of shoots. The aim is to have lateral branches with lots of fruiting spurs and no gaps along the branches.

Red George Cave

Fruit from my 2 year spindlebush tree

In late July, the new growth from the stubs are tied down to form horizontal fruit wood. Be careful not to droop the ends below horizontal if possible. Prune back all sub-laterals in summer

(‘Lorette pruning’), or next winter if you forget! You can allow your laterals to branch to fill the space a little, such as if theres a gap in your tree you want to fill. Tie a higher one down to fill a space if necessary. Keep the pyramidal shape by pruning harder if necessary your top laterals. Each tree should yield 10 lbs of fruit by the 4th year. The original spacing recommended was 10 feet ( 3m) and 435 trees per acre. In you have an acre, you could be producing 4.3 tonnes of fruit by your 4th year! Using an m26 rootstock in most areas of Scotland, and tieing to stakes or wires in North-South lines is probably ideal. A modification is the Tall Spindle, which is allowed to grow to 3m and planted 1m x 3m spacings. It must have up to 10 short feathers ( branches) already from the nursery. Visit your nurseryman and select your trees personally!

If you want to know more about pruning workshops, please see our google calendar on the website http://www.plantsandapples.co.uk.

 

References:

Wertheim, S.J., The Training of the Slender Spindle of Four Apple Varieties. Nov. 1970

Golschmidt and Delap, The Spindle Bush Method of Growing Apple and Pear Trees, The RHS Fruit Yearbook, 1950, pages 54-66.

The RHS Encyclopaedia of Gardening , ed C. Brickell, page 380.,1992.

http://fruitgrowersnews.com/index.php/magazine/article/The-Tall-Spindle-System-Apple-Orchard-Design-For-The-Future

Fruit trees and Frost

Frost protection of Fruit

All gardeners are aware of the dangers of frost on young opening leaves and flowers of many types of fruit in spring. An orchard owner in the Clyde valley told me the story of how his father used to light barrels of oil under his plum trees on frosty nights! And in the late 50’s wind pumps and heaters were being used in some countries. The 2012/13 winter in Scotland was very prolonged, but it turned out to be very beneficial.The apple blossom was almost a month later than usual, missing damaging frosts, and many varieties flowered at the same time. The effective pollination period was thus very short but very effective! The harvest of 2013 was superb! its the more usual erratic springs which cause us the problems.

Our main worry is the early frosts catching Oslins and Scots Dumplings, and the late frosts in mid-May which can destroy the later flowering Worcester and Cambusnethan trees chance of fruit.

 

How do professionals overcome this?

1-The best answer of course is not to plant your trees in risky areas such as frost hollows or the bottom of slopes.

2-Secondly, choose known hardy varieties for your area, i.e. not fruit that is grown widely in the warmest areas of France or the South of England. Hardy varieties have been bred and are grown in places like Poland, Norway and Canada, and some well known British varieties are very hardy: Keswick Codlin, Golden Spire, Emneth Early for example. We are actively propagating a few very hardy Swedish and Norwegian summer apples…so look out for them in our catalogue.

3-Thirdly, you may try to cover your trees on frosty nights with fleece or blankets. I tried this one winter, but realised that a lot of buds get damaged in the process of constant removal – you have to let pollinating insects in to do their work every day!

 

hanginggardens1

Some experiments in the 1950’s proved that covering is ineffective by and large. They tried using an electric heater and running a hose every 15 minutes over the branches. By far the most effective treatment was to provide a fine mist spray over the flowers as the temperatures dropped.  In essence, the water prevents the temperature of the flowers going below freezing by latent heat of evaporation.

These spraying experiments, by JH Jeffree ( RHS, 1950), resulted in achieving a good crop on adjacent sides of two apple trees that were receiving spray. The far sides of each were bare of fruit come the summer! The effectiveness of, and the spray coverage, was improved by using a rotating spray head on a long pole.

If you want to try this next spring, be aware that a lot of ice can form on the twigs and branches so watch they don’t break under the weight! A few props for the weaker branches may help. You may need to be doing a few night shifts from early April to mid May this year!

 

References

Jeffree,J.H., 1950, RHS FRuit Yearbook, 1950.pages 100 -104.

Some notes can also be found on : http://hos.ufl.edu/extension/stonefruit/frost-protection-orchards-0 and http://ucce.ucdavis.edu/files/repositoryfiles/ca1208p4-64660.pdf and also:

http://fruitgrowersnews.com/index.php/magazine/article/protecting-your-fruit-from-frost-and-freeze

Quinces in Scotland

We occasionally have available for sell the following Quinces: Vranja, Meech’s Prolific, Serbian Gold Smyrna and Portugal and are often asked how well they do in Scotland.Here are some notes gleaned from various articles and personal experience.

The quince, Cydonia oblonga,  famous for Cotignac and Marmalade, is a tree that can grow to 4 or 5m. It is probably native to Central Asia and the near East ( WJ Bean, 1970), but has been cultivated for many centuries. They were much esteemed in Italy, and Sanders suggests the Romans introduced them to Britain, and they reputedly grow wild in Sussex. Today they are still highly esteemed from southern Europe to as far as South America.In France they are called ‘Coins’.

Quinces

Quinces on a tree in North Fife Autumn 2013

It forms a rather scruffy bush or small tree, with a multitude of intertwining branches if not pruned. Autumn leaf colour can be very nice. They need a bit of cold in winter to promote flowering.

Hogg (1886) surprisingly only mentions apple shaped, pear shaped or Portugal types and no record of Victorian varieties. Bean names the Portugal variety as ‘Lusitanica’, Maliformis’ as the apple shaped and only two cultivars, Vranja and Bereczki.

Angers quince A , B and C are two selections used for producing dwarf pear trees.

Flowerdew lists the following:

The Portuguese: Pear shaped, vigorous, but slow to crop.

Vranja: ( Bereczki) From Serbia, large fruited, pear shaped erect growing tree.

Meech’s Prolific: Pear shaped, early to bear and late keeper. This comes from USA.

Champion: Round, mild flavoured.

Isaphan and Maliformis, are mentioned, and Orange, Pineapple and Smyrna occur in the US.

Importantly he mentions they are self-fertile though others suggest cross-pollination improves fertility. They flower in June in this country, a big open flower, white or pink. They are generally grown as a low standard / bush tree. I have rarely seen then pruned or trained in Scotland, but there is no reason why they cannot be trained to whatever shape you want. There is a garden in Church Stretton which has a wall topped with a pleached quince ‘’hedge’’. This proves that they can be trained! So ok to train them up a wall or fence.

 

Frequently quince bushes can  appear from the rootstock of a pear that has died – though i have not seen any fruit on these.

 

Quinces can be entirely left to their own devices, but ideally trees should regularly have some of the internal branches taken out to reduce the amount of congestion. Sunny, warm, and well-drained sites are preferred, avoid cold frost pockets.They are susceptible to leaf blight, especially any overgrown rootstocks, but larger specimens seem to be more resistant in Scotland.

 

40 years ago in South America school children were given Quinces for their packed lunch, which they ate raw with salt! However, in our climate they are generally used for jelly, jam or ‘cheese’.They are highly aromatic when ripe, and can be stored to ripen if necessary.

 

Other varieties available from UK Nurseries include Akvambari, Ekmek, Isofahan, Sobu, Seibosa, and Shams from Turkey and Iran.

 

Quinces are easy to grow, and looked beautiful when the fruits are ripening to a lovely lemon yellow on the tree. There are good examples around Scotland, notably St Andrews botanic gardens, and a private garden in North East Fife. A warm wall is likely to be beneficial to the ripening of fruit, or at least some shelter. When all the apples and pears have been picked, watch out for birds attacking them. Bordeaux mixture may be required if leaf blight takes hold

( Entomosporium maculatum).

The RHS suggest pruning all leaders on new tree to outward facing buds; this would promote a more open and wider bush. Allow at least 3 m between trees ideally.

The fruit is highly aromatic and can be used in small quantities to flavour apple pies etc.

 

The following varieties are listed in Wikipedia:

 

  • The ‘Bereczcki’
  • ‘Champion’
  • ‘Cooke’s Jumbo’ (syn. ‘Jumbo’)
  • ‘Dwarf Orange’
  • ‘Gamboa’
  • ‘Le Bourgeaut’
  • ‘Lescovacz’
  • ‘Ludovic’
  • ‘Maliformis’
  • ‘Meeches Prolific’
  • ‘Morava’
  • ‘Orange’ (syn. ‘Apple quince’)
  • ‘Perfume’
  • ‘Pineapple’
  • ‘Portugal’ (syn. ‘Lusitanica’)
  • ‘Siebosa’
  • ‘Smyrna’
  • ‘Van Deman’
  • ‘Vrajna’ (syn. ‘Bereczcki’)[6]

 

There are 16 entries in the RHS Hardy Plant Finder under Cydonia. Portugal is the probably the best quality but not so easy to grow here. Vranja and Meech’s Prolific, Smyrna and Serbian Gold are likely to be the more reliable here. They are easy to grow in any sheltered place in Scotland so why not give them a try?

 

Appletreeman would be very interested to learn of any unusual varieties you have successfully grown or your experiences with quinces in Scotland? email@plantsandapples.co.uk

refs:

Hogg’s Fruit Manual, 1886.

Flowerdew, Bob, Complete Fruit Book, 1997.

Bean WJ, revised 1970 ed. Trees and Shrubs Hardy in The British Isle.

Encyclopeadia of Gardening, RHS, 1992, Page 386.

Sanders, T.W., (1946?) Fruit and Its Cultivation, page 123. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quince_cheese

RHS Hardy Plant Finder 2004-2005.

 

Apple Trees and Flooding

Many of you will be planting new fruit trees this spring and will be wondering what effect all the rain will have on your trees. At present your trees are dormant and most likely you are planting them as ‘bare root’. It is well known that up to 90% of your trees roots may be killed when they are lifted out of the nursery and replanted, so it is very important you keep the roots moist and frost free to preserve what’s alive.

Tree roots need oxygen, and prolonged wet conditons will create anaerobic conditions and many more roots will suffocate. In spring, your trees will have a hard job growing new roots and getting the nutrients necessary to grow, flower and fruit.

Another worry is a fungus disease called Phytophora or collar rot which can attack your trees in the summer after a very wet winter.  So don’t exacerbate this situation avoid those wet hollows in your garden, don’t pile masses of compost around the roots,  and look forward to a nice dry spring and summer!

Also many beautiful productive fruit trees can blow over due to wet soil, so see to your drainage!

Windblown Tree