My first melon. I’ve not grown melons before, it’s never really occurred to me, until I was rifling through Lidl’s fabulous spring selection of seeds which cost pence. I end up buying far too many packets and often plants I’ve never considered growing previously. I always feel it’s a wasted opportunity for 50p, leaving them in the shop. This year’s experiment was this melon, Lidl’s diligent efforts at keep costs down mean I’ve no idea of the variety, just the picture on the front of the packet. We’ve therefore named them mini watermelons. Perfect for my family who love watermelons (2 out of the 3 boys won’t eat any other variety), but if I buy the normal sized watermelon, they never get finished, and get left, tasting of vinegar in the fridge, destined for the compost heap. So yet again Lidl has come top with its wonderfully cheap seed.
I have just started picking our first plums. They’re a lovely high summer treat, but do sadly attract wasps who love to bury themselves into the intoxicating fruit. My great fear is that one of my bare footed boys will tread on a fallen plum containing dizzy wasps and be stung. I diligently try to pick all the ripe plums before they fall, preventing a painful incident. I find this an easier task than trying to get my boys to wear shoes in summer! You can tell when a plum is ripe it’s a slightly darker purple than the other fruit on the tree and when you gently pull, the plum comes away from the stalk with ease.
We have far more plums than we can eat so they’re being snapped up on my ‘Produce from the garden’ honesty stall.
This afternoons plum harvest
I consider turning compost heaps, picking up hedge cuttings and thinning baby apples to be boring, laborious and tedious jobs; they’re essential but I’ll try desperately to avoid them! Thank goodness I don’t have an orchard, but I do have sixteen apple trees, so I’ve made a deal with myself to try and thin fruit on one maybe two (if I’m on a roll) trees a day.
Thinning apples down to two fruits per spur at this time of year has a variety of advantages: space is made for large fruit to develop, you can discard any unhealthy looking apples, and it allows air to circulate reducing the chance of pests and diseases to establish. Just pull by hand the apples you wish to discard from the cluster.
To make the job even less appealing I stupidly dropped the apples to the ground; tomorrow I will come armed with an apple thinning bucket!
After completing the removal of apples from the first tree I wandered back up the kitchen garden, and was rewarded with my first Gladioli buds of the year.
Snow one week, 25°c the next! The lovely warm weather has brought on the fruit tree blossom and it’s looking fabulous. You’ll see by the pictures below I’ve been on a blossom binge in the garden, there is one little surprise at the end! Most trees now have their leaves all a different shade of fresh vibrant green which is to be savoured, next month it will sadly fade to a darker uniform ‘tree green’.
It’s May bank holiday weekend, so far the weather’s held out. 1920’s jazz is drifting around our house and garden from the husbands newly acquired gramophone, the boys have pitched the tent and are planning to sleep in the garden tonight (they’ll of course be back in their beds by 8.30pm). The tulips are blooming and I’ve picked our first crop of rhubarb this year. I have one Rhubarb forcer and we all look forward to the early delicacy of tender and delicious forced Rhubarb. I love the baby pink colour of the stems, with three boys there is very little pink in my life so it is to be savoured!
Somehow I’ve managed to put my back out, I’ve not suffered with back pain before. I’m not comforted by friends who tell me that once hit it reoccurs and that gardening is one of the worst activities for those who suffer. So digging is out and standing up pruning is in! I would never claim to be an expert apple tree pruner; I’m more a trial and error, common sense tidier. I don’t worry too much about technique and I seem to manage the desired result, tidy trees with beautiful blossom in spring and delicious fruit come late summer/ autumn.
I think there are just a few things to keep in mind when pruning apple trees.
Why do we bother to prune:
- To keep the apple tree a manageable shape and size so you can reach the fruit. Most apple trees these days are grafted onto dwarf rootstock (M9 or M27) resulting in trees that are 1.5m to 2m tall. Old large trees tend to be on far more vigorous rootstock which is much harder to maintain.
- Increase apple productivity.
- To reduce disease. Apple trees have a tendency to be sickly specimens, they’re commonly susceptible to canker, scab, brown rot and honey fungus. Living in the heart of Kent’s apple orchards, I’ve noticed that all farmers spray their trees, ensuring a healthy crop for market, even the local organic apple farmer’s spray with potions certified by the soil association. In a domestic garden spraying is not really an option many of us would consider. The best way to deal with disease is firstly, accept you’ll have some, and secondly pruning, it increases air circulation around the tree blowing unhealthy spores away, it will also make the tree stronger, healthier and in turn more resistant to the disease.
How to prune:
- Prune when the tree is dormant (no leaves on it Nov/Dec – March), unless you have espalier trees.
- Make clean cuts at an angle so the rain can run off and not settle encouraging rot. To achieve this you will need a simple selection of sharp tools, secateurs for year old wood, loppers for branches the thickness of your finger and a pruning saw for the larger branches. Using the right tools will help you to get clean cuts; messy cuts are breeding grounds for disease.
- Magazines and books on the subject will all tell you a simple easy rule to remember, the three D’s, cut out Dead, Diseased and Damaged wood. Also cut out branches that cross, they will rub together and become damaged, then diseased and finally dead!
- Aim to have horizontal branches spurring off from the main truck (if you squint it should form the shape of a tea cup!) and a flat top to the tree. Every year you will have many vigorous whips that can shot up 75cm seeking the light in a season, these all need to be cut out.
- Become familiar with what a fruiting bud looks like, they are the plump curved buds, new wood or growth buds are far smaller and more pointed. Once you’ve worked out what the fruit buds look like you can make sure you don’t chop them all off in your pruning quest.
- If you have a tree that has not been pruned for years, you’ll probably need to cut a lot of wood out to achieve a desired shape, this will result in a poor harvest but you can console yourself with the thought that future pruning will be far quicker and easier and your apple harvests in years to come, healthier and more productive.
So if you’re not a regular pruner, have a go it’s well worth the initial effort, don’t worry if you make mistakes, they’re lessons to be learnt, the worst that can happen is a few less apples this year. A lesson for myself is to prune in December, as I under plant the trees with spring bulbs for cutting, tip toeing with a bad back around daffodils has proved to be tricky!