Year-long programme leads to bumper crop
Harvesting the fruits of our labours just about sums up the recent gardening activity, and it's far from over.
The picking process began in June with ripening strawberries, continues with an assortment of bush fruits, and stretches into November when the apples are gathered.
The crops have been good, despite a difficult growing season, but it has helped to have a year-round programme of pruning, feeding, mulching and watering.
All fruit trees and bushes received a deep organic mulch during the autumn-winter period. This helps retain warmth in winter, cooler root area and moisture content in summer.
Water is essential to the swelling of fruits so it is offered to all as required during the growing season. Supplementary feeding with a balanced organic fertiliser offers a boost in spring, and one rich in potash is applied later to encourage maturity.
Pruning is critical to crop production and the timing differs according to the subject. For example, the apple trees are trained on a spur system and pruned twice a year. The first is in August when new side growths (laterals) are reduced to 15cm. This is to encourage mature stems for next year’s crop. The second and definitive prune is in winter when all laterals are reduced to three buds.
Pears, cherries, plums and peaches can be grown on a similar spur system, but we avoid pruning these in winter because there’s a risk of silver leaf disease entering their system through open cuts.
These so-called top fruits are performing well, but water remains critical to their eventual size and quality.
The greenhouse peach has just produced its best crop, and we’re already planning for next year by continuing watering and feeding while the leaves remain.
A Victoria plum, in keeping with other local specimens, is also carrying a heavy burden. If necessary, add supports and ties to avoid branches breaking under the weight.
Discovery dessert apple is first to ripen for me and its branches are almost groaning under the burden of fruit. Just looking at them is mouth-watering.
I’m currently taking stock of which plants need replacing and any additions that would enhance the collection.
Although strawberry Florence has performed well as a late summer variety, it’s four-year contribution is up, vigour and production diminishing.
We could have layered some runners and maintained the acquaintance, but there are so many new, improved cultivars to be tried.
For example, Buddy (www.Pomona Fruits.co.uk), a perpetual variety with flavour, size and yield, that scores highly on the Brix scale, which measures strawberry sugar levels. Sounds good!