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Crop rotation in fruit growing in the garden

As the volume of fruit grown commercially in the UK is nowhere near enough to satisfy demand, the departure of the UK as a member of the European Union is likely to cause a rise in prices for fruit in the shops. It is therefore very important that fruit trees in the garden are healthy and have a structure such that a good proportion of the fruit can be picked from ground level. This is perfectly possible provided the basic facts of crop rotation are not ignored.

For example we must remember that if an old apple tree is grubbed because it has reached the end of its life, then we certainly can plant another fruit tree on that spot, but not another apple tree. Crop rotation does not only apply to vegetables in the garden. It also applies to fruit trees. In other words, apple after apple or pear after pear is not to be recommended. If this is done all the same, replant disease will probably badly affect the new tree, and the growing and the cropping of the tree will be a disappointment. And yet it is so easily to achieve good growth and cropping of new trees. Just plant a pear or a plum or a cherry at the place where the old apple tree spent its time of life and all will be well. Water the young trees weekly and the trees will have a very good start in life. Particularly if well-rotted farmyard manure or garden compost is applied as an extra tonic.

Old fruit trees in a Suffolk garden

Old fruit trees in a Suffolk garden

Top twenty fruit tips for September – complete list

1. Start preparing the ground where you are intending to plant your new orchard, cordons, fans or espalier-trained fruit trees. Check the pH of the soil which needs to be between 6.3 and 6.8. If the pH of the soil is below 6.3, apply some lime and work into the soil.

2. Make sure the site and position is right; not in a frost pocket or on the northerly and shady sites of buildings, walls or hedges.

3. Apply plenty of well-rotted farmyard manure and work into the soil up to a depth of 15 inches.

4. Remove and kill perennial weeds such as bramble, stinging nettle and couch grass.

5. Eliminate wasps nests and remove rotting fruits, which will hide the wasps, from the orchard floor.

6. Remove any rotting or damaged fruits from the trees. Pick the fruit that is ready to eat. Do not store early-maturing fruits such as Discovery and Grenadier apples. Fruit for storage needs to be slightly immature. Fruit that is too ripe will not store.

7. Finish the summer pruning programmes as mentioned in the August tips.

8. Check the storage space for your fruit; it needs to be clean, cool and free from vermin such as flies and mice.

9. Check that the thermometer in the store is in good working order.

10. Start discussing which varieties would be suitable for your location with a knowledgeable and experienced fruit specialist. All types of fruit are site sensitive!

11. Blackcurrant bushes: remove the wood which has carried this year’s crop.

12. Raspberry canes. For the summer-cropping raspberries such as Glen Ample, Tullameen and Leo, cut out all the old canes to make room for the new canes. After the autumn-cropping raspberries such as Autumn Bliss and All Gold have all been picked and have finished cropping, cut ALL the canes back to ground level. Remove/treat strongly-growing weeds.

13. Cherry trees. Apply treatment to reduce the risk of bacterial canker. Apply Winter Tree Wash by the end of September. This is to control greenfly/aphids eggs.

14. Peaches, plums, greengages: as soon as picking has been completed, complete the last pruning. Do not forget to seal the wounds with “Heal and Seal”.

15. Put grease bands onto fruit trees.

16. Fig. Continue to water the fig if planted in a container. Protect the fruit, which is close to ripening, from birds.

17. If you are intending to plant trees to be trained as espalier or fan, now is the time to install the horizontal wires.

18. Apples and pears which have been damaged by hail or insects, or have simply split due to weather conditions, will not store. Use them for processing into apple juice or cider.

19. Once peaches and nectarines have been picked, complete the summer pruning programme.

20. Apply farmyard manure or home-made compost around the trees, if the soil is in need of it. Remove perennial weeds before applying farmyard manure.

And if you’re thinking of planting a few more trees this winter, now is the time to contact RealEnglishFruit to select your varieties and place your order!

Making a wildflower meadow

The wildflower meadow that you can see in the photos was initiated in 2000. We sowed grass and a perennial wild flower mix. Soil should not be fertilized, and it should be of poor vigour. Otherwise, grasses will grow too strongly.

Wildflower meadow, detail

Wildflower meadow, detail

Mow in mid-late August; leave the grass there for a few days to allow flower seeds to drop. Then remove the hay.
Repeat every year, sowing new varieties as desired.
It is a good idea to keep a diary of your meadow, recording what you have sown and what has grown. Often what is planted or sown doesn’t appear the next season, but only after a couple of years. Sometimes it appears, but in a different place with respect to where it was sown. The balance of grasses and flowers varies from year to year, affected by climate and presumably by various other factors.
By way of example, the following lists illustrate the development of our wildflower meadow in Suffolk.

Click on the thumbnail below to watch the video of this wildflower meadow:

Planted in June 2001: grass seed and wildflower seed mix.
Wildflower species planted:
Small daffodils
Bluebells
Grape hyacinths
Fritillaries
Blue anenomes
Scilla
Chionodona
Crocus
Primroses
Cowslips
Oxlips
Snowdrops
Scabious
Cornflowers
Cassia
Cyclamen

Sown July 2002:
Birds nest orchid
Nipplewort

Observed in 2002:
Lots of grasses
Red clover
Pink clover
White clover
Dog daisies
Thistles
Docks
Field buttercups
Creeping buttercups
White campion
Weld
Chicory
Yarrow
Knapweed
Common vetch
Tiny field vetch
Black medick
Birds foot trefoil
Geranium (small flowers)
Scarlet pimpernel
Hedge woundwort
Common broomrape
Plantain (two species)
Scentless mayweed
Pineapple weed
Ragwort
Common catsear
Bristly Oxtongue

Wildflower meadow, many different grasses

Wildflower meadow, many different grasses

Planted in 2003/2004:
Scabious
Red campion
Meadow sweet

Observed in 2003:
Toadflax (gone 2009)
Corncockle
Ragged robin

Observed in 2004:
Sorrell
Lots of cowslips (planted and from seed)
Yellow bedstraw

Planted in 2005:
Goatsbeard
Yellow rattle

Observed in 2005:
Lots of cowslips
Lots of dandelions
Broomrape
Tassel
Yellow bedstraw
Toadflax

Geranium

Geranium

Observed in 2007:
Chickory
Broomrape
Lots of cowslips
Yellow bedstraw
Ragged robin
Several scabious
Lots of bugle
Agrimony

Observed in 2008:
Lots of cowslips
One good ragged robin
White bee orchid (not in wildflower meadow itself, but on a bank about 20 yards away)
A large clump of yellow rattle (not where sown in 2005)
Two clumps yellow bedstraw
One white bedstraw

Sown in 2008:
White bee orchid between birch and prunus serrula
More bee orchid seeds and yellow rattle

Observed in 2009:
Hundreds of cowslips.
Grass less vigorous
Lots of yellow rattle
The white bee orchid flowered again
Two bee orchids in the meadow
Four yellow bedstraw, one white

Observed in 2010:
As in 2009, but no bee orchids on the bank, and one on the field
More dog daisies and bedstraw (one white)
One Pyramid orchid

Pyramid orchid

Pyramid orchid

Planted in 2010:
Ragged robin
Mulleins

Observed in 2011:
Long drought in spring, meadow poor. No orchids at all. Nothing of the things planted last year. Yellow rattle not good. Many geraniums.

Yellow rattle

Yellow rattle

Observed in 2012:
Much better, lots of rain in spring/early summer. FLowers all very good including rattle but no orchids. One weedy ragged robin, 4 bee orchids. Grass very lush. Geraniums look good. Lots of broomrape.

Burrow of a small animal, used by bumble bees

Burrow of a small animal, used by bumble bees

Wildflower meadow, dog daisies

Wildflower meadow, dog daisies

Wildflower meadow path, mown for access purposes

Wildflower meadow path, mown for access purposes

Wildflower meadow, more dog daisies

Wildflower meadow, more dog daisies

Top ten fruit tree tips for September

1. Start preparing the ground where you are intending to plant your new orchard, cordons, fans or espalier-trained fruit trees. Check the pH of the soil which needs to be between 6.3 and 6.8. If the pH of the soil is below 6.3, apply some lime and work into the soil.
2. Make sure the site and position is right; not in a frost pocket or on the northerly and shady sites of buildings, walls or hedges.
3. Apply plenty of well-rotted farmyard manure and work into the soil up to a depth of 15 inches.
4. Remove and kill perennial weeds such as bramble, stinging nettle and couch grass.
5. Eliminate wasps nests and remove rotting fruits, which will hide the wasps, from the orchard floor.
6. Remove any rotting or damaged fruits from the trees. Pick the fruit that is ready to eat. Do not store early-maturing fruits such as Discovery and Grenadier apples. Fruit for storage needs to be slightly immature. Fruit that is too ripe will not store.
7. Finish the summer pruning programmes as mentioned in the August tips.
8. Check the storage space for your fruit; it needs to be clean, cool and free from vermin such as flies and mice.
9. Check that the thermometer in the store is in good working order.
10. Start discussing which varieties would be suitable for your location with a knowledgeable and experienced fruit specialist. All types of fruit are site sensitive!

A good crop on a well-tended apple tree

A good crop on a well-tended apple tree

Top ten fruit growing tips for August

1) Keep watering your fruit trees, particularly if they are carrying a crop .

2) Look at the trunk of the trees to ensure that the bark is not damaged by lawn mowers or strimmers.

3) Mice are increasing in numbers, particularly around fruit trees. Keep the area around the trunk, grass and weed-free, as this is the sort of shelter that mice like.

4) Fruits which will store, after harvesting, for a later date; raspberries, black currants, red currants, blue berries and gooseberries freeze beautifully, without loss of quality. Check to make sure you have enough space in your freezer.

5) Keep a diary of your growing experiences, particularly if something went wrong during the growing season.

6) All fruits are ripening off later this year, due to the cold slow start in March/April time. Do not pick too early, otherwise the fruit will shrivel and will lack flavour.

7) Carry out summer pruning where necessary. Plums, cherries, green gages, peaches, nectarines and apricots must not be pruned after the end of August in order to avoid infections of various tree diseases. Apples and pears can be pruned at any time during the winter months

8) August is an ideal month to improve drainage in areas where you intend to plant trees, and loosen the soil to a two-spade depth. This is particularly true if a hard layer of soil is found within the first 60 cm of the soil profile.

9) Let us know, as your tree supplier, if you intend to plant certain specific varieties of fruit. The more unusual varieties sell out quickly. We will have good quantities of standard varieties. However, we recommend contacting us right away in order to organize your new area of fruit trees. Click here for further information on our orchard packs.

10) Label your anti bird nets. This makes it is easier to use the right nets in the right place next season.

Top ten fruit growing tips for July

Bumble bee

Bumble bee

1. It is very important for the health and welfare of bees to grow the right type of flowering plants favoured by bees for pollen and honey gathering, throughout the summer months. I t doesn’t need to be complicated. At this time of the year Angelica and red clover are definite favourites. Bumble bees are always on the look out for disused mice tracks in the soil. That’s where it likes to build its nest for the queen.

2. Red currants, raspberries, blueberries and blackberries are now beginning to ripen. Late-picked gooseberries are sweeter than the ones picked in June.

3. Support heavily cropping branches of plums, apples and pears. However, overcropping will greatly reduce next year’s crop. To reduce the threat of the silver leaf fungus entering via broken branches of too heavy-cropping plum trees , drastically reduce the number of fruits now and space the fruits 6 inches apart, leaving the best sized fruits.

4. Space the apples six inches apart, after the middle of July.

5. Check weeds around trees and bushes. Tie in the newly-forming shoots of loganberries, blackberries and tayberries.

6. Tie in the replacement shoots of peaches. Check the fruit cage for holes in the netting. Birds are good at finding the holes and eating your cherries, redcurrants, blueberries and raspberries.

7. Check tree ties. Too many trees are severely damaged due to ingrowing ties.

8. Place the pheromone traps to reduce the damage caused by caterpillars of the codling moth and plum sawfly now.

9. All fruits need a steady supply of moisture. Check the soil. If too dry, apply water at 10 day intervals.

10. If apple and pear shoots are growing too strongly, remove the growing tips of the new growth. Carry out summer pruning where trees are becoming too dense and light is excluded.

Click here for more growing tips

Planning a new orchard

Well-rotted manure

Well-rotted manure. Photo courtesy The Word Factory Ltd/flickr.com

To create a successful multi fruit orchard, it is very important to carry out the various soil preparations during this time of the year. The winter months, the correct time to plant fruit trees, are often not good for soil preparation, as the soil is already too cold and handles badly. The quality of the soil in the planting hole will determine how quickly and how well the newly-planted tree settles down in its new home.

The rootstocks that you will be using depends on the space available for planting fruit trees. Dwarf rootstocks are recommended when limited space is available. If a good deal of space is available, then the trees would do best if planted on semi-vigorous stock such as MM106, Quince A and St Julien A. These trees need to be planted approximately 3.5 to 4 metres apart. The exact number of trees needed also depends on the proximity of other large trees, such as hedgerow trees, oak, ash and sycamore. Fruit trees do badly when planted on the live roots of other trees. Follow this link to find out more about tree size and rootstocks.

I think that it is a good idea to set out the orchard at this time of year, initially using 6-foot tall bamboo canes. This way you can mark the planting spots of your new trees, in relation to hedgerows, buildings etc.; it gives you an idea of how the new multi-fruit orchard will look. Variety choices can only be made once you have decided which type of fruit you want to plant. Follow this link to view a list of fruit tree varieties.

The ideal pH of the soil is 6.3 to 6.8. Outside those limits, nutritional deficiencies will occur when the trees get older. Fruit trees love well-rotted good organic stable manure, provided straw is used as a base material and not sawdust or wood chips. The more manure you can work into the ground during the summer months, the better the trees will perform in years to come.

Orleanne’s Reinette

Orleanne’s Reinette. Photo courtesy of Whatamieating.com/flickr

A very good tasting apple. Small in size but lovely and crisp. Keeps well and, provided it is well pollinated, it tends to settle down very quickly with good crops. Needs thinning in the heavy setting years. Tends to drop early if the soil is dry. Is a good keeping apple provided the apple is picked before it is fully mature.

Click here to go to the Tree Varieties page, where you can select this and other varieties with a provisional order

Laxton Fortune

Laxton Fortune. Image courtesy Lathcoats Farm Shop/flickr.com

This is not a particularly large apple or a heavy cropping tree. It is a mid-season apple which ripens well on the tree in mid September. It has a wonderful taste and is sweet and particularly juicy when fully ripe. It needs to be pollinated well, as it is not self-fertile. Good pollinators are for example Red Pippin also called Fiesta, Red Falstaff and Egremont Russet to name a few. It is most suitable for growing on rootstock M26. It can then be planted within a reasonably small space. Keeping quality 3 to 4 weeks if kept really cool, such as in the bottom of the fridge.

Click here to go to the Tree Varieties page, where you can select this and other varieties with a provisional order

Good crops of fruit and orchard hygiene go together

Orchard hygiene

After harvest, there are still lots of tasks to perform to ensure hygiene and reduce the chance of fungal infection

A very good gardening friend of mine, who lives in one of the surrounding villages, has demonstrated in practice, year after year, how it is possible to grow all types of fruit without the intensive use of manufactured chemicals, irrespective of variety, pests or diseases, or bad weather conditions, such as low temperatures at blossom time. He takes great care to ensure that his trees grow in an environment in which the chances of infection have been reduced to a minimum, by practicing the elementary principles of good orchard hygiene.

Once he has picked the fruit and removed non-productive branches from the tree canopy, he makes a special job of removing any fruit left on the ground underneath the tree crown. He picks up all deteriorating fruit, however bruised or rotten it may be, and puts it all in the non recycling bin. The net effect of this action is that there are less spores floating around his fruit trees next year, and so there is less chance of fungi finding a spot to infect  his fruit. Another benefit of this is that his fruit is of better keeping quality. In addition, he removes any wood affected by mildew. This is easy to spot as it has a silvery appearance. If brown irregular growths are appearing on some of the branches, he makes sure it is cut out at exactly this time of year (early October). Likewise, he cuts out wood infections such as tree canker or bacterial canker, and he ensures that any ingrowing tree ties on the branches are removed. The wounds are then covered with a sealing compound such as “Heal and Seal” using a smallish paint brush. This is very effective and stops new infection occurring this or next season..

During the winter months he will further attend to his trees and remove lichen and tree moss which are reducing the young branches’ ability to produce good strong fruit buds. But I will discuss this during the winter.

A quick reminder: if you’re interested in planting a few trees, this is the best time to plan the site and order the trees, so that you can plant from December to March. Take a look at our list of varieties, and our Orchard Packs that make everything simple!

Click here to visit the RealEnglishFruit website