We took some time out from the long Jubilee weekend Monday and Tuesday mornings to spray glyphosate (a non toxic, non persistent systemic weedkiller which I call vitamin G) around the bases of the apple trees where the grasses and weeds were knee high. We had mown the grass the last time we were free and the weather was sunny, but no mower gets right to the trunk and this needs to be clear of weeds. Weeds and grass right up to the trunk not only competes with the tree for soil moisture (still scarce despite rain) and shelters bark nibbling voles but also stops the bark drying out so promotes fungal disease.
While working my way round the orchard with the 15 litre knapsack sprayer I had the chance to get a good look at the fruit set. Too early to tell for some later blooming varieties such as cider variety Dabinett (which is still partly in blossom) but the fruit set seems better than I had feared. The plums are very poor and the pears disastrous, I already knew that (cold wet weather on the blossom, which comes earlier than apples) but most of the apples are set from moderate to superabundant. The Russets have a very light crop and the Ribston Pippin almost non existent, we will just have enough for our exhibition, but the Sunset, Lord Lambourne, Sturmers, Kidd's Orange Red and some others are very good. The Laxton's Epicure seem to have set almost every fruitlet and will require radical thinning. I'll try to do that this weekend.
The annual chafer beetle plague, at it's height 10 days ago, has passed with less damage than we had in the last three years. They bit holes in a lot of fruitlets before they died from the urgent pesticide application Julia and I applied the previous weekend. I posted a video on YouTube to show the true horror of our annual infestation of this extremely destructive pest and to underline the absolute necessity of effective crop protection when facing this kind of threat.
There is also some scab appearing on the leaves, it is worst on the Le Bret cider apples which are very susceptible. We omitted the usual combined fungicide and insecticide pre-blossom spray as the weather was so fine in March. Of course, it then rained for weeks! Wet weather both promotes scab (a fungal disease which likes the wet) and prevents spraying against it. This omission of the pre-blossom spray, often considered the most critical crop protection of the year, now looks like an error of judgment.
I've said more about spraying in this post than I usually do. I know its not a popular subject, and we both hate it, but I'm just trying to be real. Sorry I can't give details of actual preparations used, suffice it to say that Julia and I both have our pesticide application certificates after a course and exam at Spartsholt Agricultural College and obey all relevant regulations including keeping records which the authorities can inspect. The bottom line on spraying and health is that we are living much longer than a few generations ago, 10 years longer on average, and one reason for this whcih nobody disputes is better, fresher fruit, available all year round. The great health benefits of all this fruit would not have been available without pest control. Sorry, that's how it is. We use a lot less than the industry standard, not least as we have to hump and pump it by hand. A commercial tractor pulled spray rig would cost at least 6 years's turnover.
On that slightly sombre note, we have come through several significant challenges in the orchard so far and hope for a great year!
Springtime in a cider apple Orchard in Somerset
3 weeks ago