Re-reading an article called ‘Awful April 2012’, which I wrote for Fruit Forum last May I posed the question ‘We have had an awful April, now what about Marvellous May?’ Well ‘Marvellous May” did not materialise nor did marvellous anything else. On Friday the 23rd of March 2013, the forecast for the next seven days indicated that temperatures may not rise above freezing, which takes us into April. Together with the eternal wet, these appalling gardening conditions will have been around for a year bar a few days and they still continued through April.
Such prolonged horticultural agony should not go without some comment. All my peaches, apricots, most figs and most cherries were wiped out, as were thirty six varieties of pears. Substantial varieties of apple were also lost. But there were survivors in 2012 - varieties with enough blossom hardiness to produce a crop in sub-zero north easterly winds in Nottinghamshire.
Concorde, which took the brunt of the Siberian winds, produced a good crop on pyramids and oblique cordons.
Doyenne du Comice grafted on pear seedling rootstock, an espalier against a panel fence and an espalier on quince root-stock were not so lucky.
Beurré Six as an oblique cordon produced a good crop which we ate at Christmas with Stilton cheese and a nice port.
Pierre Corneille produced a moderate crop on an oblique cordon and a pyramid.
Marie-Louise d’ Uccle was worthless grown in the open.
Beurré Hardy produced a moderate crop.
Ingrid Marie, a Danish dessert apple, growing at the top of the orchard like Concorde took the brunt of the icy winds yet produced a good crop.
Howgate Wonder, a cooking apple from the Isle of Wight, produced full crops on a pyramid and on cordons.
Red Ellison, a dessert apple, gave a good crop on a pyramid.
Alfriston, a cooking apple from Sussex, gave a good crop on a pyramid.
Aroma, a very coarse Swedish dessert apple, grown as a pyramid produced fruit.
Saturn, a dessert apple from East Malling, usually low in flavour, last year was brilliant as a pyramid.
Meridian gave a small crop and was affected by the frost; I grow it as a pyramid.
Red Devil produced a moderate crop and was affected by the frost; I also grow it as a pyramid.
Lord Lambourne produced a good crop on oblique cordons.
Lord Derby gave excellent crops as oblique cordons and a pyramid.
Rev. W. Wilks, an attractive cooking apple, produced good crops on a bush tree and oblique cordons.
Discovery gave very prolific crops on oblique cordons.
The stars were Concorde, Ingrid Marie and Howgate Wonder - all growing in the most exposed position at the top of the orchard.
Some More Observations
A word about Bramley seedling, I don’t grow it – yes I know it’s the most famous cooking apple in the world and the original tree is a few miles away – but I did plant one in 2010. Last year I only came across one tree with a crop and what a crop - the tree was sandwiched between two very large agricultural buildings, which shielded the tree from the icy blasts.
Scab – there was tons of it last year due to the never ending rain. The scab free pears were Concorde and Beurré Six; Doyenné Comice was mostly scab free. Scab free apples were Blenheim Orange, Charles Ross (very limited amount of fruit), Ingrid Marie, Lord Lambourne, Discovery and Dabinett (cyder apple). Lord Derby had minimal scab and this was mostly cosmetic.
Any one who grows Rev. W. Wilks knows that a crop one year means not a single apple the following year. Yet last year I had plentiful crops of Rev. Wilks, in fact I won the prize ‘Best in Show’ at the Royal Horticultural Society Autumn Fruit and Vegetable Competition at the Lindley Hall, Westminster, London with samples of it, so I was amazed to observe lots of blossom buds on the tree this year. I have grown this variety for years and this is the first time this has ever happened. Alfriston and Red Ellison are also biennial, these too also have lots of blossom buds.
Surprisingly both pears and apples had more flavour last season, but this is surely irreconcilable with the poor summer.
My observations in 2013 confirm much canker and wood scab on the apple trees. It also follows that leaf litter will carry an unprecedented amount of over wintering scab spores.
Surprisingly there was a fruit set on some varieties of plums in 2012. This was due to the sunny days in late March and very early April, since it only takes two or three days of sunshine and no frosts to produce a crop. However, endless rain cracked just about all the fruit which then went rotten. Exceptions were the Canadian plum Valor which seldom ever cracks, and also Edwards and Blue Tit. There was also a crop of damsons.
I have found lots of suckers around my fruit trees, particularly around the plums and damsons, presumely due to the one metre rainfall.
The only soft fruit to totally fail were the blackberries which were not pollinated due to the rain. The star was undoubtedly the Silvanberry, with its vicious thorns, which cropped for in excess of five weeks. I ate some out of the freezer recently and they were well worth the pain in growing it.