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Archive for July, 2007

My 9-year old greengage tree produced its first good crop of fruit this year, but now more than half the fruit has split and rotted on the tree.  Any idea why?

Peter McFadden

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The Year of the Slug

On my plot, 2007 must be the year of the slug – black ones, grey ones, and enormous great brown ones three to four inches long. If you grow asparagus the slug season starts in April. The tender spears are attacked by black keel slugs which live in the ground over the crowns. As the spears push up the capped soil these black predators are revealed feasting on the succulent spears; damaged spears do not grow straight and true. Grey slugs are not averse to a subterranean existence either, if the vegetable is epicurean.

In common with the asparagus, my strawberries grow in a raised bed constructed of concrete blocks to a height of around two feet. I have not grown strawberries in the raised bed for about ten years, but vegetables instead. During this period there was no problem with slugs, yet this year the ground has been infiltrated by black keel slugs, which damaged nearly half of the crop of Pegasus strawberries. Once the plants are strawed-down, the slugs hide under the straw.

The Pegasus strawberries cropped for just over six weeks with a bumper crop – three nine-foot rows providing nine pounds of jam and enough for dessert use, plus slug fodder. The last picking was shared by a large number of brown ‘biggies’ which crawled through the broad beans to share the harvest. These monster slugs were quickly dispatched, but where they came from I do not know. How exotic is the fragrance of a strawberry bed downwind to a slug?

While the asparagus and strawberries were being devoured, the tomato and potato plants were being felled by slugs in the polytunnel. Potato stems half an inch thick were quickly cropped. Summer Sun cherries in the tunnel were expertly climbed and grazed. Outdoors, Brussels and savoy plants were cropped to the ground. My exhibition potatoes in containers were eaten as they emerged from the compost. The large outer leaves of the Brigadier cabbage in the greenhouse were showing more daylight day by day. Frustration was mounting. My wife’s cauliflower cheese nearly had a large slug trapped within the cauliflower – this fast growing greenhouse ‘cauli’ had grown around the slug and imprisoned it! The head count in a lettuce had increased from one to half a dozen, and of three different types.

By the second week in July, I had to admit defeat. Destroying the slugs by hand or in beer-traps was simply failing to cope with the enormous numbers. I had not used slug pellets for years, but out they came and good bye 25 ‘biggies’ making a nocturnal feast of my Brigadier cabbage; good bye strawberry eaters and welcome back cauliflower cheese!

Adrian Baggaley

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Much has been said about the decision of Lord Rooker to move the National Fruit Collections from their present site. Lord Rooker has now written to Jim Streeton saying:

The Brogdale Horticultural Trust maintain the Collection on behalf of Defra, who actually own the Collection.  The Trust cannot move the Collection since they do not own them and therefore do not have the authority to do so.

Defra put the maintenance and curation of the Collection out to Open Competition earlier this year with the intention of looking at all the available options for the future of the Collection.  No decision to move the Collection has been taken although it was an option in the Open Competition specification.

As with Keith  Grumbley’s response from Lord Rooker and other letters that we have seen, the Minister and Defra are saying that a decision to move the Collections in principle was taken in 2006.

The interesting question is why Defra considered moving the Collections? The reason Lord Rooker gave on the Radio 4 programme was that the lease ran out in 2016, but why not go on to say that Defra had the right to renew the Brogdale lease for further 25 years until 2041. The interviewer, Sheila Dilllon, pointed out that the landlord, Tony Hillier, had offered to renew the lease to Defra until 2050. Lord Rooker replied: ‘Now at that time I have to say the issue of 2050 wasn’t on my desk or any other ministers’ desk so the decision was taken to move it.’ Again no mention of the lease extension.

But the issue of 2041 must have been on the Minister’s desk since Defra has a copy of the lease. The landlord has confirmed to Fruit Forum that the Defra lease on the land contains the provision for renewing the lease for a further 25 year  period, which would take the lease up to 2041. Defra must give five years notice, so Defra has until in 2011.

Lord Rooker went on to say:  ‘We took it upon ourselves to go out and test the market to see if we could relocate the site and have it curated properly elsewhere with a longer term.’  But they had the ‘longer term’  automatically at Brogdale.

Why has this extension to 2041 never been mentioned, either in the programme, subsequent letters from Lord Rooker and Defra or in the tender document for the management of the Collections from April 2008?

For the Collections to remain at Brogdale is surely the the easiest and cheapest option from the point of view of costs and by far the most logical. The management of the Collections could have been open to competition, but why move the Collections when you have an automatic right to remain at Brogdale? This scenario has not been explored, although it is implicit in the tender document, since the Collections remaining at Brogdale is an option and Defra have stated that all the bids they receive will be judged on merit and none excluded on the basis of location. But why was a decision made not to take advantage of the automatic renewal?  It cannot have been that they were not aware of it?

 Joan Morgan

See  ‘The Rooker Interview’ post here and  Listen Again to the BBC Radio 4 Rooker interview at
http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/factual/rams/foodprog_20070520.ram

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A few days ago I found a very hairy caterpillar on one of my Autumn Bliss plants, seemingly having chewed into one or two leaves. I identified it as from the Vapourer Moth, Orgyia antiqua, which does not seem to be usually associated with raspberries. I put it in a petri dish for observation, with leaves for company. Yesterday, it had attached itself to the underside of the lid. Today, I found a bit of dried caterpillar stuck to the lid, the head end on the ‘floor’, and a bigger, hairy caterpillar of slightly darker colouring as the new resident. Moulting seems to have taken place.

Also a few days ago, I found that my old Fantasia blackberry’s two new shoots had been attacked. They are several feet long, and near the tips a few inches of the undersides had been partly chewed away; one shoot was almost severed in one place. Close to the scene of crime, I found an inconspicuous c.15mm, grey-green caterpillar, bearing a mid-grey stripe along its back; no other distinguishing characters. Suggestions invited. I have no recollection of this happening before. My other blackberry, a few feet away, has not had its new shoots harmed by anything yet. It is even older (c.20+yrs old), variety unknown, moved from my former allotment as tip-propagated young offspring from a tangled clump. Its fruit has just started ripening (mid-July) and will continue probably in to August, when Fantasia will start to deliver.

Jeff Bull

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I was very concerned that the future of the Collections may have been compromised by premature decisions taken by Defra officials. I therefore wrote to my MP (Bill Wiggin) who wrote to Lord Rooker seeking assurance that there had been no prior decision taken to move the Collections before the tendering process was initiated.

The reply dated 19 March 07 was unequivocal. ‘There are currently no plans to remove the living collection, and the report did not recommend that this happen.’

Then we had the Rooker Interview on Radio 4 of 20/21 May 07. It seemed a decision had been taken to move the collection sometime considerable before.

I immediately wrote direct to Lord Rooker seeking an assurance that no such decision had been taken. He replied on 26 June, that indeed a decision had been taken to move the collection because of concerns about the lease. ‘However, it was subsequently decided to put the work out to open competition, thereby enabling Defra to look at all available options for the future of the collection.’

These contradictions may be simply incompetent briefing of the minister by officials. However, there is an assurance that the decision will be based on the advice of a panel of independent peer reviewers who are currently assessing the bids.

A pity we couldn’t have kept the whole thing open and clean.

Keith Grumbley

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Simon Barley writes with the following comment:
Have written to Jeff Rooker and to my MP with my concerns that the status and functions of the Collections are threatened by the proposed moves (?already decided upon). If it is a matter of making the Brogdale Collections financially secure (and one must ask how the present Trustees have managed to run up such a large deficit), then DEFRA should be strongly pressed to contribute.

Simon Barley

*****

The financial situation of the Brogdale Horticultural Trust is completely separate from the National Fruit Collections. The Collections are owned by Defra who fund their maintenance through contracts to the Trust for their husbandry and to Imperial College at Wye for their curatorship.

The funds provided by Defra to maintain the Collections have steadily increased over the years – all this information is available on the Defra web-site and from 2001 the Brogdale Trust and Imperial at Wye were paid separately, so the funding given to the Trust is readily apparent.

Based on the web-site details and looking at the four year period, 2001 – 2005, the Defra budget for the Trust was £878,000, that is an average of £219,500 per annum, although the final report shows that the Trust received £1,044,065, or £261,016 per annum. This period included funding for two years to set up a web-site as well as the usual husbandry (‘based on commercial best practice’), repropagation where necessary, and distribution of graft and budwood. The revenue earned by the Trust for supplying the graft and budwood to the public and by selling the fruit from the Collections is not mentioned in the report to Defra, so presumably no allowance was made and it went directly to the Trust.

In the two year period, 2005 – 2007, the funding awarded to the Trust by Defra was £515,000, an average of £257,500 per annum. Plus the Trust has always claimed substantial sums are made from fruit sales and there are monies from visitors – an average of 49,400 per year between 2001-2005 according to the Defra report- and its Friends. On the face of it, this all looks good for the Trust.

How then Trust has become so impoverished; a question only the Trustees can answer. The Trust’s accounts for the year ending February 28, 2006 were provided to Friends of the Brogdale Horticultural Trust on 28 April, 2007 at their AGM. From a report published here in ‘Friends Reaffirm Brogdale as the Permanent Location for National Fruit Collections’: ‘For the year ended 28 February 2006 the Trust’s subsidiary, Brogdale Orchards Limited, had a deficit of shareholder funds of £(216,581) an increase in the deficit over 2005 of £(26,627). For the year ended 28 February 2006 the Trust’s had a deficit of £(21,725) that left it with total reserves of £30,088. Included in the Trust’s net assets of £30,088 was £109,185 owed by Brogdale Orchards. As the Chairman of the Trust conceded the Trust face a considerable financial challenge in deciding its future plans and strategy.’

Accounts to February 2007 have not yet been lodged with the Charity Commissioners, so the more recent financial position is not available. However, in a statement to the Faversham Gazette & Times of 9 May, the Trust’s Chief Executive ‘ denied claims that the trust was in financial difficulties. “ We are solvent. You can’t trade in this day and age unless you are solvent. Should we decide to close down we would be able to pay our debts. But we are not closing down.”’ The Trust’s Chief Executive, at least, appears positive about the future.

Joan Morgan

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