Spring 2008 was undoubtedly a very cold and wet affair with temperatures mostly between 40 and 45 degrees fahrenheit for weeks. The prevailing winds coming from the east or north east carried with them myriads of aphids which brought most new growth on the plum trees to a halt. The problems did not stop there – the damaged foliage became infested with brown rot which spread to the new extension growth and killed it within days. Most plum trees looked pathetic. I had to spray them with an aphicide eventually to save the trees.
The resulting fruit set was not good. Out of 25 varieties of plum, gage and damson, only five set reasonable crops. These were the local Johnny Roe, Reeves Seedling , and Jefferson’s Gage, but heaven knows how the latter managed a crops as it blossoms in late March to early April, is not self fertile and has little or no companions at that time with which to cross pollinate. Giant Prune, top of my list of ‘must haves’, showed yet another attribute producing a heavy fruit set at low temperatures.
My pears fared little better than the plums, even the usually ultra-reliable Black Worcester failed spectacularly to set fruit at these low temperatures. Notable successes in the open were Beth (another ‘must have’) and Conference; unfortunately most of the fruit set on the Conference cordons is parthenocarpic. The pears against panel fences – Doyenné du Comice and Louise Bonne of Jersey – produced excellent fruit set – due to a slightly enhanced micro-climate provided by the fence panels. Dr Jules Guyot as a small pyramid and an oblique cordon set a substantial crop this year. Guyot’s season is round ten days earlier than Williams’ Bon Chrétien and does not suffer from scab in my orchard, which is more than I can say for Williams’. The fruit turns a beautiful straw yellow when ripe, but quickly goes over.
Two out of three espalier pears against fence panels produced a good fruit set. The third – Beurré Hardy – had virtually no blossom buds this year. The fence panels obviously give an enhanced micro-climate even in April; cold winds lift several yards before the fence panels and pass over the top.
Apple blossom was splendid and plentiful, but by this time temperatures had risen and fruit set appears promising. Two of the best displays came from A.W. Barnes, a highly colourful cooking apple and Crowngold, a beautiful red and gold fruit. With a sudden drop in temperature in late September and October this is more of a peach than an apple. Unfortunately it is a martyr to canker and scab.
Much of the soft fruit has produced the best fruit set for years, with full strigs of currants. The racemes of Red Poll are five inches long and now fully loaded with green fruitlets. Invicta gooseberry, as usual, has produced considerable quantities of fruits which are ready for thinning. Thinning coincides with elder coming into flower and the signal for making green gooseberry jam and elder flower jam and wine.
It would be interesting to learn about fruit crops in other parts of the country and how the cold spring affected other gardeners’ orchards.