Wednesday 24 January 2018

Time to start harvesting apples

By Andrew Collyer - Practical Gardening

Cut tops off maincrop potaotes to prevent blight. Lift later.

Rudbeckia fulgida 'Goldsturm'

The humble apple has been with us seemingly since the beginning of time. It is even portrayed frequently as the Forbidden fruit in the garden of Eden and in many other countries and religions it is culturally and mythologically entwined.

Apples have played a part in my life since childhood when my father every year through the art of alchemy miraculously managed mix apple juice and sugar together to produce an elixir called cider that many locals seemed keen to take for their health. As a teenager my brother and I used to pick for a local farm which we throughly enjoyed, often being helped by the farmers two attractive teenaged daughters. It didn't seem like work at all. Apples are genuinely a global fruit and are grown literally in every country in the world. Despite this Google 'apple' on your computer and you are unlikely to be directed to a site for the edible kind. A sign of the times.

At this time of year as you are stuck behind another combine harvester on the road it should trigger your thoughts to your apple trees. Harvest time means apple harvesting time. Of all the plants grown in Irish gardens the apple tree must be the most abundant. Every garden has at least one and can often be the only plant in the garden. Many trees are pretty decrepit looking producing what look more like crab apples than delicious eating apples. A few simple rules to try to help your apples stay healthy.

Don't plant too deep, plant at the soil level mark on the stem. Don't plant on a wet or waterlogged prone site.Try to plant in a sunny sheltered position. Clonmel in Ireland and Worcester in Britain are the traditional apple growing centres of each country and with good reason as both towns are central and therefore less windy. Stake with a heavy 75mm treated stake and tie with a heavy duty rubber tie. Even young trees produce a lot of additional weight when fruiting which makes them prone to blowing over. Plant at least two trees, these need to be compatable for pollinating to give the best chance of a good crop. Do all this and you will only have to worry about mildew, aphids, apple scab, codling moth, apple maggots, fireblight and blackspot. Easy really.

Apples come to ripeness at different times of the late summer to early autumn. Knowing your variety is important in knowing the likely harvesting time. This havesting time can be variable from place to place and year on year. The general rule is if you cup the apple in your hand and gentle twist and it comes free from the tree it is ripe. That said your timing in windy Ireland can be a little earlier than that as a night of gales can windfall the whole tree before the apples reach this stage. This will cause bruising to the fruit and lay it vunerable to slug and worm damage on the ground.

Most modern varieties of apple don't store well in the domestic situation. Commercially apples are stored in chill rooms with a controlled atmosphere to inhibit the production of ethylene by the apple hence slowing ripening. This method can hold apples for six months or more. Cellars were used in older times but these apples would produce a waxy almost greasy covering on the skin and lose their crispness. With supermarkets constantly supplying us with fresh apples all year round apple storing is a dwindling art.

I would recommend eating apples when fresh or stewing and freezing. But if you are growing an apple suitable for storing, like the cooker Bramley seedling, adhere to the following guidelines as closely as possible.

Only store the heathiest undamaged fruit. Store in a dark dry place. Try to store at a cool temperature 5 degrees centigrade is recommeded and the salad draw of your fridge can be used for small amounts for this purpose. Try to store the fruit so they are not touching one another, wrapping each apple individually in news paper was an old fashion method and then boxing in cardboard. Check frequently, particularly if the fruit is touching, for rotten fruit. As we are all aware one rotten apple can spoil the whole barrel.

Wexford People

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