Plot #79 Orchard Year in Review, 2021 Edition

Plot #79 orchard, November 2021

The other day I picked the last apple from the ‘Monty’s Surprise‘ tree on the Plot #79 allotment orchard. That moment marked, for me, the end of the orchard year, as the trees lose their leaves subside into their winter dormancy. Time to reflect on what 2021 has brought, and what I’ll need to add to the to-do list for 2022.

Overview

2021 has been a mixed year. Some trees have performed really well and others haven’t been impressive. 2020 was a definite boom year, so it was almost inevitable and perfectly normal to expect smaller harvests this year, but a series of problems through the year – from late frosts in May, to ongoing attacks by codling moths, pigeons and squirrels[1] – resulted in disappointing crops from a couple of last year’s star performers. But so it goes. Swings and roundabouts. Ups and downs. Next year will be better. (There’s always next year.)

Anyhow, here’s what went well, and not so well, in 2021.

The Good

A trayful of ripe and ready ‘Saturn’ apples

Beauty of Bath‘, a very early apple, was the first to crop, with the first apples picked and enjoyed in mid-August. I also discovered that ‘Tydeman’s Early Worcester’ – growing as a cordon on our main allotment plot and fruiting for the first time this year – is a much better-tasting apple that ripens around the same time. So if you’re looking for a really early apple to grow up in our northern neck of the woods, then ‘Tydeman’s…’ might be a better bet than ‘Beauty…’.

Saturn‘ was definitely the best-cropping dessert apple on the plot this year. It’s not the tastiest apple to eat straight off the tree, but I found that if I picked it and left it for a couple of weeks to fully ripen then it does develop a decent flavour. It makes for good dried apple rings as well, so that’s what next year’s crop will be destined for if it performs well again in 2022.

Kidd’s Orange Red, the out-and-out star performer last year, was okay this year, but not great. A lot of the fruit was quite badly moth-damaged and the pigeons had a go as well, so a lot of it ended up being chopped up and cooked. The the un-damaged apples that were fit for eating raw were just as tasty as last year, so I’m hoping it will bounce back next year and put in another star turn.

The best-performing cooker this year was ‘Grandpa Buxton’. Once I’d managed to rescue it from a dangerous case of near-horizontality, it responded to the simultaneous fruit thinning by producing a good crop of decent-sized, sharply tart apples that puréed really nicely.

The likes of ‘Worcester Pearmain‘, ‘Reinette du Canada‘, ‘Lord Clyde‘, ‘Wareham’s Russet‘ and ‘Jester‘ were all decent to mediocre. They produced a few to around a dozen apples each, but they were nothing to get excited about. The aforementioned ‘Monty’s Surprise‘ gave us another dozen or so large-sized apples, but I’m not sure if they stayed on the tree long enough to ripen properly. The flavour wasn’t great, and the texture a bit on the dry side. Maybe they also need a couple of weeks of off-tree ripening (I have a couple on the side in the kitchen to test the theory), or maybe it’s a variety that’s just not suited to our conditions.

The Bad

2021 was a terrible year for pears and plums. Just terrible. We didn’t get a single harvestable fruit from our three pear trees or from our plum, greengage or damson. I blame the snow we had in April and the very late frost that hit us in mid-May, when the blossom was at its peak, and a few early fruitlets had already begun to form. A whole year’s potential crop was wiped out in one burst of unseasonably bad weather.

Well, almost a whole crop. A few pears on our ‘Nouveau Poitou’ pear tree did escape the plunging temperatures – maybe there was a second flush of blossom later on – but the half-dozen that formed to decent size were all pecked at the neck by pigeons and rotted on the branch before they were anywhere near ready.

But hey, there’s always next year, right?

Apple ‘Lord Clyde’ showing symptoms of apple canker

The Ugly

2021 saw a resurgence of canker problems, starting with a severe winter pruning that I had to administer to our ‘Lord Clyde’ tree to control a problem infection, and then followed by another bad case on one of our cordon trees, which had to be removed completely. The most recent round of tree inspections has turned up serious infections on ‘Wareham’s Russet’ – which I’ll be trying to graft from, if I can find an uninfected scion, so I can transfer the tree to a cordon form, because I think the current plot #79 tree may have to be removed – and possibly one or two others as well. I’ll have to very carefully prune out the affected areas, sterilising everything as I go, and see what can be saved.

In potentially good news though, our ‘Meeche’s Prolific‘ quince seems to have survived its brush with possible fireblight and the severe pruning I had to carry out to try to control the problem a couple of seasons ago. It has regrown strongly, and although it’s not exactly prolific just yet, it did produce three or four medium-sized fruits this year. Fingers crossed for 2022.

And speaking of next year…

Looking Ahead to 2022

One project I’m definitely looking forward to trying my hand at next year will be cleft-grafting four varieties onto the cut-back stems of what was supposed to be a ‘Red Miller’s Seedling’, but what I’m pretty sure has turned out to be a full tree of out-grown MM106 rootstock. I’ve not had an opportunity to carry out any field-grafting just yet, so I’ll be reading up on the best method and sharpening my knives in anticipation. As well as deciding which four varieties to graft, of course.

I’ll be grafting 20 new trees onto M27 dwarfing rootstock as well. I’m thinking maybe 2 trees of ten different russet varieties, those being my favourites in terms of flavour and texture, and also the least prone to squirrel and pigeon attack, on account of their lack of bright red skin colour. A dozen of them will go into a new cordon section on our main allotment plot, three or four will be grown on in air-pots as part of my re-booted air-pot mini-orchard project, and the rest will be spares, assuming all 20 grafts take, of course. I have a pretty good track record to-date, so I’m hopeful I’ll get at least 18 or 19 new trees out of the process.

On the maintenance side of things, I’m planning to give our wayward-growing medlar tree a dramatically hard prune, in an attempt to restore it to a decent tree-like shape. More on that in another blog post once I’ve carried out the work.

That aside, it will be a case of winter pruning the orchard trees, as well as our stepovers and cordons, and dealing with those aforementioned canker problems. Plenty to be getting on with, once the calendar flips over.

How about you? How have your trees performed this year? What are your plans for 2022? Please do let me know, via the comments. I love to hear from fellow orchardists and will happily chat about orchards all day, given half the chance.

Footnotes

Footnotes
1 And possibly parakeets, too… Jo and I saw a pair of them on the site one day, attacking the apples in some of the taller trees, until the local magpies mobbed them and drove them off.

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