More Cordons! This Year’s New Apple Trees Are In

Earlier this week, my mate Steve and I spent a very productive couple of hours planting up the best of last year’s grafted apple trees down on my allotment.

Last year’s grafting efforts returned reasonably good results, all things considered. Due to a problem with our Dahlia seedlings, I wasn’t able to use the companion planting method that I talked about this time last year in my post on Hügelkultur in the Orchard Nursery, so the trees were a bit more exposed than the batch that grew on the year before. The weather last summer was distinctly un-helpful when it came to giving trees a good start as well, so they weren’t all as vigorously healthy as I’d hoped they might be.

Nevertheless, of the seventeen trees I grafted, only three failed outright, and two of those were experiments in side-grafting and/or double-cleft grafting to older, thicker rootstocks. Another half dozen or so didn’t grow on particularly well, as I mentioned, but some of the others performed really well.

Eleven of them have been picked out for planting and added to the cordon section at the front of the plot; the row of seven shown above and another four filling gaps in the existing rows. Another four trees will be grown on in air-pots for another year, and I’ll hopefully get to set up another cordon support for them to be planted by next year, along with (hopefully) at least a few of this year’s grafted trees.

One of the new trees that did go in is this double-cordon, that I grafted up with one stem of ‘Discovery’ and one of ‘Tydeman’s Early Worcester’, two of my favourite early dessert apples. They both seem to have grown at a similar rate last year, so hopefully they’ll be similarly vigorous from here on in, and one won’t out-compete the other. Of course, as they’re going to be cordon-trained I can do a certain amount of controlling by pruning them to shape, but it would be great if both halves of this new tree were able to produce a decent crop of good-sized apples in a few years’ time.

The planting method was nothing too special: dig a hole to suit the shape of the roots, place the tree at the appropriate angle and back-fill with improved soil – a mix of the original soil, plus a sprinkling of both blood, fish and bone, and some biochar that I happened to have sitting around in the shed – before watering in well. Hopefully that extra fertiliser will give them a good start and encourage a bit of a growth spurt, whatever the weather throws at us this year.

Speaking of roots, here’s a rather lovely rootball on a ‘Striped Beefing’ tree that I grafted last year to an older and thicker section of rootstock – either M27 or M9, I can’t remember which – left over from the previous year, and was grown in an air-pot:

This got me thinking: would air-pots be the way to go when it came to growing on newly grafted trees? I might trial the idea this year by grafting up four of a particular variety and growing two in the ground and two in air-pots. The sample size will be far too small to be significantly meaningful, but it might provide an early indication. The main challenge, of course, will lie in ensuring the potted trees are irrigated sufficiently, and that they receive enough nutrient through the season. Hmm. I’ll have to have a think about that.

For now though, another eleven trees have been added to the plot’s annually-expanding collection of cordons, stepovers, and a few ground-planted or air-potted trees. That makes a total of (does the sums in his head) thirty-eight trees planted to-date, with another four or five to be potted up this year, and another twenty to be grafted – speaking of which, I still haven’t done this year’s grafting, I really must pull my finger out and get on with it – which will hopefully bring the total up to around sixty in a year’s time.

Thinking ahead: in about five or six years’ time, if those sixty (plus?) trees are each producing only a dozen good apples a year, well… (does the sums again) that’s about seven hundred apples over the course of the season. Plenty enough to keep Jo and I in fresh, cooked, dried and preserved apples from August through to December, all being well, and with more than a few to share around, I’m sure. I just have to work out a way to keep the thieving squirrels and bastard bloody pigeons at bay and we’ll be set for apples for life.

Here, for those that are curious about such things, is the list of the varieties I’m growing amongst those forty-odd trees.

  • ‘Ashmead’s Kernel’
  • ‘Bramley’s Seedling’
  • ‘Cornish Aromatic’
  • ‘Court of Wick’
  • ‘Discovery’
  • ‘Duke of Devonshire’
  • ‘Egremont Russet’
  • ‘Gibbon’s Russet’
  • ‘Greensleeves’ (?? – not sure of the i.d. is 100% correct)
  • ‘Herefordshire Beefing’
  • ‘Herefordshire Russet’
  • ‘Keswick Codlin’
  • ‘Kidd’s Orange Red’
  • ‘Knobby Russet’
  • ‘Norfolk Beefing’
  • ‘Nutmeg Pippin’
  • ‘Pitmaston Pine Apple’ (a.k.a. ‘Pitamaston Pineapple’)
  • ‘Rajka’
  • ‘Rosemary Russet’
  • ‘Saint Edmund’s Pippin’
  • ‘Simister Seedling’
  • ‘Striped Beefing’
  • ‘Tupp’s Favourite’
  • ‘Tydeman’s Early Worcester’
  • ‘Wareham Russet’
  • ‘Winter Gem’
  • ‘Withington Welter’ a.k.a. ‘Withington Fillbasket’

This year I’ll hopefully be adding the following, assuming the grafting gets done and the new trees grow on well:

  • ‘Ard Cairn Russet’
  • ‘Blenheim Orange’
  • ‘D’Arcy Spice’
  • ‘Elstar’
  • ‘Merton Russet’

Actually, the ‘Blenheim Orange’ and ‘Elstar’ will technically be re-grafts. The scions I’m grafting were saved from the two over-grown, far too-vigorous cordons that I removed earlier this year. Call me sentimental, but I can’t quite bring myself to completely lose these two trees, so I’ll be re-trying them on dwarfing rootstock. Maybe I’ll grow them in the ground once they’re established, or I might end up confining them both to large air-pots. We’ll see.

If you’re interested in future scion swaps, let me know what you like the sound of and I’ll make a note of your interest for next winter’s pruning season. As for me, I’m definitely interested in expanding the range of russet apples that I grow, so if you have any particularly good, well-russeted varieties that you’d be happy to exchange, please do let me know, either via the comments below, or by email.

How about you? Have you been planting or grafting anything particularly interesting this year? Do you prefer cordon trees, stepovers, standards, or something else? What’s your favourite russet apple? Any thoughts, questions or suggestions, please do let me know, via the comments.

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