The Symondsbury Apple Project: Training and Apple Doctor
Tuition in orchard management, fencing, hurdle-making, willow weaving and
orchard research are available from time to time depending on demand and seasonality.
Pruning courses are offered in January and February, these one-day intensive courses begin with a demonstration followed by practical work under the guidance of expert pruner David Squirrell.
Beginners are very welcome on the course and more experienced gardeners also benefit from practical restoration pruning.
There is no disabled access to the orchard but the project offers home tuition to anyone who needs it.
The project is keen to increase knowledge about apple varieties and to this end hopes to offer a fruit identification workshop each year to help train apple enthusiasts, demand for this skill is high, but anyone who has dabbled in the art will tell you there's more to knowing your apples than you might think. After you learn all the distinguishing marks of a certain variety you'll discover that soil, climate and natural variation just might make it look all together different! Maybe you have to resort to the old taste buds in the end.
At most project events the Apple Doctor is available for consultation. Members
of the project are encouraged to telephone for advice and home visits can
be made for a small fee.
The Apple Doctor has produced a very useful advice sheet on various aspects of tree planting and care which you can view/download as a PDF.
Q. What's the best size tree to go for?
A. Apple trees are grafted onto rootstocks and the rootstock will affect growth habit longevity, cropping and disease resistance. Soil conditions as well as considerations of space and access to fruit should be considered. Knowing your soil is a good place to start. In vigour they range from the very vigourous, M25 to the versatile MM106 (18ft) suitable for a single tree in the average garden. However varieties will still vary as to vigour independent of rootstock other factors such as climate and the quality of soil will also have an effect.
You can even get trees which are suitable for a pot by choosing an M27 which is an extremely dwarfing tree, never reaching more than 2.5metres/8ft high but note that dwarfing trees crop earlier but are short lived lasting about 20-35 years.
Q. What is the ideal place to plant my tree?
A. Avoid a place where there was a tree of the same type before since specific apple replant disease will stop the new tree thriving. In general fruit trees love sun, hate water logged roots, want space and light around their heads and a good chance of growing straight and strong, so a free-draining, sunny open site sheltered from wind is best. Some cultivars will put up with adverse conditions. A good tree nursery can give you advice specific to your region.
Q. I've no idea what variety to choose, where do I start?
A. Thornhayes Nursery gives excellent advice on choosing and planting but it's a good idea to *ask around about varieties that do well in your area. Choose a disease resistant cultivar so you can raise it organically and pay attention to things such as cropping season, keeping qualities and pollination needs. Try and taste a variety of apples before you choose. Visit the Common Ground website and find an apple Day near you, many Apple Day celebrations offer tasting sessions and will have a wider range than supermarkets or shops.
Try some varieties out at your local fruit Farm but be aware that most commercial orchards rely on chemicals and so the varieties they choose will not have been chosen for their disease resistance but with an eye on the market. The Cox's Orange pippin for example is very popular but can be difficult to keep healthy. You can look up the specifications of any variety in the directory of apple cultivars; lots of old varieties have good resistance to diseases.
Q. Should I stake the trees?
A. This depends on the site conditions and the rootstock.
I yr old trees bought bare-rooted, from a tree nursery will have the very best chance of making a strong root system. When planting standards M25 (24 ft) or half-standards MM111 (20-24ft) a short stake removed after a year or two is recommended. Dwarfing trees like MM106 (18ft)) will need staking for 5 years, M26 (8-14 ft) 6-7 years and M27 (4-8 ft) permanently. You will need to play close attention to guarding the tree against rabbits and other bark munchers. If you do stake the trees do remember to check stakes regularly and loosen them as the tree grows.
Q. I've been told to put manure in the planting hole, is that a good idea?
A. It's best not digging anything into the planting hole; roots need to grow down into the soil in search of nutrients. Keeping the ground weed free for the first 5 years is the most essential task, failing to do this will impair the trees growth resulting in permanent weakness.
Q. When should I prune my apple and pear trees?
A. As a rule anytime between November and February is ideal as this is when the trees are dormant. Dormant trees are less likely to suffer loss of vigour or contract diseases through the wounds created.
There is a saying that winter pruning leads to growth and summer pruning leads to fruit. There are elements of truth in this but it is an oversimplification. Winter pruning done correctly will control the tree perfectly adequately without the need for much, or in most cases, any summer pruning.
I ought to point out that plum, cherry and damson trees are not pruned in the winter. There is an ever- present risk of silver leaf entering the tree through wounds in these varieties that is fatal when the main trunk is affected. So they must be pruned in July or August when the sticky sap particular to these trees, seals the wound considerably reducing the risk.
Pest and diseases
During late spring/early summer, as the leaves come out, insects useful and not so useful for the health of fruit trees emerge and go about their business!
There are chemicals offered to target the pests but often they harm the natural predators as well. Spraying thus leads to the need to spray again and before you know it you will have destroyed the natural balance of nature.
It is therefore much better to exercise good housekeeping. This means keeping the trees pruned, removing dead wood, trimming away diseased wood, removing diseased leaves and fruit, keeping ground cover away from young trees, managing ground cover around mature trees and encouraging natural predators.
Mosses and lichens on trees are a sign of good clean air and also provide an ideal habitat for predators.
Aphids - Rub off if a low infestation or spray with soapy water
Apple Sawfly - They lay their eggs on the fruitlets in April/May and drop to the ground in June to pupate, so clear up fallen fruit, particularly in June.
Codling Moth - They lay eggs in June and pupate in the bark and under tree ties, so tie cardboard or sacking around trunk to help catch pupae.
Winter moth - Feed in early Spring. Grease bands around the trunk in October reduces their numbers.
Red Spider Mite - Hatch on tree in May, leave lichens and
mosses on trees as a predator habitat.
Ladybirds - Leave some nettles around to encourage nettle loving aphids which feed the ladybirds and thus boost their numbers.
Lacewings - They like the flowers of the daisy family so this boosts their numbers. The larvae are voracious consumers of aphids. Plastic bottles stuffed with screwed up cardboard provide ideal overwintering places.
Hoverflies - They enjoy yellow flowers like Nasturtiums and Tansy.
Parasitic wasps - They like flowers of the carrot family such as Fennel.
Black Kneed Capsid Bug - They like eating red spider mites.
Anthocorid Bug - They are particularly fond of aphids.
Fruit tree diseases
Mildew - Shrivelled leaves with a powdery surface. Worse in dry weather. Prune out affected shoots and burn.
Canker - Dieback which encircles the branch if left, sometimes accompanied by red spots. Worse in wet weather. Trim away affected wood or if completely encircling a limb then remove and burn.
Scab - Dry corky cracked surface to fruit and black patches on the leaves which then drop off. Worse in wet weather. Remove the blackened leaves or mow them so that worms can take them down into the soil.
Brown Rot - Fruit rots on the tree with concentric white rings. Remove affected fruit to prevent it spreading.
Some problems are neither a pest or a disease but just simply a consequence of the weather or a nutrient deficiency.
Russetting caused by cold weather is only cosmetic.
Bitterpit is depressions on the fruits surface, with soft brown flesh immediately below and is a sign of Calcium deficiency which can be remedied using a calcium chloride foliar feed.
Pinkish-red spots are evidence of nutrient deficiencies where the lenticels (the apples breathing holes) break down and again can be remedied by feeding the tree. This condition doesn't affect the taste of the apple but shortens the storage time. Golden Delicious is quite prone to this.