Journal for 8th January 2010The weather continues to control orchard operations. In December those with new trees ready to plant were held up by heavy rain and sodden soil conditions, now the ground is full of frost and planting continues to be delayed. The frozen ground however does protect the soil from tractor movement and this can be useful if hedge cutting is still on the list of things to do. However the snow creates other problems.
Rabbits denied the ability to graze are attracted to any unprotected tree trunks. A few hungry rabbits can maim and in many cases destroy young apple trees by gnawing away the bark and if the trunk is completely encircled tree death will occur.
The standard protection against rabbits is to protect every tree with a tree guard, the most effective being wire netting cut to the length of the trunk with the spiky ends turned slightly outwards to deter the 'more athletic' rabbit who tries to get over the top of the guard. When the snow is very deep our 'furry friends' can jump up into the lower branches and make a mess of the tree.
Some growers with very intensive plantations will take the 'perceived' more cost effective form of protection and fence in the complete orchard. This is fine in the early years, or where rabbits are few in number, but fences have a habit of strategic failure!
Badgers are a particular problem as they will not be deterred from their regular path and cut large access holes. Mr. Rabbit then enters and causes havoc, particularly in the current 'snowy' conditions. I learnt this to my cost 40 years ago when a plantation of some 4,000 trees suddenly became 'the' food source for rabbits. The short term answer was to paint every tree with a protective coat of anti rabbit paint sealing the wound and deterring future attacks. We would also prune and leave the wood in the alleyways as an alternative food source. This happened twice in successive years around Christmas time when the only labour available was me and my teenage children, who, albeit reluctantly, could be 'bribed' to assist their father in this tedious task. I quickly learnt that wire guards on every tree was the solution and could be applied at a more convenient time allowing me, and the kids a more restful Christmas holiday.
With this snowy weather appearing to be with us for sometime there is nothing for me to do but accept the status quo!
Walking the dogs is a great therapy and an opportunity to mull over the many issues clouding the brain. It is amazing how clearly one can isolate the important issues when the mind is clear of peripheral issues. I have been giving much thought to the future of the apple growing fraternity. What 'does' the future hold? One one side we are being lectured by our government on the need to produce more 'home grown' food. One the other we face the ever more demanding customer requirements and downward pressure on prices. By customer I mean the large Supermarkets! While the consumer; and we are all consumers, will naturally seek the best value for money and critically in these recessionary times that means low prices! But this equation is unsustainable. Without a profitable return no grower can survive indefinately.
Quite how the government intends to encourage farmers and growers to deliver the desired import substitution without addressing the unsustainable prices producers receive is 'the' 64,000 dollar question!
Available English Apples & Pears
As we enter 2010 we can be assured of plenty of English Apples and Pears on our Supermarket shelves.
Apples: Cox, Gala & Braeburn lead the way on the dessert apple front, on the culinary front Bramley is in plentiful supply. Jazz in Waitrose, M&S, Sainsbury & Tesco. Empire in Asda & Waitrose for a further 2-3 weeks. Winter Wonder has about 2 more weeks in Waitrose.
Pears; Conference, Comice & Concorde (mainly in 4 packs) can be found in most of the major retailers. Taylors Gold in Waitrose only.
The English Apple Man's top tip!
If you are a Braeburn fan, please seek out English Braeburn as they are superior to imported!
Until next week!
The English Apple Man