Dorothy Una Ratcliffe lived at Acorn Bank. I her verse sounds familiar, you have reached the peak of the orchard calendar. Even if you just have one tree, a good year will see every surface covered with your treasured harvest, stored carefully, stalk end facing down, not touching, one layer deep to ensure the fruit keeps as long as possible.
If you had an orchard containing over 160 varieties of apple grown as standard trees and in palisade rows of cordons, what on earth would you do with the inevitable harvest? This is a big question at Acorn Bank. Before long the dovecote and house will exude the sweet musty smell of stored apples, evoking the contentment of many autumns gone by. Trays of apples, each labelled with a different name, are stacked carefully to maximise the limited space available.
There is, of course, a process leading to this point. All year round there are jobs that help to ensure fruit are healthy, trees are productive and orchards are beautiful. At Acorn Bank the Garden Team follows an annual programme of winter pruning, checking for pests and disease, thinning the crop in June and July, scything long grass below the trees, pruning in late August, and picking the harvest when it is ready. Not forgetting, eating apple crumble!
The job in hand now is summer pruning, to ensure that plenty of sunlight can reach the fruit, controlling the shape and size of trees and keeping air movement free-flowing to reduce fungal diseases. Trained apple trees are pruned in late August. This year’s new growth, which is spotted easily as the young whippy stems that haven’t yet become hard and woody, is pruned back to leave a short stem with three leaves. Fingers crossed, this will bear fruit next year! Any shoots that are less than 20cm long don’t need to be pruned as they probably already have a fruit bud at the tip. Upright vigorous shoots (known as ‘watershoots’) can be removed altogether.
We also use summer pruning routinely on standard apple trees. Winter pruning can cause a lot of vigorous new shoots to grow during the following summer. On a mature tree, most of these need to be pruned to approximately 15cm long, always with a sloping cut just above a bud. This helps to reduce the tree’s vigour.
Ensure that tools are sharp and clean them in between trees to avoid transferring diseases from tree to tree. Otherwise, don’t be scared of doing it wrong – it’s all about just having a go! The second Saturday of each month from February to October is ‘Orchard Drop-In Day’, when you will find experts working in the orchard, looking forward to meeting you and helping to get you pruning with confidence! We also offer workshops, giving expert tuition, advice and an opportunity to practice your pruning skills on our trees, for winter and summer pruning. Keep an eye on the ‘What’s On’ section of our website for dates and details. See you in the orchard!