Topics for June: You lose some - you win some! A tale of two cherries..... The first fruits of summer..... Can you have Strawberry Fields forever? .....Should you replace strawberry plants after 3 years?..... Raspberries.....
|The heartbreaking sight of splitting and rotting cherries||The sour cherries should have a chance to ripen fully without bird damage under their cover of Enviromesh|
You lose some - you win some! A tale of two cherries
From my experience of the last 40 years of watching the increasingly erratic weather patterns undoubtedly associated with climate change, growing many varieties of fruit will become increasingly difficult in the future. It will not always produce reliable crops - so I think that definitely the most sensible thing to do is to hedge one's bets by growing as wide a variety of health-giving fruits as possible. The erratic weather will often mean that there will be some years in which some varieties of particular tree fruits which flower early in the year, and then swell their fruits in gentle spring rains may be a disaster - as they have been this year. This year all of my apples were badly affected by the almost three-month long drought, the young fruitlets dropping off in May - as opposed to just some dropping in June - the fabled 'June drop' - which the old gardeners always talked about, after which they would select and thin the remaining fruits. This year - there were none to thin!
At the end of May on examining the apple trees in the 5 year old new orchard, I found that due to cold, wet and windy weather at pollination-time, some had pollinated badly and were bearing very few fruits, whereas other varieties which flowered slightly earlier, had obviously missed that and had set many fruits. I was very worried though, and rightly so it transpired, knowing that since March we'd had a complete drought - and you can't water an entire orchard - even if there wasn't a hosepipe ban! You'd need your own water supply or lagoon - actually we did have our own water supply for our first few years here. The hill we live on - appropriately named Springhill on old maps - has many springs which never ran dry even in the hottest summer - including a sparklingly clear one at the rear of our land where it separated our 5 acres from our neighbour. It was so clean when we first came here that we often had eels travelling up it from the estuary a few miles further down the coast. Sadly, as I've often mentioned here on my blog - since our intensive famer neighbour bought the land adjoining us - that water supply has now gradually become so polluted with pesticides and artificial fertilisers that it now resembles a lifeless open sewer - so cannot be used for watering anything any more, and we had to fence it off so that livestock could no longer drink from it!
Looking at the trees in the middle of this month - I found that almost all of the trees carrying fruits had already dropped them - with at most only 5 or 6 fruits on some - and none on others! Unfortunately it seems to be the later-ripening, long-keeping varieties which keep to Christmas or even early spring the following year that seem to have been the most affected. Many of these would all have flowered at around the same time, and are the varieties which I rely on to fill my winter apple store. This is why it's so important to choose your varieties carefully if planting a new orchard or even just a tree or two so that you have a range of trees that not only overlap their flowering times and will pollinate each other - but also have diverse ripening times, depending on your needs. We've had wonderful crops from the new orchard for the last three years, and also from the old orchard on the other side of our 5 acres, near our boundary. There is not one apple in the old orchard this year, and the ones that are carrying the most fruit this year are a few earlier ripening ones which won't keep more than a couple of weeks, Red Devil, Charles Ross and the slightly later Christmas Pippin (which only just about keeps until Christmas!).
Exactly the same happened on the 'Celeste' sweet cherry trees! They had all clearly enjoyed perfect weather at pollination time, the bees as usual had done a fantastic job, and at the beginning of the month the trees were carrying the biggest crop I've ever seen. After a few days of continuously high temperatures mid-month though - they were already dropping off at speed. Last week we had torrential rain for several days, and almost all of any fruits still left on the trees have split, and those not dropping off are going mouldy, as you can see from the heartbreakingly sad pictures above. I try to be philosophical and not too down-hearted though, and to always find something to cheer me up and encourage me to keep going - even in the most disappointing of circumstances. This year it's the Sea Buckthorn which is looking fantastic - the berries so crowded along the branches that they reminded me of swarms of bees when I looked at them a couple of days ago. Although the picking and processing is without doubt the least fun and most painful of ANY fruit, even blackberries - they're also one of the most healthy, and are chock full of nutrients, so I'm always glad to have them in the freezer for immune-boosting and incredibly delicious winter smoothies tasting like a cross between Seville oranges and mouth watering orange sherbet. I always compare picking and processing Sea Buckthorn to being a bit like childbirth - absolute hell at the time but with very enjoyable results afterwards!
Meanwhile, this morning I covered the sour cherries which are growing on the north wall of the stables, just opposite the polytunnel door, with a sheet of Enviromesh secured with wooden clothes pegs, which I hope will stop the birds spotting their bright red colour and also frighten them off as it flaps in the wind a bit. The birds had only just realised they are there as they've been so busy gobbling up all the damaged sweet cherries, At least we may get some cherries - even if only the sour ones - but at least they're great for cooking and even higher in healthy nutrients than the sweet varieties! So as I say above - you lose some - you win some!
Fruit growing has always been a long-term investment - but 40 years ago when I planted my first orchard - that investment was a far more reliable one. Now it is much less certain, and the only way that we will be able to grow enough fruit to supply a healthy diet in the future will be to rely on a wide diversity of cultivars of different fruits, not to rely on huge monocultures of any one cultivar of cherry, apple. plum or whatever the type of fruit may be. Only that way can we ensure at least some fruit - whatever the weather may throw at us!
Mixed berries - Nature's precious midsummer jewels.
The first fruits of summer!
Above is a bowlful of the early mixed berries and cherries that we're enjoying from the polytunnel right now before the outside ones are ripe. There are raspberries Erika, Joan J and purple one Glen Coe, Tayberries, blackberry Reuben, Alpine (or wild-type) strawberries, also Albion, Mara des Bois, Gento and Old White strawberries, and Morello cherries. I grow a wide variety in the polytunnel so that there is almost always something to pick no matter what the weather is like outside - or how ingenious the birds are!
Some of the more exotic top fruits like figs, potted dwarf cherries and early peaches are just starting to ripen now too - a little later that most years due to the lateness of the season - and it's really beginning to taste like high summer now! The ever-reliable perpetual-fruiting strawberries were the first fruits to produce berries in early May - but we've been eating fruit of all kinds for several weeks now as you can see above. The weather has been really hot during the days for most of the last few weeks - although the nights have been very cold. Some nights have been really chilly, and today the weather is windy. Luckily though - with the protection of the polytunnel all the berry crops in pots will continue to crop well if kept well-watered - so they are definitely worth the space they take up! The peaches are looking promising too. Keeping all fruit well watered and mulched will be most important in hot weather now - as the first thing to go is the fruit if plants are stressed by any dryness at the roots. Due also to the good summer last year - there are a lot more bees around too - doing their vital job of pollination. As I'm constantly saying - growing flowers for bees and other pollinators is a good idea everywhere in the garden, including and especially in the fruit garden. Without bees - we wouldn't have a lot of fruit or nuts such as peaches, apricots, almonds and raspberries, to name just a few. Bees are vital to almost 3/4 of our food supply, so we need to encourage them and look after them by not using pesticides, particularly now that they're in serious trouble, being in decline in many areas.
Tunnel-grown strawberries Albion, Gento, Christine & Malling Centenary - which have been cropping since early May
Well maybe not forever - but certainly from May until November if you grow some of the perpetual (or ever-bearing) varieties in a polytunnel! I ordered 'cold stored' runners of a new variety of 'perpetual' strawberry - from Ken Muir's Nursery last month by phone (I like to try at least one new variety of something each year). The beautifully established plug plants (with flower buds!) arrived quickly by post (you can't beat that) and are now already settling into their new home! They will fruit very soon - not too long to wait to try a new variety!
Apropos the 'buying local' principle by the way - I always try all the Irish nurseries for plants first (more in hope than expectation!) Usually they have very little choice of varieties. The - 'couldn't care less' - "You can put your name down, and we might have it if we remember it next autumn" - which I've had from some nurseries is an attitude that doesn't really do it for me! Helpful, efficient, informative and knowledgeable (rare) service is so much better if you want people's return business! So many of the nurseries don't even sell the varieties that are best suited to our climate!
Should you replace strawberry plants after 3 years?
Some people say you should replace strawberry stocks after three years but personally I think that's unnecessary if your plants are healthy. It's perfectly alright to continue to propagate from healthy plants. This year my old favourite Gento seems even better than ever - thoroughly rejuvenated and enjoying the five star treatment it's now getting in the east tunnel and the last few weeks of hot weather! It has been producing wave after wave of huge delicious fruits and has been flowering continuously since early May! The most important thing with strawberries is to ONLY EVER propagate from the most productive plants which are fruiting well, with perfect looking, healthy leaves - not twisted or blotched with yellow, which might indicate virus. Then you can't go wrong. It's also a good idea to move them to fresh ground every 3-4 years.
We've been enjoying the first of our strawberries from the tunnels for over a month now. We had a taste testing recently and decided that meltingly delicious Gento was still definitely tops for flavour - with Albion coming a close second, Mara des Bois next, then Malling Opal and the much vaunted old French variety Gariguette after that. Christine and Malling Centenary came last - good flavour but not that sensational - and I want sensational in strawberries! Malling Centenary is the one set to replace Elsanta - which I don't grow because I think it's completely tasteless - sadly that's the one sold in many garden centres! Malling Centenary is summer fruiting - but a huge cropper with a pretty good taste and also good disease resistance. Gento is an old variety I've mentioned before - which was bred in France in the early 1960's - and my stock came as runners taken from plants growing in the garden where I grew up almost 40 years ago. I took some runners from the plants in the kitchen garden there, when my now grown-up children were toddlers - and the plants I have now are the much-propagated offspring of those original plants! I would hate to lose them - they're such a lovely connection to that magical garden every inch of which I remember so well, and visit so often in my daydreams. Most of it, including the 6 acres of wonderful orchards I played in as a child and saw my first Robin's nest. are now sadly lost forever under a ghastly housing estate - like so many other long lost old gardens!
The golden berries/cape gooseberries now ripe on last year's overwintered plants come ready-packed by Nature in their own, protective little 'designer' paper cases! Cape gooseberries are actually tender perennials and are worth trying to keep over winter if you have room for them, in order to get an early crop. I'm also growing a new variety this year, from The Seed Coop - called Schonbrunner Gold. Although it was only sown on the 20th March - it's looking very healthy and vigorous, already flowering and I'm very pleased with it. Once they start to produce fruit, the productive bushes will keep on flowering and fruiting all summer and autumn in the tunnel. They'll be ripening from late July/August onwards, and the fruit will keep in their little paper cases for months in the salad drawer of the fridge.
Don't worry about the cream! Just enjoy the bountiful harvests of summer
The latest scientific thinking on that is that all dairy products are actually good for you! I always thought they were anyway! And of course all organic dairy products, including cream, are naturally far higher in good Omega 3 fats than non-organic, so that means they're even healthier! The fat in dairy products is where most of the nutrients are. If you're worried about all the calories - then just work them off with all that weeding and mulching!! Actually though, I think creme fraiche is much nicer than cream anyway - it's even better for you than ordinary cream - as it's also probiotic, and especially so if you make it at home more cheaply using kefir grains. Try making an ice cream with just strawberries, homemade creme fraiche or yogurt, a little sugar or organic Stevia drops and a dash of lemon juice - it's heavenly! Yum! That's for when you get fed up with them straight, or dipped in melted 99% dark chocolate of course - and that's not just healthy - but it's positively medicinal in fact, with all the healthy polyphenols in the dark chocolate!!
Really the best thing about growing your own organic fruit is that you can eat it properly ripe and still warm from the sun - while it's super-fresh and mouth-wateringly good! - Enjoy!
(Please note. I really enjoy sharing my original ideas and 40 years experience of growing and cooking my own organic food with you. It's most satisfying and naturally also very complimentary if others find "inspiration" in my work......But if you do happen to copy any of my material, or repeat it in any way online - I would appreciate it very much if you would please mention that it originally came from me. It's the result of many years of hard work and hard-won experience. Thank you.)