Bumper crop for apple lovers
It has been an exceptional year for apples. The good growing weather of last year laid down plenty of flower buds for this year.
Although the winter weather after the turn of the year was wet and cold, and this continued into late spring, apples flower in May and there were enough good days to ensure that the pollinating insects could fly and the pollinated fruit could set.
The summer weather that followed may have had too many showers for human satisfaction but it was perfect growing weather for plants of most kinds. Apples trees grew remarkably well and held onto a sizeable proportion of the set fruit, some of which always falls, but not much did this year.
The challenge for trees carrying a heavy crop is to ripen it successfully, needing good weather - warm and sunny - to make it sweet. Otherwise there might be a lot of fruit but it can be of poor flavour and lack sweetness. However, autumn has been relatively warm, sunny and dry, and apples have ripened well.
The question soon arises as to what to do with all this fruit. It can be made into preserves or stewed and frozen, but this only uses a proportion of the apples from even one good tree. Some windfall fruit can be left on the ground for birds and other wild creatures to feed on, and good quality fruit can be stored in the case of some varieties.
As a reasonable rule of thumb, apples still on the tree now, or just picked, are likely to store quite well. Early varieties that can be picked in late August and September do not last well, their flesh becoming soft and mealy the longer they are off the tree.
Varieties such as Golden Delicious, Jonagold, Winston, Red Devil and Bramley's Seedling that stay on the tree to the second part of October and into November do not soften as quickly and can be stored.
Storage of apples is best done in clean plastic bags holding two to five kilograms of fruit and left open at the top, the plastic bag loosely folded over and not tied. The bags can be stood in crates or boxes for support, and kept in a cool shed or similar location.
Polythene bags give good storage conditions, retaining some moisture while allowing any fruit gases to escape - much better than newspaper which tends to dry the fruit and carries ink. Try to store only undamaged fruit and check the storage conditions during the winter, removing any rotting fruit if necessary.
How hardy is my palm tree?
Q I have had a Chusan palm tree for 10 years. It's about 10ft high. Every year I cover it with a fleece bag but it's so high that will be very difficult to do this year. Is it hardy? A O'Brien, Kildare
A Chusan palm - or Trachycarpus fortunei - is indeed hardy. It is known as the hardy palm, one of very few true palms that are hardy. It survives well during the cold winters, not suffering at all or, in only in a minor way. Unfortunately for you, it never needed to be covered against frost!
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