Well, what a month of weather we’ve had since I last emailed! I think we’ve pretty much had some of everything, and certainly far too much rain leaving the ground pretty saturated at the moment. I don’t really follow horse racing but I see that the ground conditions at this week’s Cheltenham festival are the heaviest they’ve been in the last 10 years, which about sums up how it feels walking around the orchards at the moment!
On a more positive note, we have definitely achieved the required chill units, although I’m sure we could have lived without the snow that went with it. At least we don’t grow Apricots! Some of the very large fruit growers in Kent have planted a reasonable acreage of Apricots over the last few years and they generally start flowering in early March, so the frost damage incurred will have been 100% on the earliest varieties as temperatures dropped to minus 14, including wind chill, in some areas! Anyone growing Apricots will have planted them fully aware of the large risk involved growing them, and it’s generally accepted by the growers that some years you won’t get a crop due to frost damage. I think as farmers we definitely have a different risk profile to the mass population!!
The benefits of achieving the required chill units for the cherry trees is that the trees become fully dormant and when the weather finally warms up again in the spring the trees burst into life with greater vigour and more uniformity of flowering which can only be good for potential pollination and therefore this year’s crop.
I attended a stone fruit meeting of growers last week and there’s a lot of work been done on new cherry varieties that require lower amounts of chill units each winter, with some new varieties just been released that only require 300-500 units. This is partly to combat the effects of potentially warmer winters in the future but also to try to make the English cherry season start earlier in the summer; thus extending the overall length of the season.
The current downside to these earlier varieties is that because they require less chill units, they achieve full dormancy much earlier in the winter and therefore spring back into life at the first sign of warmth in late winter and subsequently will flower in March, with the obvious frost risks that come with that. It’s great to have these developments and we’ll see how these varieties fair in English conditions for a few years before we decide if they’re worth the extra risk!
The new trees that we are planting have now been delivered, although the ground conditions are so wet that we won’t be planting them until the end of the month at the earliest, so they are still wrapped up in the barn and we’ll keep the roots moist in the interim. All of these trees are being planted at our Sandhurst orchard and they are the tried and trusted varieties Kordia & Regina plus 100 trees of a new variety (for us) called Tamara which we trialled 20 trees of 5 years ago and rather like the look of it so hopefully it will crop as well as the initial trees we had.
There is currently a tiny amount of bud swell on some of our early flowering varieties. It’s still too early to pin down a date for the blossom weekend but it is highly likely to be one of the last 2 weekends in April, or the first weekend in May. Don’t worry too much about this at this stage as I’ll know an awful lot more in a month’s time as the buds continue to swell and develop, and I should be able to confirm dates a couple of weeks in advance to give you all time to make plans if you intend to come and enjoy the orchard in bloom, have a hog roast, and enjoy everything else that we’ll have on offer that weekend.
Over the next few weeks as the buds start to swell and we get green tissue emerging, we will start to feed the trees with foliar sprays with a mixture of Liquid seaweed, a blended Nitrogen, Potassium, and Phosphorus mix and a high concentrate Phosphite feed which specifically targets root growth to stimulate the trees to get the best possible start at this time of year.
We’ll be in touch again when spring is hopefully finally with us….