Although a few weeks ago now, thank you to so many of you that came to the blossom weekend. We had an incredibly busy Saturday, and understandably, due to how cold it was, a more sedate Sunday! The blossom looked fabulous again and the trees have gone from strength to strength since then.
We’ve had some really decent weather post blossom, with only a few days a couple of weeks ago that were distinctly colder than is ideal for cell division within the developing fruitlets. A far cry from last year, which was night after night of below zero temperatures at the corresponding time.
Every growing season really is so different and the 2 biggest impacts on this year’s potential crop are poles apart! Prior to the cherry buds bursting into flower, we were still concerned about whether there would be any bud damage caused by the ‘Beast from the East’. When this incredibly cold spell hit in February, the buds were just starting to hydrate (swell) so there was potentially enough moisture in them to be frozen and cause tissue damage. At blossom time we could see that a small proportion of the basel buds (the buds that produce flowers from 1 year old wood) had opened with nothing inside them.
Obviously no flowers, means no cherries from those buds. It’s quite incredible to think that damage was incurred at such a ‘safe’ time of year for the buds as the temperature would need to be below minus 10 to cause this damage, which is pretty much unheard of in the South East of England! This damage isn’t enough to have had an impact on the crop as in reality a few less cherries will mean the rest are slightly larger, which is actually a very positive thing.
For the anoraks (like myself), amongst you, the reason that you get a small proportion of flowers on 1 year old budwood, when cherries fruit on 2 year old budwood and older is that flower bud initiation in cherries for the following year occurs in June, and this one year old growth is the growth that the tree has put on between flowering time and the end of June. There’s always something going on in the trees that you’d never imagine!
The other extreme weather related issue that has had a slight impact on the crop is the very hot temperatures prior to the blossom weekend when all of the trees came into flower. I don’t ever remember having temperatures in the high 20’s on so many consecutive days at blossom time. At those temperatures, every flower, once opened, literally only had 24 hours to be pollinated as the pollen is less viable than at ‘normal’ spring temperatures. It will also have caused the stigma to dry out quicker, making it harder for the pollen to germinate.
In a nutshell, you can quite distinctly see within the orchard that the vast majority of the flowers were pollinated, however only a proportion of them have grown on with the rest not gaining any size at all and will now clearly fall off the tree. This is most likely caused by failed pollination (potentially not helped by the 3 or 4 very cold days post blossom) – the abortion of the developing embryo causing the fruit to drop later on.
Come picking time, I’m not convinced that you will even be aware that this has happened as the size of the cherries that will become this year’s crop already look fabulous, and they look like they will be big cherries already! Of the 5 different varieties we grow at Northiam, the Kordia, at this stage, have slightly less cherries on than I would ideally like to see, but from past experience an average crop of Kordia produces unbelievably large cherries, which more than makes up for a few less! The Regina, Penny, Sweetheart & Colney all look like they have a lovely proportioned crop on them, so fingers crossed they all continue to grow on and develop as they currently are.
Across Kent, there is pretty mixed news on the level of the cherry crop with some orchards and varieties being pretty poor so I’m more than happy with how things look at this stage. We spray all of our orchards very diligently at blossom time with plant bio-stimulants that initiate a stress response within the tree by way of releasing calcium, which puts up the trees natural defences. We have noticed time and time again the benefits to the crop of doing this, and certainly seem to achieve more consistency in cropping through doing so.
So you can update your diaries, provisional picking dates are as follows:
Kordia 7th – 15th July, Colney & Penny 13th – 22nd July, Sweetheart 14th July – 23rd July, Regina 20th – 29th July.
These dates, at this stage, are obviously still very provisional and depending upon the intervening weather will move by a few days one way or the other (very unlikely to move closer). We will be open for you to pick your tree on every day (apart from Tuesdays) between 10am-5pm of your picking window.
Please note that you must know which variety of tree you have been allocated. If you are unsure of this, please email me now and I will email you the details. This is of paramount importance as there is a fruit fly pest called Spotted Wing Drosophila that attacks cherries, so there can literally be no flexibility on the picking dates for each variety. If you cannot make your picking dates when they are confirmed, you are obviously welcome to send family or friends to pick on your behalf.
I will be sending a brief separate email regarding the serious threat posed to cherries from Spotted Wing Drosophila explaining how you must play your part at picking in helping us to control and stop this pest spreading as much as possible.
Since petal fall, we have been super busy; we have applied a ground application of all the different fertilisers that fruit trees need to support the developing crop. This feed is taken up by the tree roots, once washed in by rain, and we have also been spraying the orchards with a weekly foliar feed (taken in by the leaves) of N, P, & K to which we also add a concentrate of liquid seaweed that is a great stimulant to plant growth. At blossom time the greatest nutrient demand is Nitrogen, however as the fruit swells this demand within cherry trees changes to Potassium so the feeds are now very biased in that direction.
Last night’s terrific thunder storms will have certainly washed all of the fertilisers in, although the difference in rain volume between our 2 farms, 5 miles apart, was stark. We had 25mm on the farm at Northiam, but only 7mm on our farm at Sandhurst!!
The entire orchard has also been netted for about 3 weeks now and this was completed the week after the blossom weekend, just before the first developing green cherries pushed through the calyx and became Pigeon fodder. We are also well on the way to completing all of the netting at our other orchards, with just a few more days worth of netting to do. These orchards are protected with bird scarers until we get the job done!
I’ve also had the knapsack on and have been spot-treating with a specific weed control some very bad patches of nettles that have developed in all of the orchards – not much fun when the nettles are chest high and you have to trample them down first so you don’t inadvertently spray the trees too!
On the days when I’m not doing such delightful jobs, or feeding the trees, or putting on cherry nets, I’m still doing the last few rows of tree work – tying down the branches to get the tree shape structure as we want it – we tie the branches down to the horizontal which is much easier to then manage and induces heavier cropping. It’s a pretty laborious process, but well worthwhile!
All in all, it’s an incredibly busy time of year but very satisfying to see this year’s potential crop showing its’ promise and good to get through another week with another list of jobs ticked off.
Enjoy your upcoming bank holiday weekend and I’ll be back in touch sometime around mid June with an email on the fruit fly pest.
All the best