Tips on harvesting your soft fruits
I spent a few days away from my allotment this week, and as I returned and walked into my poly tunnel I saw the apricots on my apricot tree looking fully ripened. At a closer inspection I saw the image in the picture!- the ripest ones on the top of the tree, were all semi eaten. I think it can only be slug or snail damage and all the deterrents that I have put on the tree trunk did not help as since the top apricots are close to the eaves of the roof they can climb onto the tree from the inside of the roof. I could not resist the deep orange fruit and cut off the bitten part and ate the rest which was really nice and sweet. To avoid these devils getting at the rest of the crop, I decided to pick all those that were nearly ripe as they seem to attack them only when they are really soft – (they should be happy they are getting such a special fruit and not be so fussy)! The ones I took home were too unripe to eat so we decided to stew them, and if I want to eat them raw I will have to begin to go daily and pick the ripe ones.
Now for a few tips on apricot growing!
If you live in the Southern part of the UK, then you probably won’t need to protect your apricot trees with anything more than a fruit cage or netting once the fruits start showing, to stop the pesky birds from getting at them. In the north of Britain however; it is unlikely you will get a crop if the tree is not protected. The main reason is because they flower so early in the year, often already in February, and the subsequent frosts usually kill of all the fruit embryos. The apricot tree is usually self fertile and does not need a pollination partner, but it does need insects to move the pollen within the tree, and as insects are scarce at that time of the year many will not get pollinated and not produce fruit. (some gardeners will manually remove pollen with a paint brush from flower to flower). To avoid these pitfalls, I planted an apricot tree in a large poly tunnel, I purposely leave open as many air vents and openings to keep it as cold as possible to make sure that it flowers as late in the year as possible. When the flowers do emerge, I close most of these vents and only leave a few visible entry points for insect access. Surprisingly, I usually find there a bumble bee or two in the early spring, they stay there for long periods doing there vital work as they enjoy the nectar they are getting in the warm environment of the poly tunnel. Whilst we rely on the ‘goody’ insects for pollination we have the ‘baddy’ insect that also enjoy the warmth of the poly tunnel. The worst one is the scale insect. Since they hardly move you don’t notice them until it is quite heavily infested. They look like a small brown semi circle and can be mistaken for part of the bark of the tree. They seriously weaken the tree, and follow to blacken the fruit. Clearing them by hand or with a bristle brush is ideal, but an insecticide spray might be the only real answer to the problem.
Apricots will fruit on new wood and on old wood from the year before. Wood that has fruited for a few years should be removed by pruning carefully as the wood is quite brittle. Pruning should only take place during the spring and summer whilst the tree is in active growth.
Various varieties of plums are available all the year round in the supermarkets but not the ‘English plum’. Our climate seems to be specially suited to these mouth watering fruits, and even though many new varieties have come on the market the favourite English plum is still the ‘Victoria’ plum. It is easy to grow, it crops heavily and the taste has a good balance between acidity and sweetness. It can be eaten fresh or made into tarts, it is easy to cook with, as the pips come away easily from the flesh. They usually ripen towards the end of August and the first fruits are now ripening in my garden. Even though my allotment is only a mile away from my house, since it is on a much more exposed site the fruits only mature around a fortnight later then the ones in my garden. Plum trees are generally trouble free, and can carry a huge crop. The main problem is aphid damage, they visit the tree during spring and weaken the tree causing the leaves to curl, and sometimes attack the fruit. It is important to spray with an insecticide during spring, but care should be taken only to do this after the flowers have fallen off, as we need the insects to visit the tree to pollinate the flowers in mid spring. It is self fertile and no pollination neighbour is necessary. If you find the birds are eating your plums before you get to them then it’s worth while investing in a fruit cage or netting as long as your tree isn’t too big.
The other important thing to do to your tree is to make sure it does not grow into a monster. Pruning is essential and should only be carried out in spring or summer. Most books advise to prune the tree as a cup shape with an open centre. I find the fruits of such a tree difficult to pick and so I do just the opposite and prune my tree into an umbrella shape. As you can see in the picture the higher branches are this year’s growth and will be fruiting next year, the fruit will weigh them down to join the umbrella shape of the tree. I can lean my ladder on the centre trunk of the tree and wiggle through the tree to pick the fruit.
I find that standing in the centre of a tree, trug in hand, picking luscious plums, is one of the pleasures of gardening!
Have an enjoyable gardening week!