Tidying up the fruit

Over the last couple of weeks we have been tidying up some of the fruit in the kitchen garden. Whilst our orchard trees will be grown as bushes or half standards, along with full sized specimens of chestnut, walnut, and mulberry, all of the fruit in the kitchen garden is trained in some sort of restricted form. Various fruits were in need of attention – the cordon apples and pears were overdue for their summer pruning, the figs in the glasshouse had become rather large and unlikely to be productive next year, and training wires, which should have been in place before planting, are missing in various parts of the garden, some of which we have now fixed.

First, to the summer pruning. Last year I pruned the cordon trained apples and pears around mid July, which is a good time to do it. This year I was behind and failed to get it done before our holiday in August. With a change for the worse in the weather it seemed a little late to tackle it now, but there was so much growth that needed to be removed that we pruned them last week.

In last year’s post on the subject, I described the approach to summer pruning in some detail, so will not repeat that here. Once the cordons are established, the procedure is fairly simple, and involves the removal of most of this season’s vegetative growth. Not only does this keep the cordons within their allotted space, summer pruning encourages the formation of fruiting spurs as opposed to vegetative growth. Our cordons are on sensible rootstocks, as compared with many of those offered for the purpose nowadays, which are, to my mind, too weak to support good growth and sustain a large crop. They do, though, develop plenty of growth that should be removed during the summer.

The transformation is remarkable – from a jungle of vibrant growth to a couple of rows of trim and elegant cordons. There will be a little work to do in the winter on a couple of slightly crowded spots – these are difficult to prune whilst the fruit and foliage is still present. In the winter, the structure of fruiting spurs can be more readily discerned and thinned where overcrowded.

Some of the apples have suffered with bitter pit this year, no doubt thanks to the dry period during early summer when, if I were not so lazy, the trees would have enjoyed a bit more irrigation. A couple of the varieties seem to be particularly susceptible. Nonetheless, there is a fine crop of my favourite apple, Ribston Pippin, the oddly shaped but fine flavoured Cornish Aromatic, and the beautiful and delicious golden russet of St Edmund’s Pippin.

All of the pears except Doyenne d’Ete and Bonchretien d’Hiver are laden with fruit, almost all looking very fine indeed. Doyenne d’Ete fruited earlier in the year, whilst our Bonchretien d’Hiver is steadfastly refusing to fruit, although the tree looks to be in good condition otherwise. Perhaps it is just slower to develop than the others, although I have started to wonder whether it might be a tip bearing sort. Tip bearing is less common, but if it were, the pruning regime would remove most of the fruit buds. This variety is not widely cultivated and there is not that much information available, especially as regards its fruiting habits. My favourite old texts, such as Lindley’s Guide to the Orchard and Kitchen Garden and Hogg’s Fruit Manual, do not indicate how it bears its fruit, however, I did find several references in French texts of the 1700s that refer to this variety being grown in bush and espalier forms so I will leave it another couple of years before considering its removal, or, perhaps, a little experiment with grafting a different sort onto the established trunk.

One of our south facing glasshouses contains, amongst other things, a couple of fig trees, planted in very large pots sunk into the border along the rear wall. Unlike for the peaches next door, we had not yet got around to fixing up the training wires. The figs had grown somewhat haphazardly, and the trunks become rather large. The large pale green fruited Brogiotto Bianco cropped very well this year, but all of its fruit was picked weeks ago. The purple fruited Rouge de Bordeaux is still cropping, ripening one or two fruits every couple of days, but will soon be finished. Figs tend to fruit on young wood. Ours had become rather tall, reaching well above the wall and shading the vine trailing along the top edge of the wall. Their fruit was clustered towards the ends of the branches, which I was keen to remove. Thus, some renewal was necessary.

Figs could be treated in a similar way to peaches, which fruit more or less exclusively on last year’s growth, by providing a permanent framework of branches from which fruiting laterals are trained in. The fruiting wood would then be cut out regularly to provide a source of new growth. Alternatively, branches can be tied in as they develop from the base of the plant, and stopped when they reach the available height. When they become unproductive they can be cut back hard and allowed to develop new shoots. Figs are generally rampant growers, even with restricted root runs, and will readily produce new growth, even from older wood. The Brogiotto Bianco had two main branches, which had reached a substantial diameter. A few weeks ago, I cut these a foot or so above ground level, and they have since produced quite a number of new shoots. In addition, two young shoots had emerged from the base of the plant, which were ready to be tied in. Hence, we had to finish the job of erecting the training wires.

New shoots emerging from the old trunk

Earlier in the year we managed to screw three pieces of 4” by 2” timber to the back wall, vertically, one at each end and one in the middle of the 20 foot span. This week we drilled and screwed in vine eyes at 6” spacings. At one end, we fixed some heavy duty plastic coated wire to the vine eyes, threaded it through those on the central timber, then joined to tension bolts at the other end. A few turns of the nut will keep the wires taut.

The young shoots of the Brogiotto Bianco were tied in to a couple of canes placed at around 45 degrees. The canes were fixed to the training wires with tie wraps. With the main branches, it can be beneficial using canes rather than tying direct to the wires, as they help keep the form and, more importantly, prevent the wires from rubbing on the bark. For side shoots that will be removed after fruiting, I tend to tie, loosely, direct to the wires. Some of the better placed shoots now growing from the stumps of the old branches will be tied in, when ready, to fill in the space, and as soon as the Rouge de Bordeaux has finished fruiting, it will receive the same treatment.

New shoots tied in; those growing from the old stumps will fill in the space
New shoots tied in; those growing from the old stumps will fill in the space

After tidying up the figs, we trimmed the excess foliage from the grape vine to better expose the grapes to the sun in the hope that they might ripen before the winter. In this glasshouse we have a Muscat of Alexandria, an old variety bearing loose bunches of good sized grapes ideal for the dessert. In the kitchen gardens of old, it was well thought of for glasshouse production, but heat was recommended early in the year when in flower and later in the year to help ripen the crop. We have no artificial heat in our glasshouses, relying only on the sun and the south facing rear wall. It will be interesting to see if this is sufficient to ripen this variety; removing any foliage generating shade should help.

Bunches of Muscat of Alexandria cleared of all shading foliage
Bunches of Muscat of Alexandria cleared of shading foliage

The fruit cage has been similarly lacking in training wires. In the spring, we provided some good supports for the hybrid berries – loganberry, tayberry, tummelberry, and boysenberry – but did not get around to any of the others. We made a start this week, fixing training wires to a couple of lengths of the boundary fence and tying in one of the cherry trees and the mirabelle. The cherry is not exactly a text book specimen of fan training, but one must work with the available growth. In any event, there is plenty of vigorous growth, well budded up, and, hopefully, to fruit next year. It will take a couple of years of further development to fill in the space. We have a lot more wiring to do yet, but it is good to get some of it in place.

Not exactly the perfect form of fan but with the training wires in place it can now be developed
Not exactly the perfect form of fan but with the training wires in place it can now be developed

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