The Fruit Forecast for Apple Day 2016

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by Bryn Thomas

As the summer progresses, we at Brighton Permaculture Trust always watch anxiously to see how the fruit crop is developing.

Will there be plenty of fruit for Apple Day Brighton? Will there be enough for our scrumping project to make juice, cider and preserves?

I am constantly struck by how much variation there is from year to year and also around our corner of the world. All this reinforces the importance to me of applying the permaculture principle "use and value diversity" when designing orchards and forest gardens.

We all know that our weather can be very changeable, and this unpredictability looks set to increase with climate change.

Having the right weather when fruit trees are in blossom is critical to good cropping. Frost damages blossom, as can wind. Only pollinated flowers of most fruit trees will set fruit. Bees mostly do the hard work but tend to stay home in cold, wet or windy weather. So, if we have a diversity of fruit trees which flower over a longer period, we are likely to get a good crop of something.

2012 is a case in point. Wet and windy weather in April and May resulted in the poorest apple, pear, and plum harvest in living memory in southeast England. But cherry plums, which flower in March (which was sunny that year), gave a very good harvest that year, and we ate plum crumble at Apple Day 2012. Just a few hundred miles away across the North Sea, there were bumper harvests from The Netherlands to Sweden and Germany.

Talking of bees, bumblebees and solitary bees will do their thing in colder weather rather than honey bees, so are usually more important pollinators. Unfortunately, all bees are in decline. Our sites at Stanmer are being used for various studies being conducted by the University of Sussex to try to understand why. Our organic orchards are valuable study sites, as they are located away from areas where pesticides are used.

Anyway I digress...

Will there be enough fruit this year for our annual Apple Day Brighton celebration?

I'm pleased to say that the apple harvest in our Home Farm Orchard at Stanmer looks like it will be good again this year. It is a little late, so perhaps it's just as well we are holding Apple Day a week later than usual, on Sunday 2 October 2016.

The cool spring seems as if it was just warm enough for the apples, though some pears and plums will have low yields and cherry plum crops look like they will be very poor.

I spent two weeks in July at Keveral Farm in Cornwall teaching a permaculture design course, and the apple harvest there will be very disappointing, presumably because the spring was a couple of degrees cooler. The blackcurrant crop was great, though.

So come along to Apple Day Brighton on 2 October, and let's all keep our fingers crossed that the jays don't peck holes in the best apples!