THEM APPLES?Charles Ross apples are among the varieties suitable for our climate.
Some time ago in this newspaper I wrote, “When focusing specifically on apples, several anti-cancer studies show daily intake of this fruit to provide better anti-cancer benefits than lesser amounts. So there may be some truth to that old phrase, ‘An apple a day keeps the doctor away!’” I also encouraged readers to grow more apple trees, as it is so much easier than growing vegetables, citing Bob Flowerdew’s ‘no-work’ approach to growing fruit.
A little while ago GIY founder Michael Kelly wrote: “I’ve often thought it strange that the “apple a day keeps the doctor away” maxim must have originated at a time when it would have been difficult to find an apple to eat each day all year round. The apple season here runs from September to Christmas, but since apples store quite well (kept somewhere cool and dark), one could eat Irish apples until March or April.” He then goes on to say that “…these days of course one can eat an apple a day all year round with no problem whatsoever, because of the abundance of imported apples available in our supermarkets.”
He has a point, because Irish grown apples cannot be a commodity available all year round and to eat “an Irish apple a day every day” even in preserved form is probably not possible for another while, as over 90 percent of the apples consumed in Ireland are imported.
Despite a financial incentive for farmers to plant orchards, there aren’t that many commercial apple farms in Ireland; the Traas family of The Apple Farm in Cahir, Co Tipperary; Calder-Potts family of Highbank Organic Orchards in Kilkenny and David Llewellyn of Llewellyns Orchard of Lusk, Co Dublin.
On the other hand, both The Organic Centre orchard with more than 50 indigenous varieties of apples and the collection of close to 150 varieties of The Irish Seed Savers Association in Clare show that we have the varieties that suit our climate to produce a hell of a lot more.
Fruits and especially apples are a great source of nutrients, vitamins and fibre, and the sweet taste makes a great healthy alternative to sugary sweets. If we can make that our maxim, then we can overcome supermarkets’ obsession with size, uniformity and chemical preparation for year-round availability.
A vast array of fruits can be grown very easily in pots, containers, small spaces and bigger gardens or orchards. Some are ideal for small gardens, like strawberries or potted blueberries, a few bushes of currants and gooseberries will yield enough for a family. In small spaces dwarf or half-stem varieties do well. Most of us can find a space in our gardens or around the house to grow fruit.
When it comes to apples and which rootstocks to go for, my colleague Phil Wheal recommends an M26 or MM106. Both are vigorous and suitable for most soils. M26 produces a semi-dwarf or half-standard tree of up to around 14ft or 4.5m; it should be staked for the first six years or so, and it will need about two or three years to produce. MM106 produces a half-standard tree up to 20ft or 6m, and produces fruit after three or four years.
Whatever you go for, when you’re planting avoid frost pockets. Late spring frost can damage flowers and you’ll lose your whole crop. If you have a sloping garden don’t plant your fruit at the bottom.
Fruit does best in a sunny position; partly shaded is ok, but longer periods of shade have to be avoided. Blackberries and currants are more tolerant of a little shade.
Areas exposed to strong wind are not great for fruits, as flowers, fruit and branches can be damaged by high winds, so avoid them or provide shelter through hedges or wind breaks.
As mentioned, well drained soils are best. You can improve your soil with well-rotted compost or farmyard manure by digging in or filling your plant hole or mulching around your tree.
In order to produce, trees have to be pruned. If you have already some fruit trees or bushes, November and December is the time for some maintenance work.
The latest in fruit growing is using your polytunnel for the more exotic, heat-loving fruits like peaches, lemons, kiwis and grapes. You do need a polytunnel with a good height, at least around 3.5m. Plant the trees in the northern corners of your polytunnel to avoid shading of the other vegetables.
The Organic Centre offers a winter workshop on growing fruits on Saturday, November 7, to help you do the right thing at the right time. If you bring this article along to the course, we will give you €10 off the course fee. For more information and bookings, please call us at 071 9854338 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Hans Wieland is training manager at The Organic Centre, Rossinver, Co Leitrim, which offers courses, training and information on organic growing and cooking, and runs an Eco Shop and an online gardening store. For more information, visit www.theorganiccentre.ie. Gardening questions or comments? Contact Hans at email@example.com.