Do you grow Pink Lady apples? Ever wondered why sometimes they’re a gorgeous dark pink colour…
… and sometimes they’re pale? These two examples are both from the same trees at our farm (in different years). So, what’s the difference?
There are a few factors that determine the final colour, and the main one is the weather, but maybe not what you think!
Hot weather can bleach the colour out of the apples, and in fact we need cool nights and mornings for the apples to turn a lovely dark pink.
However they also need a certain amount of regular sunlight hitting the apple, so if you have a dense leaf cover on your trees, the apples that grow in the shade under the leaves are also likely to be pale.
This is one of the reasons why you might choose to do a bit of summer pruning on your apple trees, to reduce the density of the canopy and allow sunlight to penetrate the whole tree. But having said that, this is mainly a strategy used on commercial orchards to get better colour in apples, because they’re under pressure to provide uniform looking “perfect” apples.
Most home-growers don’t care so much how their apples look as long as they taste great, and so are less likely to prune for cosmetic reasons alone.
The last thing that may affect the colour of your fruit is the cultivar (or specific variety), as there are a few different variations of Pink Lady that have a different colour profile.
For example, Rosy Glow is a much darker pink colour compared to the more traditional Cripps Pink (the apple most commonly known as Pink Lady), for example, but they are still sold as ‘Pink Lady’.
Do you have apple trees? They’re one of the most common fruit trees found in backyards, so we’ve gathered all our apple-specific growing tips into a single online course called Grow Awesome Apples.
This week, we’re noticing that the leaves are just starting to change colour on some of the fruit trees at our place, so we’re focusing on things you can do in the garden to help your fruit trees get ready for winter.
One of the most important things to think about is nutrition. It might seem a bit counter-intuitive to be feeding the trees just as they’re about to go to sleep for the year, but it’s really just a case of ‘topping up’.
In fact, your trees have already started the process of storing nutrients in their buds, bark, and roots (that’s why the leaves have started to change colour), and this nutrition is what they will draw on next spring when they wake up and start flowering.
Flowering is the first thing most fruit trees do in spring (except apples and pears, which produce leaves first), and this happens before their roots have really started to function very much, so the stored nutrition is absolutely crucial to good flowering, and good flowering is crucial to good fruit set.
In the natural farming system that we follow and teach, we don’t use artificial fertilisers (which can easily cause more harm than good) but instead rely on the natural fertility system of having a diversity of organic matter and nutrients in the soil, and then making sure we have lots of healthy soil microbes present to convert the nutrients into a plant-available form.
When we talk about nutrition, we’re really talking about feeding the microbes, so they can feed our trees.
So, what to give them? Compost is always great, as is well-rotted manure. If you have a worm farm, worm castings or worm juice provide an excellent, and fast, nutrient boost for the microbes.
Liquid seaweed and liquid fish are also great (available from garden centres under various brand names), or if you want to save money, make a batch of compost tea (brewed compost) or compost extract (which is just compost soaked in water to make it go further).
And if you want to drill down a bit more into the Natural Fertility System and how to set it up in your garden, spend a little time learning more about the amazing world of microbes in the online short course Soil Biology and the Soil Food Web
As a fruit grower, lying in bed listening to rain on the roof can bring up a wide range of emotions, both good and bad. In our typical dry summers most people welcome rain when it comes, so it never seems appropriate for us to express concern about the damage it can do to fruit. However, it hasn’t rained for a while, so this week we reflect on the question – “Is rain good for fruit?”
Like everything in farming, the answer is complicated, and depends on lots of different variables, so let’s break it down a bit.
1. Trees like rain better than irrigation water — up to a point! As a gardener, you’ve probably noticed how “perky” your garden looks just after rain. One of the reasons (apart from the leaves being cleaner) is because the rain carries dissolved nitrogen which is easily absorbed by the plants, giving them a nutritional boost. Too much rain, however, and the soil can become waterlogged, creating anaerobic conditions, which actually stops the plants’ roots being able to take up nitrogen! The other advantages of trees receiving their water from rainfall (rather than irrigation) are that the entire root system gets water (rather than just at the point of water delivery), and if you’ve been keeping your garden on rations due to dry conditions, they just love the opportunity to get their fill of water for a change!
2. Rain can trigger fungal disease. One of the biggest pest and disease risks in an organic farm (or garden) is fungal disease, and nearly all fungal diseases are triggered by wet conditions (at the right temperature). In general terms, the more rain, the more fungal disease. This risk is highest at the beginning of the season (i.e., at flowering time in spring), and then gradually decreases as the season progresses. During autumn, if the summer has been generally dry and there is not much fungal disease around, the risk of a new fungal outbreak is relatively low.
3. Rain can cause physical damage to fruit. This is very specific to the type (and even variety) of fruit. For example cherries are particularly vulnerable to splitting from the rain, and some varieties of apricots also split easily. Hardier fruit like apples and pears, however, rarely experience physical damage from rain.
4. “Hard” rain can damage all fruit. Storms that bring rain often also bring hail, and that can be completely devastating to all fruit. Hailstorms are very random and localised, so it”s pretty much the luck of the draw with this one, though if you live in a hail-prone area, netting can definitely be your saviour. All fruit are vulnerable to hail damage, including apples, pears, plums and quinces.
5. Rain is good for the landscape. When you’re trying to grow food in an arid landscape (as we are), the general impact of rain (as long as there’s not too much, or too quickly) is generally FABULOUS! It fills water storages, keeps the bush alive, helps to sustain our farming communities, and helps backyard fruit growers maintain their own food security. We love it….except…. when there’s too much! If rain becomes flooding and the soil becomes saturated for too long, it can lead to ALL sorts of problems! Anaerobic soil conditions, trees dying, waterborne soil disease, nutrient leaching, dams breaking their banks, and the list goes on. We’ve seen it before when the drought broke in 2010/11.
6. Rain is good for mental health. It’s a generalisation, of course, but very often rain can be a huge relief to farmers and others in the community, especially if it is relieving the pressures of trying to farm in a dry landscape, though as you can probably see from our list, it totally depends on the amount of rain, and the context!
Regardless of the timing of rain within the fruit season, it’s important to make sure your soil can act as a big “water storage tank” when it rains. As well as building really healthy soil (which is good for both water storage and drainage in your soil), techniques like swales and keyline (covered in this short course) can make a huge difference to how well your soil will store rainfall.