What are those brown marks on my apples?

We had a great question from one of our Grow Great Fruit members recently about what causes russet on apples, which describes both the yellow marks (as you can see on the side of this Cox’s Orange Pippin apple), and the rough brown marks around the stem end of the apple.

Russet is one of those curious conditions that occurs naturally – in fact several heritage apple varieties include it in their name, like Brownlees Russet, Egremont Russet and Old Somerset Russet. It’s also commonly seen on pear varieties such as Beurre Bosc.

These days, russet is not considered an attractive trait on apples (have you even seen a russeted apple in the supermarket?), and it’s just one of the reasons many of these beautiful old varieties have gone out of favour (which is one of the reasons we’ve planted a new heritage apple orchard to preserve many of these old varieties).

Russet can also be an injury caused by environmental conditions like frost, sunburn, or hail, or by spraying your apples at the wrong time – even using sulphur (which is an organic fungicide we use occasionally) at the wrong time can cause russeting on some apples (as can a lot of the chemicals used by chemical farmers).

This damage-type russet – think of it like scar tissue – usually happens in the three weeks after petal fall, when the trees are flowering, or when the environmental challenge happens. It is often not a problem in itself, but it can make the apples much more vulnerable to other diseases, like various fungal rots, cracking, or even sunburn.

Heritage varieties that were bred in the UK, such as the divine Cox’s Orange Pippin apples (above) or the much-loved Bramley (below), are really not suited to the harsh and hot conditions in Australia, and so it’s very common to see this type of damage on your apples.

Of course once you realise that, you can set about creating micro-climates that these trees will prefer, and you may find that much of the damage is preventable.

You can find out more about creating micro-climates in your garden in Permaculture in Action.

Sunburn strikes again

If you live in a hot climate (like we do) sunburn is an inevitable part of fruit growing, but it can also happen in temperate fruit growing areas during heat waves, which unfortunately are becoming more common due to climate change.

There are three types of sunburn damage you may see:

1. Sunburn necrosis

sunburn-necrosis

2. Sunburn browning

sunburn-spots

3. Photo-oxidative sunburn

sunburn-cooked

This week Ant (who leases our orchard) had his first experience of sunburn, when the Pizzaz plums were not quite ripe enough to pick last week, then the heatwave hit—a blistering day of 44C!

You can see the spots and shrivelling on the skin – that’s a version of sunburn browning. Most of the plums are still perfectly usable for jam, or cooking, or even for eating, but it definitely downgrades them.

Is it preventable? It can be incredibly difficult in cases like this, where there was probably only a very brief window of a day or two when the plums were ripe enough to pick (with the confidence that they would continue to ripen off the tree) before the heat wave hit.

In a home garden, if you were paying careful attention to both your trees and the weather forecast, it may be possible to harvest the fruit (or at least some of it) in time. In Ant’s situation, where he’s managing the competing needs of 5,000 trees it’s much harder.

If you live in an area that experiences heatwaves there’s a number of other things you can do to prevent sunburn damage, including irrigation practices, pruning practices, and careful monitoring—we list 10 different ways to minimise sunburn in “What’s that spot? Common diseases of deciduous fruit trees” (even though sunburn is not actually a disease, but an environmental impact).

The main thing to do when a heat wave is predicted is to make sure your trees are getting enough water, which may mean watering every day. The best time to water is either overnight or in the morning, to reduce evaporation.

Cherry pie

A rainy day in summer means a day in the kitchen preserving fruit, and if you’re lucky enough to grow (or have access to) cherries, then cherry pie is a wonderful place to start.

But there’s plenty of other ways of preserving cherries as well. One of our regular customers Christine got us inspired with this photo of the fruits of her labour in the kitchen.

From left to right, – Rainier (white cherry) conserve, Lambert (dark cherry) conserve, Rainiers in cognac and Lambert in cognac

Aren’t they gorgeous?  It’s so satisfying to see home-grown produce prepared so beautifully—thanks for sharing Christine, they look amazing.

Feeling inspired at a time when we had a team of WWOOFers (Willing Workers on Organic Farms) staying with us one rainy summer, we got to work on the cherries that had been set aside for home use.  We started with modest ambitions of drying some cherries, and did two batches – one in the electric dehydrator and one in the oven.

Kirsten (aka Rosie the Riveter) about to put a batch of pitted cherries in the oven to dry
We had to use the oven on this occasion, as we couldn’t use our trusty home-made solar dehydrator in the rainy weather. (Click here for instructions on how to make your own solar dehydrator.)

Next was a batch of cherries stewed with star anise, cinnamon and cloves, which we bottled (though the Americans insisted on calling it ‘canning’).

Then the baking started. Oh, my goodness – dried cherry and oatmeal cookies (so named by our American guests), two types of muffin (cherry and chocolate, and cherry, peach & coconut) and cherry and peach scones. Hmmm, so that was morning tea taken care of.

Then thoughts turned to dessert. Chef Laura got excited about making a cherry tarte tatin, which started with sugar, dotted butter and some fantastic Sam cherries in a frying pan. They simmered away until the liquid reduced to a delicious syrupy consistency.

cherry_pie

The pie dough then goes on top of the cherries…

and into the oven, and once cooked, the tarte is upturned on a plate, and eaten with creme anglaise. Oh yeah…..

For most people, that would have been enough, but we still had to have (as promised at the beginning of this blog) cherry pie. Two cherry pies, in fact. Melissa braved the elements to pick some rhubarb to make a rhubarb and cherry sauce to serve with the pies, and Kirsten and Laura got creative with some divine lattice work – note the cherry on top of one pie, and the goat on top of the other, in honour of our friends at Holy Goat cheese.

January is diet month!

Find out more about how to save money with home grown and hand made with our Fabulous Fruit Preserving online short course.