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.

How much fruit will a tree produce?

We’re often asked how much fruit you can expect to pick from a fully grown tree, particularly when people are planning their garden and trying to decide how many trees they need to supply their family’s fruit needs.

Summer is a good time of year to answer the question, because we have the chance to actually measure (as oppose to guess!) how much fruit a tree can produce. Ella is picking from a 10 year old ‘Anzac’ heritage white peach tree, grown as a vase, and re-grafted onto what was originally grown as a ‘Goldmine’ white nectarine tree. It’s quite mature and at its full size.

You can’t see the full tree from this photo, but a vase-shaped tree normally has 6-10 limbs; this one has eight. Anzacs are notorious for being small fruit, so they need really hard thinning. These trees were thinned hard, but had a touch of leaf curl early in the season which slowed the growth of the fruit early on, and because Anzacs are such early ripening fruit, the result is that the crop is quite small this year.

We pick them into trays like this,and a tray of small fruit weighs about 2.4 kg. From this tree we picked an average of two trays to the limb, which works out to about 35 kg for the tree. About 1/4 of those, or 9 kg, were second grade (the birds had got into them…). Plus, when we picked up all the damaged ones from the ground there were about another 4 kg there that were too damaged to use (but if we’d got to them a day or two earlier some would probably have been good enough for jam or drying). These go to pig food.

So, altogether this tree yielded 39 kg of fruit, which is pretty typical for a large mature peach tree. You can soon see why it doesn’t take very many healthy trees to provide a year’s supply of fruit for your family.

If you want to find out more about the correct time and technique to pick your fruit, check out Fruit to be Proud Of.

Welcome to summer

Have you started harvesting any fruit at your place? Depending on where you live, you might have apricots, cherries, peaches or even nectarines and plums ripe already. The season’s running about normal for us, so we’ve started picking apricots, white peaches and cherries already.

Switching into harvest mode means it’s time to start paying attention to a few different things, so this week we’re helping you to refocus your attention. It really is the key time of the season, because this is the bit where you convert all the hard work you’ve done the rest of the year into a yield.

The main yield (obviously) is fruit, but for commercial growers like us it’s also when we convert our work into the money that will sustain our family for the year. And even if you don’t sell your fruit, you may also convert some of it into other produce by swapping with friends and neighbours as part of a neighbourhood food swap, or goodwill by sharing it with family.

  1. Monitoring when the fruit is ripe and ready to pick: One of the guides we use on the farm is waiting until one or two pieces of fruit have fallen because of ripeness (but also, taste them!). Don’t pick your fruit too early, because it grows in size a lot in the last couple of weeks on the tree. Getting your picking time right is really an art, and one of the things that can take quite a lot of experience to learn. We recommend keeping a diary of picking dates and updating it each year, including notes about whether you got it right or not!
  2. Picking up any ripe fruit that has fallen onto the ground: this is one of the basic hygiene practices that can help to keep pests and diseases at bay, as many of them find their perfect habitat in fruit that is rotting on the ground.
  3. Picking and storing your fruit correctly: fruit should be picked when it’s mature, almost ripe (but not over-ripe), and carefully, to make sure there’s no picking injuries. It should never be left in the sun, and then it should be cooled as quickly as possible after picking.

Want more info? Find out more about how to pick fruit to be proud of here.