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.

The most delicious apricot jam

We get a lot of questions in apricot season about which apricots are best for jam. We grow about ten different varieties of apricot (at last count), so it’s a fair question!

Old Australian favourites include Trevatt and Moorpark apricots (see a Moorpark below), which both have fantastic flavour and consistency for jam, and make a beautiful bright coloured jam that’s not too dark.

These two also share the characteristic of ripening from the inside, which means that if include some fruit that still looks a little green on the outside it will probably already be sweet and soft enough on the inside to make good jam, but will also have a little bit more pectin in it than overripe fruit, which means the jam will set more easily.

It doesn’t really matter which variety of apricot you use for jam, but here a few tips to help you achieve success and good flavour every time. The basic jam recipe is equal quantities of fruit and sugar, and you should add as little water as possible – if you add water, you have to cook the jam for longer to get it to set, and you risk it developing a dark colour which can look quite unattractive.

Cook the fruit first to the consistency you want, then add the sugar. If you add the sugar at the beginning, the fruit tends to stay in whole pieces rather than break down (if you like chunkier jam, then use this method).

apricot jam, just coming to the boil

Stick to small batches, especially while you’re learning. 1 kg of fruit will make about 6-8 medium jars of jam, and is a great quantity to start with.  If the batch is bigger than 2kg, it can be hard to get the jam to set, and you may end up with a dark coloured jam from having to boil it for too long.

Danny making apricot jam

As long as you’ve properly sterilised your jars and lids before pouring in the jam, it should keep well in the pantry for a couple of years at least (except you’ll probably eat it waaaaay before then).

If you’re not familiar with making jam, don’t be daunted, just give it a try. As long as you manage not to burn it (pay attention, and stir often), nothing really bad can happen – the worst you’re risking is that you end up with rather runny fruit sauce (delicious on ice-cream) rather than jam.

There are lots of variations on this basic recipe of course, so feel free to improvise and experiment.  To save you on time and mistakes, we’ve included a few tried and true recipes (including a sugar-free one), in Fabulous Fruit Preserving.

Happy preserving!

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.