Fruit Tree Orchards FAQ
General issues about cider fruit trees and orchards, as part of the Cider makers FAQ
Traditional and bush orchards
Planting a new Orchard
I'll give one bit of advice from experience to anyone planting cider trees this winter - give them enough room, don't crowd them together. Let them grow OUT more than UP. Stephen Hayes
Perry pear trees
Apple Tree Pruning advice
- Stephen Hayes has uploaded a number of very useful videos on apple tree pruning on his You Tube channel here: Fruitwise Guide to Apple Tree Pruning
Structure of an apple tree
In the first video, Stephen introduces himself and his orchard, shows us the structure of an apple tree, explaining the trunk, main branches, smaller branches and twigs and the system of fruit buds on last year’s wood and older growth.
The purpose of pruning is to remove wood in order to maintain the tree system in balance.
The open centred dwarf bush has stood the test of time for a century.
How to use the secateurs
The second video looks at using the secateurs to thin out the spur system, and lateral branches.
- There is also a very good page on Training and Pruning of apple trees on the Canadian Ecological Agricultural Projects website. Quite technical, but possibly one of the best explanation available on the web.
Apple Tree Grafting
Again, Stephen Hayes has recorded some videos which explain and demonstrate how to perform the basic apple tree grafting procedures.
Five months later....
I have an old generic dessert apple tree (standard) that's about 30 years old. What's the likelihood that I can lop off some of the branches and V-graft some of the Kingston scions to it in various places? If it's meritorious to try? I'd put twenty or thirty grafts on it.
1) We sucessfully grated KB, and others to big old sturmer trees about ten years ago and they are going well From memory the limbs were well cut back and a bark rim graft employed. We even had one apple in the first season.
2) I've also had several nicely progressing Brown Snout trees suddenly fall over in the winter wind after pine voles chewed through the roots. If you want to regraft onto a mature tree one possibility would be to do some moderate pruning to allow sunlight penetration and encourage new growth on the main scaffold branches reasonably close to the trunk. The newer branches have a much higher rate of success in grafting. As the grafted branches grow you can gradually prune out the surrounding branches so the Kingston Black will become the dominant (or only) variety. I've done that with a few mature trees and it seems to work well, providing fairly rapid growth of the new variety without stressing the tree more than is necessary. The gradual approach also gives the tree a better structure, avoiding a lot of vertical water sprouts (if you use heavier pruning you may get more rapid growth but you may also spend more time using spreaders and weights, tying branches into the desired positions). If you have limited space this is also a good way to graft several varieties onto one large tree. For example one of my few old dessert apple trees is now a blend of Dabinett, Yates, Nehou, and a variety previously thought to be Foxwhelp but now more commonly called Fauxwhelp. Another has Kingston Black, Hewes Crab, Golden Russet, Goolsbey, Harrison and Reine des Pommes. Yet another has Yarlington Mill, Graniwinkle, Yates, Skyrmes Kernel, Chisel Jersey, Stoke Red and Porters Perfection. Experience with this approach has shown that if you mix varieties it's good to keep track of what the fast and slow growers are and prune accordingly. The Stoke Red wouldn't grow much at all until that section of the tree was pruned enough to provide good penetration of sunlight.
For those who may be considering a longer-term approach, when visiting Charles Martell a couple of years ago I noted that he used disease resistant understock that had already spread out quite a bit. He made several grafts of the same cider (or perry) variety onto those scaffold branches. The idea behind this clever scheme is that if fireblight strikes one branch of the tree the chance of it being halted (or at least slowed) when it reaches the disease resistant variety improves the chances of timely pruning saving the rest of the tree. In the case of perry pears, this also preserves the substantial investment of time that went into growing the tree by limiting the loss to one section of it.
3) If you were willing to give it a try, you could graft right NOW even (July) , and you would have some chance of success. If it worked, you would at least 'secure' the survival of your Kingston Black now, while the mother tree is hanging onto a thread of life! You would need to use bare wood for the scions, no leaves, but wood which would have dormant buds which would then sprout once the union takes. Some nice bare 2 year wood (6 inches or so of the base of last year's growth) would be good. You could try either splicing to matching thickness shoots on the stock, or wedging into a split 1 inch branch on the stock, or both. You would know within a fortnight maybe whether they have taken or not. If you could confirm soon that they had taken, and if you could see faint signs of new life in the dormant buds, you could do some pruning on the stock tree in the region of the new grafts, to encourage those scions to break bud and actually make some growth during the rest of this season. Worth a try??? If you do, let us know how you get on!
4) There are some very useful instructions on grafting on the Washington State University website.
See also Grafting and Budding Fruit Trees
Types of apples
What makes a 'good blend' of apples for cider?
Much depends upon the 'regional style' of cider you like or want to reproduce. For example, if you want a West Country style robust, full-flavoured cider, you will need quite a high proportion of true cider apples that are high in tannins (ie. Bittersweets like Tremletts Bitter or Dabinett, or Bitter Sharps like Stoke Reds). If you want an Eastern Counties or Kentish style cider, typically sharper (higher acid content), pale, clear and more wine-like, then a mix high in dessert apples (eaters) and culinary apples (cookers) will suffice.
One French cider maker's website recommends a blend of apples containing by quantity:
50% Bitter apples; 40% Sweet apples and 10% Sharps.
Acidity is very important to ensure a healthy fermentation and to prevent infection, so care should be taken to get the acid level correct. As a rule of thumb, a bit too much is better than too little... Narrow Range pH indicator paper (in the range 3 - 4) is very useful.
Vinoferm pH strips are available from many homebrew stores in the range 2.8 - 4.6, which is ideal.
It is important to know the pH of the juice since this will determine how much SO2 you will need to add. An acid titration kit is useful for determining the total acid present in the juice, this will give a good indication of how sharp your cider will be once all the sugar has been fermented out. NOTE: Most acid titration kits available for homebrewing use Sulphuric acid as the reference, it is therefore neccesary to multiply this figure by 1.4 to give an accurate figure for Malic acid. See Andrew Lea's excellent website for more detail.
Many photographs and some information about cider apple varieties are accumulating on the Cider Apples page.
Can I make cider from crab apples?
It depends perhaps on what you mean by 'crab'. Most apples described as such in the UK are just seedlings of domestic apples (M pumila) and are not true crabs (M sylvestris or related species) at all. But some self-sown 'crabs' would make fair eating apples.
However, this matters less than the flavour qualities of the fruits themselves. There is no substitute for testing (or, at least, tasting). Check SG and acidity. If the SG is below say 1.045, don't bother. If the acid is above say 0.7%. don't bother. You will just end up with a very acid cider which will need chemical treatment or MLF to bring it down to drinkable levels. Some 'crabs' are very tannic, and this could be useful, but in my experience most such seedling apples with useful tannin also have unacceptably high levels of acid. If you are lucky you will find one that doesn't.
There is no useful generic advice can be given on the subject. In short, taste before you try!
What are Bittersweet, Bittersharp, Sharp, and Sweet apples?
The following classification was introduced by Professor Bertie Barker, the first Director of the Long Ashton Research Station near Bristol, in the years before the First World War.
Bittersweet: Acid < 0.45%. Tannin > 0.2% eg Dabinett, Tremletts Bitter
Bittersharp: Acid > 0.45%. Tannin > 0.2% eg Kingston Black, Stoke Red
Sharp: Acid > 0.45%. Tannin < 0.2% eg Bramleys Seedling
Sweet: Acid < 0.45%. Tannin < 0.2% eg Sweet Coppin, Sweet Alford
The ideal (West Country) cidermaking apple would probably be a bittersharp. This provides sufficient acid for a clean fermentation, and sufficient tannin to give 'body' to the resulting cider. However, there is very little bittersharp fruit available and it is difficult to grow, so in practice a blend of bittersweet and sharp apples is mostly used for cidermaking. The biggest expansion of UK cider apple planting in the last 40 years has been in bittersweet cultivars since these are unavailable on the world market, whereas sharp apples eg Bramley or acid concentrate are relatively easy to come by. Dessert apples typically fall into the sweet or sharp classes and cannot make a 'West Country' style of cider on their own. Since Barker's classification was devised, other ingredients have become available to the cidermaker e.g. glucose syrup as a source of fermentable sugar and synthetic malic acid as a source of acid, with imported Chinese apple concentrate as a source of both. This has allowed the development of an 'industrial' style of cidermaking unimagineable in Barker's day.
Identification of unknown varieties
- Q: If I post some pictures of samples of fruit, can somebody help me to identify them?
A: Identifying unknown varieties of apples and pears is notoriously difficult, particularly when working from a picture. There are organised 'Apple Day' events in many parts of the country which offer apple identification by an expert. Take your fruit along in October.
It's certainly cheaper than sending them to Brogdale in Kent, though they may give better results.
Bear in mind that if your trees were grown from pip, they will not be known varieties anyway.
Pests and Diseases
Try checking out Pests_and _Diseases first. You will also need to think about whether you are going to control any problems totally organically or go down the chemical route.