RG 2004 June
| This page is part of The Cidermaking Year by Rose Grant
Is anybody else experiencing a plague of aphids on their apple trees? After our wonderful warm may weather the blossom and susequent fruit set has been superb, so it is really sad to see so many leaves curling with a heavy infestation of little brown aphids. I suppose the good weather has favoured them too. I was really tempted to spray them even though It would have been the first time in 14 years. However when I took a closer look I noticed that the branches were covered with ants going to and fro into the curled up leaves. There were also a good number of ladybirds enjoying the same pastime. I will just have to hope that nature will rule in my favour and that the trees will not suffer a virus from these pests.
Ladybirds may be winning
I was disappointed to learn that the ants do not kill the aphids. However I have read that ladybirds have a prodigious appetite for the little beasts. My daily inspection of the trees shows that the problem is decreasing, so something is either having them or they are flying away. I like to think that the ladybirds are winning in spite of the marauding ants. I can't bear to spray ladybirds. Every so often I collect a matchbox full and let them loose in my conservatory where they do a remarkable job against whitefly. This is an aphid that is now resistant to most pesticides. The ladybird is indeed a most valuable insect. I notice that it is now possible to buy them for 50p each from garden biological control suppliers! I can understand your viewpoint Stephen as you grow eating apples and these days if they do not look good, they will not sell. We have the supermarkets to thank for that. Luckily with cider apples, appearance is unimportant. The quality of the juice is paramount and I think that means no pesticides. An interesting thing I have also noticed is that the aphids are quite fussy with their cider sap. They seem to adore Dabinett and Tom Putt but cant be bothered with Redstreak and Michelin. Kingston Blacks are also almost unscathed.
Scotts Nurseries of Merriot may not have a website but their prices take some beating. I paid £9.50 each for some beautifully grown, 1 yr cider whips this year. I had investigated Web nurseries beforehand and found prices around £ 14 for the same. Some of these also only had a few cider varieties available wheras Scotts has a large selection. Well worth the trouble of old fashioned mail order, in my opinion.
I could also add to the Kingston Black discussion that I find these apples are prone to being scrumped. I have a public footpath through my orchard and the problem is that KB apples look so beautiful when they are ripe. Last year I had a tree stripped bare overnight. The thieves must have been disappointed when they got home and tried to eat them!
My Merryweather damson has set it's best crop ever but all the leaves have curled. I asumed it was the dreaded aphids that have been giving such a big problem with the apples this year. I will have to have a closer look at it. The tree still seems to be alive in spite of it's sad appearance and the fruit seems OK so far. I hope it will recover.
The apple trees are continuing to make new aphidless growth but now it is the time for the codling moth grubs to start drilling into the new apples. As the crop is abundant I've had to do a fair amount of thinning so have been able to dispose of the apples that have been spoilt.
Never a dull moment in an orchard!
Had a closer look at the damson today. Can't see any aphids, so I think it is the midges that Stephen mentioned. I would decribe the leaves as more curdled than curled. The bugs seem to have got inside the leaves causing them to bloat in the area between the veins. A nasty sight, but the tree is fighting back and producing new unaffected leaves. Could still be OK for my favourite damson jam this year. I am glad to say that the apple trees have not been attacked by these micro beasties.
Best ever cider
Someone recently recommended Kingston Black and Yarlington Mill as being the best blend ever. It would be interesting to make comparisons this year. Can anybody else offer advice concerning wondrous blends they've dicovered? I have always used my KB as a single variety as I just love it as it is. Now this year I am looking forward to trying the KB YM, or should it be 2KB YM, or whatever?
Do not despair with the KB canker, Ray. My first KB had a really bad canker just above the rootstock that half girdled the KB scion. I thought the tree was lost, but left it alone to see what would happen. Gradually the canker became overgrown with new KB wood. Now 15 years later apart from the rather bulbous graft region, there is no evidence of this early setback. The tree crops reliably every year and there have been no further attacks of canker. It almost seems to have developed immunity, in spite of our moist climate. Normally if a variety is prone to canker it is a waste of time here in Dorset. I have long given up trying to grow Cox's!
I hate having to dig up a tree that is still alive. If canker strikes I do the same as Stephen, cut it all away and apply a wound sealant. I saved a James Grieves by cutting the whole top off so that only the good part of the trunk was left. Within a few years a new head has developed that has now started to bear a good crop. I have a Kingston Black that was once nearly ringed by canker only 2 inches above the graft. Surgery plus Arbrex cured this too and this tree is now one of my best. The old wound is now completely covered with healthy bark. The crop is very good this year. The strange thing is that both of these trees have not been troubled with canker since. It almost seems as though they have acquired some immunity to the problem. It does seem to be a shame to dig up a healthy root system that has probably taken a few years to get established. It is well worth giving the tree another chance. It has amazed me to see the renewed vigour of trees after surgery. It is as though they are saying "Thank you doctor, I will be fine now."
I do talk to them you know,