Fruit trees are perennial organisms, and over the course of the last few thousand years, they have successfully adapted to changes in weather conditions, whenever these conditions occurred. But today, new weather patterns, probably linked to global warming, have caused radical departures from normal behaviour, and so for people like myself, closely involved in the growing of top fruit, these conditions have put us on a new learning curve.
The real challenge is connected to the extremes of weather patterns. Personally I have been growing top fruit for well over 50 years, and what happened in 2021 has affected fruit trees in ways I’m not sure I fully understand. I know even less about the best way to deal with the changes that trees are facing. As I have already mentioned, all this is probably due to global warming. In this article I would like to pass on to you some of the notable changes in tree behaviour that I have seen this year.
A series of frosts in late spring 2021
When the trees woke up in early spring 2021, after their winter sleep, it was unusually cold for several weeks. As a result, the growing season started late. Then, surprise surprise, it suddenly warmed up, and the fruit trees burst into blossom. We thought, that all looks good, at last. But then the wind direction changed and brought a period of icy cold lasting several weeks, causing a series of night frosts that occurred during the remainder of the blossom period. By that time we were well into May. To cut a long story short, it was clear that the fruit set would be affected. Commercial growers did all they could to reduce the negative effects of the night frosts. Candles with wax were set alight in the orchards and wind machines and irrigation were used in order to protect the blossom from freezing. This certainly helped to some extent.
Now the harvesting has been completed, it has become apparent that the overall effects of those night frosts that occurred early on in the season are very different to what most of us expected! Take the pears, for example. The trees were in full bloom during the night frosts, so I didn’t expect much of a crop. Unbelievably my pear trees of five different varieties produced a very heavy crop, with the largest-sized fruit that I have ever seen or grown. The same applied to the greengages. These trees normally are reluctant croppers and fruit size is often disappointing. And there they were, full of taste and vigour. Could I understand it all? Not at all!
Bramley’s Seedling provides another example, but in a different way. Bramley is normally a regular, heavy cropper, and it is much loved, considered as the best cooking apple in the United Kingdom. It flowered beautifully for three weeks, in late April and early May. Then came the surprise: this magnificent variety set no crop at all, for the very first time ever since I started to grow fruit in 1960. Of course, it is a triploid variety and therefore it is more sensitive to night frosts during the blossom period. However it has never failed to crop so dramatically during all those past years. So why did even the flowers on the one year old wood fail to set? Can I understand it? No I can’t!
There are other analogous examples. But they all show that something is changing in the behaviour of fruit trees. I bet the trees themselves don’t understand it either! Fruit growing is a fascinating culture. The more I discover about the subject, the more I realise how little I really know. All the same I still want to be a fruit grower!