Apples Don’t just grow on Trees

Speaker: Peter Barwick
Date: 26th September
Year: 2018

Peter in full flow

Peter said he hoped to provide us with an insight into how apple growing on a commercial scale is managed with regard to, for example, supermarket liaison, health and safety and genetics.

Peter divided his talk into two parts:

Part 1 – Interesting Facts

  1. In 1960 1 hectare fed in 5 people, in 2000 – 7 people, and in 2020 it is predicted that it will be 10/11 people.
  2. Only 50% of what we eat is homegrown. Every day 14,000 tons of fruit/veg (excluding potatoes)
  3. In 1920 50% of disposable income was spent on food, but only 9% in 2018.
  4. Given the rising world population food will become more expensive.

Possible Solutions? 

  1. Genetic Modification – Transgenic or Cisgenic. Selecting the best gene to increase plant yields and the need for less water to thrive.
  2. 120 million tons of food plants to make into consumables.

Part 2 – All About Apples

Cox Orange Pippin apples have now been superseded by Bramley and Royal Gala, which are only grown in the UK.

Apple trees belong to the rose family, the difference between the growth of apple trees depends on the root stock, usually crab root stocks onto which varieties are grafted. Nurseries use “Mother Trees” onto which varieties are grafted. Blackmoor Nurseries would plant 50,000 trees per year. Crab apples are important pollinator trees and have plenty of flowers.

All fruit has to be picked by hand; useful crops are generated by year four, 40kg of apples per tree. Only small trees are grown today because of health and safety issues. Plant in a sunny position. Water will become a problem, use polythene ground cover to reduce water loss and use windbreaks. Prune of 30% of a standard tree each year.

Fruit buds appear by the end of March, green cluster in April. To avoid apple scab, clear up all the fallen leaves in the Autumn and spray with fungicide in the first week of March, then every two weeks until the flowers come out. Cut off mildew and burn.

Do not leave too many young apples on the tree, otherwise they will be too small on maturity. Thin down to two per bunch when the fruit is about 1” across, after the June drop.

For insect pollination, 120 bee hives are needed per year. Solitary bees are 100 times more efficient than honey bees as they are only interested in pollen.

Apply a compound fertilizer in March and every orchard is walked every 10 days to assess for pests and disease. This will determine how much and what to spray (All to be recorded as this is strictly regulated for supermarkets) At harvest time, independent auditors check the treatment records.

The apples are hand-picked at harvest time and are put into “bins” which hold 700lbs of apples, 6/7 bins per worker per day. The bins are then stacked into the cold store in a controlled atmosphere of 3.5oC and Oxygen levels of 3% so the apples “hibernate”. Carbon dioxide given off by the apples through a biological process called respiration which is taken away by machine.

The Marketing Agent plans harvesting with the supermarket. A high definition camera enables the apples to be viewed and the best-looking apples selected. Morrisons requires 25% red apples, Tesco and Sainsbury 10%. Apples are then graded and then packed into boxes. All costs for packing and transporting are picked up by the grower.

Trees are grubbed up every 20 years and in the domestic situation grease bands and pheromone traps should be used to alleviate pests. Step over, espaliers and cordons should be pruned in September.

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