Sunday, 20 February 2011

Cordon Blues

In common with many people at this time of year, we've been looking for signs that Spring might be on its way. It's not been a particularly long Winter, and no-doubt there's more Wintry weather to come, but it does seem to have been a properly cold one this time around. After the fun and games of heavy snowfall late last year, we seem to have settled into a dull, damp, February chill. To be honest, I'm getting a bit fed-up with it now. Spring can't come soon enough for me.

Of course, below-freezing conditions can be a good thing in the garden/orchard, and it can also help give us the slow fermentation we prefer for our ciders and perrys. Recent mild Winters may well have contributed to the Aphid problems we've been suffering from this last couple of years. A prolonged cold spell can be just the job for killing off a good percentage of these damaging garden pests. A serious cold spell can also help to promote good fruiting in apples and pears, forcing the trees into a proper Winter dormancy ahead of the new
season. So it's not all bad, but now Winter's done its job, I just wish it would push-off back to Narnia for a few months and let Spring do its thing.

There are a one or two Spring-like signs in the garden. Karens carefully planted Crocuses are popping up all over the garden, some are even coming up where she planted them. That'll be the Hens and their 'Powerful-Dig-Action'. These lovely Snowdrops are sheltering under a nest of brambles in the village orchard, safe from the scratch and peck of the Rockingham Forest Cider Flock. In the orchard, buds are beginning to swell on some of the more sheltered apple trees. Bullfinches have been seen licking their beaks in anticipation...

Best news of all, the Rhubarb is up and about, which is great news for us custard lovers. Now that we've perfected our custard tart recipe, I'm really looking forward to trying a Rhubarb version with this years slender stalks, perhaps with a bit of ginger on top instead of the nutmeg.

So with the first hints of Spring in the air, a young mans thoughts turn to planting apple trees...

I've had a full year to decide what to do with the trees I successfully grafted last year, space being at a premium in our modest garden. When space is tight, Cordon trained trees are generally considered the best option for apple trees.

Cordon fruit trees are grown as a single stem, with lateral branches pruned out, and fruiting buds encouraged along the length of the tree. Fruiting is quite limited in this heavily restricted form, but the big advantage is that trees can be planted very close together, ideal for us, as we have several trees to plant in a very limited space. Cordons can be grown vertically, but it's more usual to train them at a 45 degree angle. I think this may help encourage fruit bud formation.

A Cordon trained tree can be a difficult form to maintain, particularly with more vigorous rootstock/scion combinations which will want to grow as big and bushy as possible. These trees are on MM106 rootstock, which is perhaps a little too vigorous for Cordon training, but needs-must, and it's certainly worth an experiment. At the very least we'll be able to maintain the varieties in the garden, giving us easy access to scion wood for grafting up trees at a later date.

The unsightly post and brick arrangement is a temporary guard against our Spring Chickens digging up the roots. I'll put in a more permanent solution when I can think of a more elegant solution...

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