Monday, 11 July 2011

The Trouble With Tremlett's

It's a cry you'll hear all too often from orchardists, particularly at this, the growing time of year. You'll hear it emanating from orchards large and small, from the vast plantations of rural Herefordshire, to the allotments and gardens of the keen amateur. Needless to say, you'll hear it in the Welland Valley too...

'I've been neglecting the Orchard' they cry, these shame-faced orchardists. Giving in to weed, pest, and disease. Letting nature of all things, have its wanton way. Neglecting their fruity duties no less. There really is no excuse... and yet!... It's Summer. The cider and perry is ready, there's Festivals and Fetes and all manner of Fun and Frolicking to enjoy. Who the hell has the time for orchard work at this time of year I ask you?

Well, I suppose I have actually. I've been putting it off for far too long, the neglect is too great. The orchard is in a bit of a state to be honest, overrun with weeds and riddled with Aphids, so this evening I set-to with my trusty 4lb Lump Hammer, and a pair of Karens Old Tights, in an attempt to get things in the orchard back on track. So, in the first of an occasional series, I bring you 'Orchard Restoration - Pt.1', which looks likely to build week by week into a series of highly embarrassing insights into my orchard laziness... or your money back!

Tremlett's Bitter vs M26
Tremlett's Bitter (3 yo) - Thin rootstock,
 heavy top-growth, now staked higher.

The four Tremeltt's Bitter trees I planted in 2008 have been nothing but trouble. Tremlett's is a reasonably well regarded cider apple variety. Full bittersweet, lovely deep red conical fruit, a heavy cropper, great in a blend, particularly one lacking in tannin. I've used Tremlett's before, they crop quite early, and press well. It's not all good though. Tremlett's are notoriously biennial, that is to say they crop heavily on alternate years with practically nothing in the 'off' years. The tannin is very full, and certainly doesn't make a good single variety in my opinion. The variety is also well-known for it's high vigour, making it difficult to control in restricted growing conditions. In the small garden orchard, I'd have to say that Tremlett's Bitter is probably not the best choice, which begs the question, why did I plant them in the first place?

In cidermaking, variety is the spice of life. Really good quality single variety ciders are rare indeed, and it's really not a good idea to put all your eggs in one basket with regard to the varieties you grow. Even the most renowned cider apple varieties can have 'off' years. Plant an orchard of Yarlington Mill for example, and you run the risk of having no crop at all every 3 or 4 years. In the case of Kingston Black, I know from experience that you'll be lucky to get a crop worth pressing most years.
Harry Masters' (5 yo) - Nice even growth,
this tree doesn't really need staking now.

I wanted a bit of variety, but being sold on the semi-dwarfing rootstock M26, which is ideal for a modest garden orchard, the choice was somewhat limited. For all it's faults, Tremlett's is still worth growing, but it's the choice of rootstock that's really dampened my enthusiasm for this variety. Tremlett's is a very vigorous variety, prone to putting on tremendous levels of growth right from day one. Not necessarily a problem, but what I've learned from my own experience is that this kind of vigorous growth doesn't sit well on a rootstock designed to produce a smaller tree. This year the problem has really hit home, a combination of excessive growth and a good crop of apples on a rootstock which is struggling to keep up, has left the trees extremely top-heavy. It's not a pretty sight, one tree had virtually fallen over with the weight. The rootstock is thinner than the main trunk, and simply can't support the vigorous top-growth.

The general consensus on the staking and tieing of trees is to tie the tree quite low down, allowing the trunk to bend in the wind, encouraging the production of a strong stem. This is how I've staked and tied all my trees, with generally good results. Not so the Tremlett's, which have just flopped over. There was nothing for it, I had to purchase some new, longer stakes, and I've now tied the trees higher up, with a few additional ties (Karens tights!), to help straighten the leader.

So, the moral of this story may well be, if you want to grow a compact apple tree, choose a dwarfing rootstock by all means, but be careful which variety you have grafted onto the top. Too vigorous a variety, and you could end  up with a very large 'step-over' tree, rather than the attractive bush form you'd like.

1 comment:

Brew Wales said...

The geology of the area has a big effect on the trees. The iron rich Old Red Sandstone of Herefordshire/Monmouthshire is perfect apple tree growing soil, rich and claggy and not suitable for arable crops. Have seen orchards on nearby glacial, Silurian, Carboniferous and Jurassic soils but none as good as ORS soils.h Old Red Sandstone of Herefordshire/Monmouthshire is perfect apple tree growing soil, rich and claggy and not suitable for arable crops. Have seen orchards on nearby glacial, Silurian, Carboniferous and Jurassic soils but none as good as ORS soils.