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January, 2nd Week
GROWING YOUR OWN FOOD WITH DIRTY NAILS JANUARY, 2ND WEEK PLANTING BUSH APPLES This is a good time of year to plant apple trees, as long as the weather is not too severe and the ground isn’t waterlogged or frozen. Dirty Nails gets enormous pleasure from tending his collection of fruit trees. Some of his apples are grown as ‘bush’ trees, which are ideal where space is limited. With apples, the final size of the tree is dictated by what ‘rootstock’ the variety is ‘grafted’ onto. Bush apples can be grown on a number of different rootstock, but his are on what is called ‘M26’, which is relatively dwarfing. The full-grown tree should attain no more than roughly 10 feet (3 metres) in height, and the fruit will be within easy reach for harvesting. He has planted his bush apples with 12 feet (3.6 metres) spacings. Dirty Nails grows varieties of apple that all come into blossom together. This is an important factor, as most apple trees will set a better crop if pollinated by another variety flowering at more or less the same time. ‘Merton Knave’, ‘Worcester Permain’, ’Sunset’, ’Blenheim Orange’, ’Pixie’ and ’Wagener’ are all dessert (or ‘eating’) apples. They should provide ripe fruit to munch on from late-August (’Merton Knave’, picked and eaten straight from the tree) through to March (’Wagener’, picked in October and stored carefully).
Dirty Nails buys his fruit trees as one-year old ‘maiden whips’, which means that they are a single stem (’scion’) grafted onto the rootstock. He is very fussy about where he sources his trees from. He only buys from a well-known West Country nursery that produces an excellent, informative catalogue, and where staff can answer all queries with authority over the phone. Delivery to the door is crucial too, because often there is no time for big trips out.
The maidens should arrive tied in bags, with straw or similar wrapped around the roots. They can be kept under cover like this for a while if planting conditions are unfavourable at that time. The sunny site will have been thoroughly cleared and weeded beforehand. Dirty Nails plants the apple trees with as little disturbance to the soil as possible. He levers a slot open with a spade and spreads the roots down into this gently with his fingers. If the soil is fairly good there is no need for fertilisers. Fresh manure is definitely a no-no because it will burn the root tips. Great care must be taken at this stage to ensure that the junction of scion and rootstock is kept well clear of the ground, and the soil mark on the stem coincides with the soil level after the slot has been firmly but carefully closed snugly around the roots with lightly stamping feet. Air pockets must also be avoided or else the roots, and therefore the tree, are liable to suffer. No staking is needed for bush apples planted like this. Any natural movement of stem in the wind will only encourage strong root growth. All that remains, for now, is to apply a goodly bucket of water, one per tree, and to keep well moist throughout the first summer.
FRUIT SNIPPETS: APPLE ROOTSTOCK EXPLAINED Rootstocks are prefixed with ‘M’ or ‘MM’. The former were developed at the East Malling Research Station in Kent, while the latter came to fruition at Merton Malling. Between them, they have revolutionised apple cultivation for the home producer. Trees can be nurtured on rootstock which is adapted to suit local conditions and available space, from good soil to poor, large acreages to back-yards and pots. M27 is ‘extremely dwarfing’. Fully cropping after 5 years, an apple tree on this rootstock will never grow taller than an average man. Trees should be staked for support, and surrounding soil should be well fed.
M9 is ‘very dwarfing’, with maximum cropping potential realised a year or two later than those on M27. 10 feet (3 metres) is the usual full-grown height. They will need full-time supports and seasonal feeding. M9 is a good choice for apple trees in a small garden.
M26 is ’dwarfing’, and what Dirty Nails cultivates his Bush apples on.
MM106 is deemed ‘semi-dwarfing’ or ’semi vigorous’, and used to grow Half-Standard trees. They reach maximum cropping potential after 8 years, but will be producing fruits in half that time. Fully grown MM106 apple trees may be up to 20 feet (6 metres) in height, and are thus ideal for medium-sized gardens.
MM111 (M25) is the rootstock of choice if a vigorous Standard tree is desired. It is the perfect rootstock for large gardens or orchards. Within 10 years a heavy crop will bear annually, but take care whilst picking - a ladder will be essential for reaching the upper-most boughs and branches. How to Grow Your Own Food (ISBN 9781905862115)by Dirty Nails is available from www.dirtynails.co.uk and good bookshops, priced £10.99.
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