Longer days, warmer weather, gentle sunshine – what’s not to like about spring?! The occasional blasts from the Antarctic to remind us that we live near Melbourne no doubt. And the wind. Ahhhhh the wind! During my childhood the September/October gales thinned the bumper blood plum crop on the plum tree outside the kitchen window. Every year was the same and every year we would be left with a carpet of small rock hard green balls that it was my job to pick up. It was probably just as well because if they had all survived to adulthood we would have been even more inundated with plums than we already were. My mother made plum jam by the bucket load and then when we were sick and tired of plum jam she would add a tin of raspberry jam to the pot and call it plum and raspberry jam. Stewed plums were also on the menu and maybe this is the reason that I’m not that fond of plums in any way, shape or form to this day.
Which brings me to the topic of thinning fruit. As I watched the apple blossoms unfurl yesterday I thought ‘this is going to be a bumper crop’. The trouble is the tree won’t be able to carry such a heavy crop to maturity. If all the apples hang on until harvest the weight of the fruit will break branches – I know because this happened once and it ruined the shape of the tree. A huge crop will also inhibit the development of flowers for the following year resulting in the classic ‘biennial’ bearing syndrome (ahhh so that’s why that happens!). In commercial orchards thinning is undertaken by spraying the trees with chemicals that cause some of the fruits to drop. In the home orchard we need to thin by hand.
Thinning is best carried out before the fruit is half its mature size. As a rule of thumb the smaller the fruit the closer together they can be. For example thin apricots and plums to about 10-15cm apart, whereas apples and pears would be thinned to 20cm apart. Apples and pears also produce their fruit in clusters so each cluster should be thinned to one or two fruits depending on how big you want your final fruit to be. If you want your Granny Smith to produce huge apples for baking whole in the oven (stuffed with raisins, sultanas and drizzled with golden syrup – yum!) then leave only one fruit per cluster. If you want to produce smaller fruits suitable for the kids’ lunchbox then thin to 2 fruits per cluster. Always remove damaged/blemished fruit first followed by the very small fruit.
Thin fruit with a pair of sharp scissors or better a pair of small sharp secateurs. Aim to leave the strongest and best shaped. If you google ‘fruit thinning’ you will find multiple references including some You Tube clips. After thinning cover your fruit trees with netting because you can bet your bottom dollar that the birds will discover your carefully thinned crop is ripe long before you do!
Elsewhere in the garden all the bags of manure have finally been spread, anything that needed cutting back has been cut back and plants are shooting madly everywhere. I finally got around to planting the potatoes yesterday (Pink Eye and Ruby Lou) as well as some rocket and carrots. Now is not a good time to plant rocket as it will probably rocket to seed as its name suggests; but if I keep it fed and moist I might be lucky enough to pick some leaves before it goes to seed. The current crop of rocket is in full bloom and setting lots of seed for the next crop. The snow peas are reaching for the sky, as are the broad beans. The rhubarb is begging for a feed as its new leaves emerge and I spread some pelletised chook poo on all the citrus trees last weekend. Its spring, the sap is rising and plants need to be fed!