PHIL CALVERT: Bumper crops on the fruit trees this year

HOW many times have you sat outside in your garden since April? That is an easy one for me and many others to answer …. not once! On the back of that dreadful winter, wonderful April seemed to come as some sort of reward for enduring those long, cold, dark nights. It felt like payback time.

By The Newsroom
Monday, 27th June 2011, 3:30 pm

During April we had several weeks of delightful warm sunny weather and as May approached it felt as though the scene was being set for a classic spring and summer. Indeed, as gardeners we felt as though a few drops of rain would be welcome to soften up the ground for planting. It was then we saw something of a north-south divide (or more correctly, the North and the South East). As crops turned to dust in Norfolk, we joined our Scottish friends with above average rainfall. I remember seeing television pictures of withered fruit trees in the South-East and then walking over to the allotment and seeing our own plum and apple trees burdened down with young, immature fruit.

Even now, rain has been only an infrequent and a seemingly reluctant visitor to the South-East, while here, the wet weather systems seem to have taken up squatters rights. I made one of my rare excursions into the allotment last Monday to cut the soggy grass before the next deluge and gave the fruit trees an examination. The hoped for heavy crop looks set to become a reality. Both the traditional apple trees and the ones I grow as “minarets” (in narrow columns as I once saw in Italy) are covered in young fruitlets and there was not a hint of June drop (fallen immature fruits). It really does look like a bumper crop.

But it was a plum tree that stole the show. I have two Victoria plum trees, one against a fence, the other in a grassy area (sorry orchard) and both have plums on them, but the one in the grassy area was completely splayed out, the branches groaning, on the brink of snapping, under the sheer weight of fruit. This is not an uncommon event with these wonderful trees, but I have never seen them groaning with plump heavy fruits so early in the season…we are after all only halfway through June!

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In an attempt to avoid heartache, I have propped up the branches with lengths of timber, in an effort to stop them snapping. It is pretty basic effort so far. What are needed are proper notched props, rather like heavy duty versions of the ones used to prop up clothes lines, but for now they will have to do.

Other fruits such as blackcurrant and strawberry are not doing bad either, but many other plants have done less well. Both runner beans and courgettes outside have put on very little growth, while the sweetcorn, which started off well, seems to have stopped growing all together.

Plants like temperatures to be moderate to warm to grow and have free access to water. Down in the South-East the land has, at times, become bone-dry, so much so that some crops are under threat. Round here they have had plenty of water but we have had to endure unseasonally cold weather. Next week the days start to get shorter and yet I have hardly been outside in recent weeks without a fleece on. It is all very disappointing.

Last Sunday was a particularly grim day. In Snowdonia snow was falling. Here there was a chilly wind and when it rained it came down like cats and dogs.When I got home cold wet and tired, the central heating was on and I opted to light a fire. Monday was better, Tuesday better still, but as the weekend draws closer there is the prospect of yet more wind and rain. I’m so happy I’m suppressing a strong urge to burst spontaneously into song.

All this dashing in and out of doors makes it difficult to start and complete the various tasks and projects I have set myself. I have cleaned out the pond but the filter requires some work. I’ve been busy lopping back excess growth in the shrubbery but there remains much to do. Summer tubs for the patio are still very much work in progress. The furniture and barbecue still need a good cleaning.

Consequently, I have assembled an impressive clutter of pond vacs, stiff brushes, spades, tubs, hoses and loppers at the back door. Add to that, the fact that the back door doesn’t quite fold back to 90 degrees because of some racking for boots, tubs of kindling and other stuff. I pulled this racking out to get a huge item through but I thought the area beneath and behind the racking needed a spring clean and a lick of paint, and so rashly I left it out….but it still needs doing so I have disrupted the smooth running of that area of the house and so the squalor grows daily.

It will all be sorted and come together very soon I am sure but I can imagine how it might look on one of those TV expose documentaries. Perhaps doorways blocked by clutter, tools left in a heap, sack of spuds propped against the freezer, boot rack in the middle of the thoroughfare!

Even the cat has to use a sat-nav. to negotiate a route through to the cat-flap. Quite simply it is a disgrace. But at least there is one upside to this mayhem. Instead of constantly moaning about the rotten, weather, I can blame the level of unfinished business in the back garden on one simple undeniable truth...I can’t get out of the back door!