Advice on how to gain the cutting edge.
It really takes an act of will power to thin some fruit. When we see these big, succulent tight clusters of developing peaches, plums or apples, the thought of calmly plucking many of them off can seem almost unbearable.
Just the same, even if we remove half the fruit from a heavily-laden tree, we’ll still get roughly the same weight at harvest time because those left behind grow so much bigger.
In fact apples are much tastier and sweeter when allowed to grow and develop individually without competition. Same with pears, especially Winter Cole which tends to carry enormous clusters of pears which remain tiny unless thinned. When faced with branches drooping with the weight of these pears I ruthlessly remove four out of every five pears, yet the final yields are amazing.
Asian pears (nashi-fruit) also have a strong tendency to form tight clusters of very small, almost round fruit and if left
Thinning vegetable seedlings is among the more tedious but necessary tasks in the vegetable garden
un-thinned remain too small to be of much value.
The apples which need thinning most include Lady in the Snow (Pomme de Neige) and Gravenstein both varieties which remain tasteless and small unless all surplus is removed.
Luckily these apples have extra-short stalks so removal is a quick, easy job. I should add that when choosing which fruit to remove, make sure all these attacked by grubs or disease are the first choice. Shove them straight into a large plastic bag and either put them out with the rubbish, or seal the bag and place out in the sun so pests and diseases are destroyed.
Thinning stone fruit has a double benefit apart from improving size and flavour. Our great summer curse is brown rot disease and right now it is striking hard wherever stone fruit are approaching harvest.
As peaches, nectarines or plums begin to show signs of ripening, they start to rot.
This summer the disease had struck early, probably because of a rainy spring and unusual summer showers.
This is a serious fungal disease that thrives in moist conditions and where air circulation is restricted. Early control can be obtained by spraying with copperbased sprays such as Bordeaux or Burgundy mixtures — always in spring just before blossom burst.
This is when brown rot disease organisms first gain access to stone fruit trees, attacking and killing blossoms. The shrivelled dead flowers remain stuck to branches, carrying dormant spores of the disease into summer.
Cutting out these diseased branches early also helps give good control.
Brown rot strikes again as stone fruit are ripening — often spreading from the moist centres of large, tight fruit clusters where there is little air movement.
Moving, drying air is the great enemy of all fungal diseases. That’s another reason why we prune our fruit trees.
When we thin tightly-packed clusters to create plenty of wide airy gaps between individual fruit, the chances of parasitic brown rot spores surviving are reduced.
Summer rains also cause the skins of developing plums, prunes and cherries to split, opening up the flesh for infection from brown rot spores. It is worth going over trees to carefully remove all damaged fruit before the disease strikes.
It also pays to constantly rake up all fallen fruit, bag it and get it out of the way so it cannot reinfect vulnerable trees.
Thinning vegetable seedlings is among the more tedious but necessary tasks in the vegetable garden. Last week I sowed the seeds of butter swedes as sparsely as possible. They germinated three days later, far too close together.
That meant an urgent job of thinning so those left in the ground were at least 200mm apart. Swedes growing too close together never develop but remain small and useless.
Carrot seedlings take off like rockets within days of being ruthlessly thinned to 50mm apart. I also thin beetroot seedlings to the same spacing, which is too close. That enables me to select small beetroots, the size of ping-pong balls, for harvesting in a few weeks. They are delicious eating, raw or cooked. The rest grow on to normal, cricket-ball size.
with Peter Cundall