2019 was a Bad Apple

2019 saw our most productive orchard struggle. With the arrival of spring many fruit varieties begin the yearly cycle of blossoming. Shades of white, yellow, pink and more start to colour the landscape and bring that refreshing floral breeze into our minds. However, if this process is hindered, the trees risk cropping badly or not cropping at all. A combiantion of mild weather followed by frost in early spring and an infestation of winter moths meant no apples from our largest donor.

Full tree in bloom

Flowers and fruits are intimately linked. Flowers carry the genetic material, in the form of pollen, needed for the reproduction of plants. Similarly to humans and animals, fruit trees need to exchange this genetic material in order to become pollinated. Without flowers there are no fruits. In human terms it is the equivalent of the fertilisation of an egg, but in this case it is not an embryo and a baby that come out, it is a seed and a fruit. Seeds are the ultimate carriers of genetic material for trees, to such a degree that many trees have developed fascinating ways of propagating them far and wide. One such ways are fruits, with their bright appearance and sweet taste, they seem designed to attract insects, animals and humans who voraciuosly consume and consequently spread them. 

A spell of warm and mild temperatures in March encouraged the apple trees to grow, set leaf and flower, but soon after cold weather swept through the orchard, damaging the trees’ growth. The inital warmer weather encouraged more than the trees however. Winter moths lay their eggs on bark, often at the base of trees. These will typically hatch just before bud breaks. Once hatched the caterpillars climb up the tree in search for leaf and flower buds. As soon as these begin to break bud, the caterpillars will begin eating them.

An adult winter moth

Almost blending into it’s surroudning the adult winter moth will lay it’s eggs on a tree trunk so that the hatchlings may climb up and feed on its buds © Wikimedia Commons/Ben Sale

On a good year a tree might be able to sustain this as it can produce more leaves and flowers than the winter moth caterpillars consume. 2019 was not a good year. The poor apple trees were not able to produce enough strong leaves and flowers because of the cold and the winter moths finished them off.

Luckily this type of event comes and goes, with some years seeing the opposite effect and yielding massive crops. So long as the weather is more stable and the trees get a chance to grow healthily, the winter moths shouldn’t be such a problem. Here’s to hoping that 2020 will be the apple our eyes.

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