‘An Apple a Day keeps the Doctor away’ is a common English saying of Welsh origin and much encouraged by our mothers! Apples are a good source of fibre that can help to reduce cholesterol levels and a large apple has only 115 calories and 30 grams of carbohydrates. Although if you remove the skin, you cut the fibre content by half!
Since they were first introduced into Britain by the Romans, apples have been bred to give us an incredibly rich heritage of shades, textures and flavours. The National Fruit Collection at Brogdale, Kent, holds more than 2000 varieties of apple trees, which is regarded as a living library. Despite that huge number there, very few are available to buy in fruit shops. Some apples seem to have been around for ever. Granny Smith for instance, started life as chance seedling in an orchard in Australia in 1868 and was then propagated on by the owner, Maria Ann Smith, who gave her name to this popular apple. It grows well in Cyprus too but there are only two indigenous apples here – Kathista and Lortika.
South Tyrol is the largest single apple growing region in Europe as it protected in the North by the Alps and open to the South, ideal growing conditions. Farmers in South Tyrol have been growing apples for over a hundred years and second apple in Italy and every tenth apple in Europe is grown there. With a market share of 40 per cent, South Tyrol is Europe’s largest supplier of organic apples.
You may have noticed a new rosy-red apple, which made a brief appearance here recently, called ‘Ambrosia’, which was originally discovered by Wilfrid and Sally Mennell, as a seedling growing in their orchard of Jonagold trees in the Similkameen Valley in British Columbia, western Canada. The parentage seems to be a cross between ‘Jonagold’, and ‘Golden Delicious’, which had been growing in the same area previously. Production and quality are closely-controlled by the brand owners – PICO (Okanagan Plant Improvement Company). New plantings are also being established in Washington State in the USA, and in the Piedmont region of Italy, hopefully they will appear here more regularly.
A newer apple ‘Cosmic Crisp’ that took two decades to develop and allegedly lasts for up to a year in the fridge, went on sale in the US in early December and is a cross-breed of the ‘Honeycrisp’ and ‘Enterprise’. It was first cultivated by Washington State University in 1997. The launch of this firm, crisp, and juicy apple cost $10m. What a price for an apple! Farmers in the state of Washington (the biggest provider of apples in the US) are exclusively allowed to grow the fruit for the next decade and 12 million trees have been planted there.
Perhaps more than any other modern apple, Pink Lady® epitomises the trend towards product marketing and branding in the sale of apples. Pink Lady® was one of the first apples to be marketed under a specific brand name rather than by its variety name. The variety is grown under licence, and then marketed through licensed resellers to the supermarkets. This tight control is intended to keep quality high. Pink Lady® was developed in the 1970s by John Cripps in Western Australia, and is a cross between Golden Delicious and Lady Williams, (although the latter is not a well known apple here in Europe). Pink Lady® requires a very long growing period and a hot climate, and hence is only grown in the warmer apple-growing regions of South Africa, the US, southern Europe – and of course Australia. Strong sunlight in autumn is vital for the pink colouration to develop and growers sometimes remove the top-most leaves of the trees to allow light to penetrate.
Pink Lady® apples from the northern hemisphere tend to arrive in shops from late November – but the very long storage life means they are available almost all year round from northern or southern hemisphere orchards. Some are even grown as far away as Chile and available here – what a carbon footprint those apples have!
WHAT TO DO IN THE GARDEN IN FEBRUARY
Feed fruit and nut trees again this month with 20.10.10 fertiliser, three mugfuls for mature trees but only one mug full for young trees and remembering that the feeding roots are halfway between the trunk and the tree canopy so spread it evenly around that area.
Finish pruning pecan trees by removing any dead, diseased or crossing branches. Some leaves appear directly on spurs on the branches, so watch out for those. It is not a good idea to plant anything underneath a pecan tree, as it will prohibit growth. This month is a good time to plant new trees, but be warned that they can grow to between 20 and 30 metres in height, so perhaps they are not a good choice for a small garden. They need a deep damp hole for their long roots with some slow release fertiliser in the bottom before filling in the hole.
If any of your citrus trees have been cropped, then you can start to prune them too using the same principles as for other trees. We had a wonderful crop of bitter oranges this year on our lime tree – yes you read that right! We grew limes for many years until one winter our tree was frosted. My husband nurtured the tree back to good health over the years, but it was a cuckoo in the nest and although the grafted lime branches died, the bitter orange rootstock onto which all citrus are grafted, didn’t and it has flourished ever since with its first crop of fruits this season. Anyone for marmalade?
As early narcissus flowers go over, take them off as you don’t want them to make seed heads. Rather this is the time for the bulb and its leaves to start and produce the flower for next season, so help that process by feeding the bulbs with a general fertiliser and do not remove the leaves until they are quite dead.
With all the winter rain so far weeds will be popping up everywhere taking any goodness in the soil meant for other plants including veggies, so try to keep the soil clear of them. Check any broad beans as they may need staking from any strong winds and rain.
Don’t sow any annual flower seeds yet as the soil is too wet and the tiny seeds will just rot off in the cold. Seeds self sown from last year’s plants like sweet peas and cerinthes, should be well enough established by now to withstand the worst of the wintry weather still to come and start to put on growth once we get a little warm sunshine. Check over any cuttings you may have taken during the autumn and keep them protected from the cold.
PLANT OF THE MONTH – TULIPS
One tends to think of tulips as being a Dutch bulbous flower and indeed they are now the National Flower of Holland, but they started life at this end of the Mediterranean. There is even a tulip native to Cyprus called ‘Tulipa Cypria’, a rare beauty with its habitats protected against predators.
It is said that the very first tulip bulbs and seeds were collected by an Ambassador to the Court of the Sultan of Turkey and sent to Vienna in 1554, where over the years they were distributed throughout Europe. Many Dutch Flemish artists of the time painted vases of them in great abundance as they were much admired for their beauty and colour, and these were the forerunners of plant catalogues. Some of them had a virus which caused a colour break, making them even more desirable. We all know that Tulip mania broke out and a tulip bulb could cost a year’s wages. However, as this collecting mania toppled and the markets eventually crashed, everyone was brought down to earth again.
Today Tulips are cultivated in Holland in great numbers and in huge fields. A visit to the Keukenhof Gardens at Lisse in spring time, shows how many new varieties are available each year. Bulbs are exported all around the world and not only are the bulb sales a huge industry, but so are the cut flowers, with over 3000 different varieties registered. Some have double rows of petals, whilst others are only single and are some called ‘Parrot Tulips’ with frilly edges. The bulbs are easy to grow and usually planted about a month later than other bulbs as they flower towards the end of winter. If you think of how well they grow in the bulb fields of Holland, where most of the land is reclaimed from the seas and protected by dykes, you will appreciate that they like well-drained soils, so that the bulbs do not rot in wet ground. These historic bulbs still play a part in our spring gardens here and they are part of our history as well.