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The English Apple Man


14th Jul 2017 - At the height of the Cherry season, The English Apple Man visits a prize winning grower

UK Cherries, like Home grown Asparagus, are in my opinion superior to any from overseas.....but the season for both, is short....however modern methods are extending both beyond their 'historic' natural season.



On Tuesday members of East Kent Fruit Society gathered for the 'annual stone fruit walk' at Hoaden Court, Hoaden, Nr Canterbury by kind permission of AC Hulme & Sons. This is the walk of the winning orchard from the EKFS 2016 Stone Fruit Competition.


Below: Tom Hulme

Host for the evening: Tom Hulme welcomed EKFS members to Hoaden Court and gave an overview of their farming business. AC Hulme & Sons is a family run mixed farm which has been operating in East Kent since 1946; the company farms approximately 4,000 acres, supplying some of the UK's foremost retailers as well as local markets, farm shops and other outlets.


The Farms operate from three principle locations in Canterbury (Merton Farm), Hoaden (Hoaden Court) and Wingham (Brook Farm) and grow a diverse range of produce, including: fruit (apples, pears, cherries, apricots and plums); hops; arable; potatoes; and livestock (single suckle beef cattle and sheep) with a haulage business serving both the Farms and other local businesses across the South East.


With most orchards now close to full production, this season the farm is hoping to produce around 185 tonnes of cherries (15ha), 40 tonnes of apricots (4.5 ha) and 200 tonnes of plums (8 ha). All cherries are covered both under Haygrove Tunnels and Voen with irrigation in place for all new plantings. Cherries are grown on a variety of rootstocks with Gisela 6 the current preferred rootstock.


Tom Hulme told EKFS members his oldest trees (40 years old) are on Colt rootstocks: Tom emphasises the importance of good pollination which he believes is 'the key' to good crops. With this in mind, Tom has 26 different varieties ensuring high pollination, although a mix of maturity can provide challenges as well as benefits.


All cherries are covered by either Haygrove Tunnels or Voen Covers with irrigation in place for all new plantings. Cherries are grown on a variety of rootstocks, with the current preferred planting system being 3.05m x 3.05m two row beds under Haygrove Tunnels on G6. (Gisella)


Below: Tom Hulme explains the A.C.Hulme 'philosophy' for cherry growing



Tom Hulme told the EKFS members that the older cherry orchard (circa 40 years old) with varieties; Sasha, Van, Bradbourne Black are protected by the VOEN rain covers, while the newer orchards are grown under Haygrove 'high tunnels' using a variety of plastic covers. The use of plastics covers with different light penetration, enables manipulation of harvest maturity. Asked how trees are pruned to maintain good yields on these mature trees, Tom said they remove any upright shoots and encourage the flatter (less vigorous) branches; e.g. potential cropping wood.


Below: left; a picture of VENLO covers taken by The EAM 3 years ago and and right; VENLO covers 'flapping' in the wind on Tuesday evening



As we toured the tunnels with Tom Hulme, he explained how the different plastic covering influenced the timing of harvest: as we stood under the darker covering, with the variety Regina, Tom estimated these cherries would be picked in circa 3 weeks....looking at Kordia, Tom said the cool climate under the darkest plastic covers allows the cherries to be held on the tree for much longer, maximising size and sugars. Tom said they had picked the variety Merchant at the height of the very hot weather without any problems due to the cool conditions under the dark covers. The ability to extend the season from both ends: an earlier start and later finish, is the target of Tom Hulme with the plan to extend the season to 8 weeks end eventually to ten weeks....


Below: left; Haygrove tunnels with clear plastic covers and right; with the darker plastic covers



Below: left; Cherries on the older trees under VOEN covers and right; while walking to the Haygrove Tunnels, we passed through this plum orchard



Below: left; a tractor bringing picked cherries back to the cold store and right; 'a trailer full of cherries



Below: Trays of cherries on trailer and right; cherries



Below: left; Sweetheart under dark (cool) covers will be ready to pick in 3 weeks and right; a perfect Kordia tree



Below: young cherry trees


The standard for buying young trees from the nursery is to acquire trees with young 'feathers' (weak branches) in place: Tom however favours removing all the 'feathers' after planting and allowing stronger branches to form; selecting the best (flat branches) - Tom said although this means waiting a year longer for the first pick, he strongly believes the subsequent cropping profile will justify his tree training methods....


For a more detailed look at Cherry Growing at Hoaden Court - Click on: A.C.Hulme & Sons and view "The English Cherry - A Story of Farming Revival"













Today - Friday 14th July The English Apple Man called in at two West Kent Cherry growers; no more than a mile apart and bought a sample from addition a sample of Kordia bought in LIDL in Hastings gave the opportunity for a 'tasting' of each purchase....


Below: cherries bought locally by The English Apple Man



Below: Kordia bought in LIDL



The 'home grown' apple season is over, apart from the English Bramley (cooking apple) but with modern storage technology, it is now possible to extend the home grown 'dessert apple season. Today (14th July) The EAM bought these English Red Prince apples in Waitrose; sampling one after lunch, the texture was excellent; full of juice and flavour......


Below: Red Prince apples grown in Kent and on sale in Waitrose......the shape of things to come?



Below: THE Red Prince orchard last August before harvest........



That's all for this week...........


Take care


The English Apple Man