It's Easter and the sun is shining, temperatures are circa 20-25 centigrade and the blossom advances by the hour: the Bees are loving it and today observed hard at work collecting nectar while pollinating the apple blossom they alighted upon!
The Weather Forecasters tell us this Easter will, apparently, see record temperatures for the annual Bank Holiday - albeit one of the latest (calendar) Easter's.
In the Journal for 29th March The English Apple Man suggested full bloom may occur in 3 weeks time!
"warmer weather has brought the fruit bud development on and we may be looking at full bloom in 3 weeks time!
That's today folks!
It seems every garden ornamental cherry and hedgerow cherry blossom is at its very best: certainly those in my garden are full of bloom and everywhere I drive. My apple trees are at various stages of advanced pink bud and the Red Devil, James Grieve and Discovery 'family tree' opened up by the minute as we enjoyed coffee in the garden this morning.
Below: left; Ornamental Cherry blossom and right; The EAM's front garden with Ornamental Cherry and Malus
Below left; The Bladon Pippin (a Cox type) is still at early Pink Bud, while right; the Family Tree (Red Devil, James Grieve & Discovery has advanced during the day and now stands close to 'full bloom'
Below: left; The Red Devil, Discovery & James Grieve family tree is close to full bloom - right the Red Windsor tree
Below: My Red Windsor tree is in full bloom and the bees are hard at work gathering nectar.
Below: left; Christmas Pippin @ balloon stage Pink Bud and right; Red Love at Pink Bud
On Wednesday, The English Apple Man popped into NIAB/EMR at East Malling to snap a few photos of blossom.
Below:left; Red Love at Pink Bud and right; Cherry blossom at East Malling
Below: left; Will Edge
Regular readers of The English Apple Man will be aware of Greensand Ridge Distillery owned by my young friend Will Edge. The story of Greensand Ridge Distillery was first published on: 14th October 2016 see; Greensand Ridge Distillery
Today Will Edge has made his Distillery the first Carbon Neutral Distillery.
"We are the first distillery in the UK to demonstrate carbon neutrality, and our assessment covers all distillery operations. This ensures that, even though we have a light touch on the lands, any emissions in our supply chain are understood, assessed, and offset with carbon credits".
Click on Carbon Neutral Distillery
Click on Greensand Ridge
Recently The English Apple Man featured the first commercial robotic harvesting of apples in New Zealand. It is worth reading an appraisal of Robotic harvesting by Mike Chapman - Horticulture New Zealand
New Zealand's growers are now, and always have been, great innovators.
The main impediments to adoption of technology are cost, access, and expertise. However, whether it's robotics or artificial intelligence (AI), adoption of new technology is usually quite high; provided, of course, it makes a tangible difference to the operation.
A recent example is T&G Global using a robotic harvester for the commercial apple harvest this season - a world-first. This took four years of working with US-based technology partner Abundant Robotics to develop the tech, as well as designing new orchard layouts to enable this robotic picking. T&G's Chief Operating Officer, Peter Langdon-Lane, has noted that it will be some years before all T&G orchards are harvested in this way, but the key point is that this is the start of robotics becoming genuinely useful in picking.
There are some significant advantages to picking apples with robots. The first is that these robots can pick at night, meaning there can be round the clock picking, and picking at exactly the right time is vital to maintain fruit quality and get premium prices overseas.
Additionally, robotic pickers can be used to supplement humans not just at night, but at higher, hard to reach parts of the trees. This would mean human pickers wouldn't need to use ladders, and could concentrate on the apples closer to the ground. And, of course, new employment opportunities will be opened up to build and maintain these robots.
The key is that, as robots become more mainstream, the intense need for human pickers will reduce, and people can move on to other, higher skilled tasks. This will vastly alleviate the chronic shortage of pickers we face every season, all while increasing productivity.
This is just one example of the how robotics can change how horticulture operates. But affecting widespread change will take time, effort, and a lot of innovation. Different crops have different harvest requirements; our robot workers will need to be purpose built for individual crops. Moreover, where we get the robots is tricky; this particular robot was designed predominantly in the United States. There are, however, New Zealand and Australian initiatives to develop robotics for horticulture's work, and New Zealand is a world leader in the development of packhouse mechanisation.
This is all well and good, but the immediate problem remains; for at least the next five to ten years, we will likely face a shortage of workers for harvest and fieldwork. Horticulture needs to invest in technology, robotics, and AI development, but we cannot focus on the future so much that we don't address our current and pressing labour shortages.
Until we have these robotic systems, we need to develop the programmes and support to enable all available New Zealanders to get into work and to progressively upskill for when robots are more common than today.
Robots won't be picking all of our crops next year, no, but these trials show that a future of RoboCrops is definitely on the way.
- Mike Chapman, CEO
Click on: Horticulture New Zealand
Farewell to a friend
On Wednesday a Celebration of Life held at Ss Peter & Paul Leybourne Church paid tribute to a giant of the fruit industry: Martin Luton who was a colleague at Worldwide Fruit sadly lost his battle with a terminal illness and a full Church gathered to remember a man who achieved so much in his 69 years.
Martin achieved so much in his career; after initially targeting a career in Medical profession, he took his academic prowess into botany and eventually to East Malling Research Station where his great passion for working with apples began!
Martin was heavily involved in the Church and over the years his faith became more and more important to him. Equally important to Martin, was his work. He was lucky enough to have a job that he absolutely loved.
Eulogies from colleagues close to Martin, demonstrate the character of 'the man' - . Nigel Jenner was a close colleague to Martin during their days at ADAS. Nigel has very kindly provided a few words that capture Martin's unique character and attributes:
Nigel Jenner remembers Martin: "I first met Martin in 1997, and like Scott Raffle, working with him in the ADAS storage team.
"The first day I started with ADAS, Martin was actually on holiday - I met the rest of the fruit team and was introduced as "Martin's new assistant". A couple of people sniggered and 'wished me luck', which meant the rest of the week I was terrified in anticipation of meeting my new boss the following week. Early the following Monday, I was in the office awaiting Martin's arrival when suddenly the door swung open and we were all greeted with shouting and complete mayhem. What, I wondered had I let myself in for??
I need not have worried. I went on to spend four unbelievably happy years working with the "Mad Doc". Right from the off he treated me as an equal, gave me responsibility way beyond my years and was the most amazing team leader. He was somebody with a brilliant, innovative mind, who worked completely on "Luton time". We never went home until the job was done and it was nothing to turn up on a farm at 7pm to fulfil an appointment scheduled for 2pm! Martin could never understand there was a problem with this - he never left a job half done and would only move on to the next appointment if and when the previous one was done. On one occasion we turned up at a farm in East Sussex at 2pm on the Wednesday, when the actual appointment was scheduled for 9am the previous Friday"
Scott Raffle was another who had the pleasure and benefit of working with Martin while at ADAS.
As a very young man, I arrived in Kent in 1990 to start a new career working for ADAS in the fruit industry. Having grown up in Dundee in Scotland, I knew virtually nobody down here and felt a bit nervous and apprehensive. Martin made me so very welcome in the ADAS Fruit Team (as it was called) and helped me to integrate and get involved in the community. He and his wife Lucille welcomed me to their family home and got me involved in his boys football on a Saturday morning. He later introduced me to Town Malling Cricket Club in his home town of West Malling where he and Lucille lived, and I spent many happy years playing cricket there with Martin's son James and I made many lasting friendships through the club. Martin and Lucille also supported me in my other hobby of amateur theatre, and he and Lucille regularly supported us by attending our productions at Maidstone's Hazlitt Theatre, something I was always so grateful for.
The English Apple Man wishes all his readers a very enjoyable Bank Holiday weekend and let's not forget why we are celebrating Easter!
The English Apple Man