Picking Apples, Choosing Varieties & Pruning with Patrick Whitefield

Patrick Whitefield
Sunday, 16th December 2012

Patrick Whitefield takes us on a seasonal journey through his shared apple orchard describing his harvests, his favourite varieties and giving his top pruning tips for healthy trees with good yields.

My friend Colum and I share crop the apples. I grew the trees and they're on land which used to be mine but which I've since donated to the Somerset Wildlife Trust. I still keep the little orchard which I grew in one corner of the field. Colum and I share the work equally and share the crop one-third/two-thirds.

But you can't call it work. A trip together into the deep country for half a day to be in a landscape we love, doing things we love doing. It's probably as much or more fun than other men get from going to a football match. I say 'or more' because we just have three fixtures a year, so they have scarcity value.

In September we pick the early apples, Worcester Pearmain. It's the second most delicious apple on earth, with a light, aromatic flavour if ripened on the tree. These always provide the fruit for our September permaculture design course. Charles Ross are a reliable dual purpose fruit and some years they're ready in September too, others not till later.

In October we pick the maincrop: Egremont Russet, Kidds Orange Red and Pixie. Pixie's a great little keeping apple. They'll keep till May with no problem. Kidds Orange red is not only the most delicious apple on earth, it's also the most beautiful.








This year the leaves are off the trees earlier than they have been for many years. Usually we prune in December but this year it was the last day in November.
That makes three visits within three months. The rest of the year we hardly touch the trees. Perhaps a tad of summer pruning if I remember it, some fruit thinning, though never as much as I should. All the real activity is concentrated in one part of the year. From a work point of view apples don't so much have an annual cycle as a season, Apple Autumn.

Patrick and Colum's top tips for pruning an established tree:

• get the best pruning tools you can and keep them sharp
• make clean cuts, at an angle which sheds the rain
• first take out the 3 D's - anything that's dead, diseased or damaged
• then branches which are crossing - they can rub and damage each other
• then branches which grow towards the middle of the tree
• lastly, any which are too crowded - fruiting branches should ideally be 22cm (9in) apart
• if in doubt, leave it 

Patrick Whitefield is the author of The Earth Care Manual, The Living LandscapePermaculture in a Nutshell and How to Make a Forest Garden.

Patrick also runs courses on permaculture and related subjects. You can now easily access his teaching wherever you are in the world through The Sustainable Land Course Online, an interactive experience including the Permaculture Design Course and much else. Please click here!