My QEST Scholarship

In 2009 I was awarded a scholarship grant by the Queen Elizabeth Scholarship Trust.

This enabled me to spend 12 months with horticulturist Tony Gentil at his orchard and nursery in Cheshire.

Below are my course notes.

07-03-09 This was my first session after winning a scholarship from The Queen Elizabeth Scholarship Trust.

The first task was to winter prune some espaliered pears ‘Concorde’ and ‘Doyenne du Comice’.

orchard course 001

The trees hadn’t been pruned for two years and as a result the growth was in all directions. I removed the breast wood and large vertical shoots to encourage new growth, some of which will be pruned in the summer to create fruiting spurs, and some of which will be tied back to create a new structural framework.

orchard course 006

In the nursery we headed back Seedling pear, Pyrodwarf and M25 rootstocks and earthed them up to create stool beds. orchard course 012Next November the soil will be removed and the new shoots, with their new roots, will be pruned off the parent stock and planted out as new rootstock for grafting and budding onto.

orchard course 013

This photo shows a pear tree with freshly ‘sewn’ mistletoe seed. The seed was placed on the north side of branches of some unproductive trees. It could be up to two years before we see any results from this!


Today’s session was spent in the nursery grafting apple trees, Holstein Pippin, Fiesta (now known as Red Pippin) and Gooseberry Pippin. The scions, which had been selected and removed from their parent trees in December/January, had been heeled into the soil about 5 inches deep (picture below) orchard course2 008

The first job was to head back the rootstock… orchard course2 005

orchard course2 015….then make cuts on the scion and rootstock for a whip and tongue graft, followed by tying in the graft with grafting tape to hold the union in place. The pruned tips of the scions were waxed in order to prevent moisture loss…

orchard course2 017…the finished row was clearly labelled (and recorded in the nursery log book) for clear identification.

In the poly tunnel the apricots were in full bloom.

Most text books suggest giving apricots a helping hand with pollination. orchard course2 003This picture shows a bumble bee and a hoverfly doing that job for us. There seems to be enough insect activity within the tunnel for successful pollination to take place without any extra help. Outside the tunnel are two active hives. The bees are showing no interest whatsoever in the apricot flowers. Not even to flowers placed in a jar right outside their front door! It’s quite likely they are feeding solely off dandelions at the moment.


Again this session was spent in the nursery grafting pears (Aston Town, Toadback, Hazel Pear and King Pear) onto Pyrodwarf and Seedling Pear rootstock. orchard course3 001Pyrodwarf is an extremely thorny tree which is pretty uncomfortable to work around. These rootstock are about five years old and would have been better grafted onto a couple of years ago. Not only to make the grafting process easier but also heading them back wouldn’t have been such a dangerous job. (The thorns are about 10cm long!) It is a recently developed rootstock and unlike quince stock all varieties of pear are compatible with it.

orchard course3 008Preparing the scion for a whip and tongue graft.

orchard course3 010Placing the scion onto the rootstock.

The finished rows.orchard course3 017

We ran out of scions before we finished grafting the whole row so we took some cuttings off a ‘Hazel’ pear that had already begun to open its buds (see photo). orchard course3 016The grafts we did using these scions were labelled to see if there is any difference in take up of these compared to grafts done with scions cut in mid winter. We also experimented with grafting Lord Combermere (apple) onto Pyrodwarf (Pear) rootstock!!


Apricots, nectarines and peaches in the polytunnel

orchard course 4 010

orchard course 4 014Fruit setting on the apricot. Even though no hand pollination was carried out there is a very good fruit set on this apricot.

orchard course 4 015Nectarine flowers showing a hoverfly gathering nectar. The hive bees have shown no interest in these flowers. Pollination is being carried out by bumble bees, flies and hoverflies. We are going against the advice of some books by not hand pollinating these trees. It appears there is enough pollination going on without the need for extra work.

orchard course 4 012 This photo shows very prominent lenticels on the nectarine ‘Early Moorpark’ Lenticels act in a similar manner to stomata, releasing water and oxygen into the atmosphere.

This shows the watering system for the trees in the polytunnel. orchard course 4 016Rain is taken through the drain pipe into a perforated pipe set 18 inches below the surface in between the two rows of trees.

orchard course 4 001orchard course 4 002Before and after pruning. The lower branches were removed in order to make access easier for the large tractor to carry out the mowing of the orchard site.

The trees in the collection are beginning to outgrow their tulley tubes, exposing the bark which is consequently being nibbled by rabbits. We placed wire netting around the trees to prevent this. The netting has been tied to itself but has not been staked or fixed to the ground. We need to keep an eye on whether the rabbits push themselves under the netting to get to the trees.orchard course 4 006 If this is the case then the netting will have to be fixed into the turf. Once this has been established, the tulley tubes can then be completely removed. Short tail voles have been nesting in the some of the tubes, causing some damage to the bark. By removing the tubes we also reduce the risk of vole damage to the trees.

The orchard at Briarfields in full bloom

orchard course 6 003


orchard course 6 020

This is the first sward cut of the season. The machine leaves a very tidy cut and will return to the site to cut 2 or 3 more times this year.

Whilst the orchard was in full bloom this tree was looking skeletal.orchard course 6 023 It has an infestation of winter moth. The females emerge from pupae in the soil and crawl up the trunk to lay their eggs on the branches in crevices. These eggs hatch in early spring and the larvae eat the leaves and blossom. Once full grown, they drop to the ground and burrow into the soil to pupate, and so the cycle continues. The damage caused to the leaves reduces the trees capacity to photosynthesise, therefore checking the development of the tree. That, along with the flowers being eaten, will also reduce the yield for the year.orchard course 6 005 Grease bands can be placed around the trunk to trap the climbing females from October onwards. Encouraging biodiversity within and around the orchard site will attract insect eating birds.

orchard course 6 011 The ground below the tree can be cultivated in the autumn to expose the Chrysalides. Chickens or ducks could then be introduced to harvest them up.

Field ants have made a nest in this tulley tube by filling it up with soil. orchard course 6 014If this was left to its own devices the scion could throw out roots, which would slow the trees development as energy would be diverted away from the canopy and to the roots. orchard course 6 015The roots could find their way into the ground making the rootstock redundant and resulting in a much larger tree than required. (This tree is on rootstock MM106).


orchardcourse7 004

orchardcourse7 002These two pictures show the effects of red spider mite (Panonychus ulmi) damage to peach and nectarine trees. The mites are sucking the high glucose sap from the leaves. This causes discoloration and a red mottling effect and premature leaf fall. As a result the development of the tree is slowed down due to reduced photosynthesis. Very large numbers of the mite will affect the yeild. The eggs of red spider mite overwinter on the trees in the fruit spurs and in crevices in the bark. They will hatch from April onwards. The trees have recently been sprayed with an organic garlic spray and observation now needs to be carried out in order to assess the results.

orchardcourse7 010This pear was grafted in March and has three healthy shoots growing from the scion.

orchardcourse7 011This is the same pear with two of the shoots removed in order to allow the tree to concentrate its energy into one single leader.

The trees were then tied to canes to encourage straight growth.

orchardcourse7 017Rosy apple aphid (Dysaphis plantaginea) has infested this apple tree in the nursery. The aphids harvest the sap from the underside of the leaf. This makes the lower epidermis of the leaf grow at a slower rate than the rest of the leaf and as a result the leaf curls over and creates a safe habitat away from most predators. However, when I uncurled some of the leaves I found some hoverfly larvae in amongst the aphids. There were also ladybird larvae in abundance on the outer leaves. When the leaves are curled up like this, the amount of surface area available for photo synthesis is reduced. This will check the development of the tree. orchardcourse7 019This leaf hasn’t curled over yet. It must be a recent infestation of Rosy apple aphid, which are pink/blue, and Green apple aphid (Aphis pomi).

Fruitlets may also be fed upon, leaving the fruit small and misshapen. Research carried out by HDRA (Now Garden Organic) has found that the apple varieties Bramley, Discovery, Worcester Pearmain and Egremont Russet are highly susceptible to aphid attack. I have a 3 year old Discovery tree, with luscious fresh growth, completely aphid free right next to a patch of nettles swarming with green aphids. They obviously prefer the nettles.

Aphids love fresh sappy growth, so applying high nitrogen fertilisers can be counter productive. One method for controlling aphids is to encourage predators into the orchard by planting wild flowers and providing homes for lacewings, earwigs, ladybirds, and hoverflies.

orchardcourse7 026This Bramley’s Seedling is a cutting taken from the original tree in Nottinghamshire, grafted onto M25 rootstock. A Tulley tube has been placed around the lower stem and filled with soil in an attempt to induce scion rooting. The tube will be left for a few years before being taken off. If the scion does root we will have the original Bramley’s Seedling on its own roots!

orchardcourse7 014This very healthy looking scion is a vigorous cooking apple Lord Combermere. The rootstock is the pear rootstock ‘Pyrodwarf’!?! I didn’t think anything would happen here a) for the obvious reason of it being apple grafted onto pear and b) because I cut the scion off the tree as it was breaking bud on 20th March and grafted it immediately. It will be interesting too see how long this tree lives for!

Canker orchardcourse7 033

Canker is an airborne fungal disease that will not pass through the protective layer of bark, but finds its way into the tree via spores entering through pruning cuts, leaves, torn branches, insect damage or cracks. This photo shows cankerous blistering on an apple tree. In late summer and winter small red fruiting bodies will appear, releasing spores which are dispersed by the wind. White fruiting bodies appear in summer and the spores from these will cause localised infections, spread by rain splash. With this in mind, cankerous growth should be removed in order to minimise the risk of the disease spreading. The prunings should be burnt to destroy the spores.


The first part of today’s session was spent looking around Briarfields and observing  what is going on with the trees in the polytunnel, nursery and orchard.

The effects of Red spider mite have increased dramatically over the season. The picture shows the top third of this nectarine tree completely defoliated.

The garlic spray doesn’t seem to have had any effect. As the picture shows, the tree has still produced a good crop, but this would have been better had the mite not been present.

A different type of spray, ‘Savona’, is now being used. This is a soapy substance (approved by the Soil Association) that should coat the mites and suffocate them.

The results of this won’t be seen until next year.

The spider mites have taken hold of many plants in the tunnel.

They can be seen clearly here on the banana leaf. The majority of them congregating at the leaf tip where the freshest sappy growth is. The web at the leaf tip will prevent the leaf from developing properly. This can also be seen on the nectarine leaf below…

In the nursery the trees that were grafted in March are doing very well and are now up to 5 feet tall.

The two Lord Combermere apples that were grafted onto Pyrodwarf rootstock have put on very little growth in the last month. I don’t hold out much hope for them!

It is a very good year for Plums and Damsons.

These trees have a very weak branch structure and will soon snap under the weight when fully laden.

These branches have been propped up with canes to take the weight. (Otherwise known as ‘may polling).

The trees in the orchard are maturing very well and have a sizeable crop this year. The new rabbit guards are working well. The next job to do with these is to remove the tulley tubes and staple the rabbit wire to the tree stakes.

Another advantage of removing the tulley tubes is that there will no longer be a hiding place for the short tailed voles which have been causing some damage to the bark of the lower stems.

The picture below shows a scar that has been made as a result of the tree rubbing onto the post.

Even though the tree is on the leeward side of the stake it has still managed to rub sufficiently to create this wound, which now makes the tree susceptible to infection from airborne fungal spores and will also make a cosy home for aphids such a the woolly aphid.

These Carlisle Codlin  apples are infected with Scab.

Scab is a fungal infection whose spores overwinter in the bark and on fallen leaves.

In order to reduce the risk of scab, fallen leaves must be cleared up in the autumn.

The first task of the day was to bud onto some 5 year old pyrodwarf rootstock.

Having recently spent a few days at Frank Matthew’s nursery I was familiar with chip budding but hadn’t carried out any T-budding.

Instead of slicing off some of the bark and placing the on the bud, with T-budding the bark is scored with the budding knife and lifted away from the wood. The bud is then placed under the bark (picture) and tied off in a similar manner to chip budding.

The bud is very secure under the bark and there is very little chance of it falling out when tying it in, unlike when chip budding.

It is however a slower process, which is why at such a massive nursery as F.P. Matthews that chip budding is favoured over T-budding.

With the new bud being low down on the rootstock, the sap is drawn past it and the wound should heal before winter. The stock is then headed back to just above the bud, (giving it apical dominance) which will then grow into the newly grafted variety.

After having T-budded a few times, I then summer pruned some standard apple and plum trees that had been severely pruned during the previous winter in order to re-create a new head.

As can be seen from this picture, the result of a hard winter prune is an excess of growth. Such hard pruning is a perfectly viable method of creating a new head as long as pruning is then followed up in the following summers and winters to ensure the excess growth is removed and a new well shaped head is formed.

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