WHY DO FARMERS ALWAYS TALK ABOUT THE WEATHER?
While we are battening down the hatches with the change from these cold crisp days to the warmer, windier and wetter weather, spare a thought for our apple trees. They would definitely prefer not to have the wind and the rain as the ground has just begun to become less waterlogged but, most of all, our trees need the Chill Units (CU). Chill Units are the number of hours between 0 and 7 degrees C a tree needs to during its dormant period – typically November to March. As winter approaches and the apple trees lose their leaves, the dormancy hormone, Abscisic Acid, increases and ensures the buds go through an essential period of dormancy.
As the weather warms up, the dormancy hormone decreases, allowing the buds to break and form flowers. This should be in Spring. Typically our trees need about 1000 Chill Units (the equivalent of 42 days) but some of our modern varieties can cope with a bit less – especially Gala which can cope with about 600. However Braeburn, which is often one of the first to flower and last to pick, needs at least 1000 hours.
Warmer winters or rapid changes in temperatures can have a real impact on a tree’s ability to carry a crop the following year. If the weather warms up unexpectedly early in winter it can trigger the buds out of dormancy which exposes them to shock when the temperature inevitably drops again. It is especially difficult if the tree has not had enough chill units in the first place when the buds may not break at all.
So winter chill is a good thing – even if it means you need to wrap up warm. The best defence is a good hat and a Charrington’s mulled apple juice or cider of course!
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