Clever trick of nature saves the apple harvest at Ardress

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  • Climate change results in a milder winter and early spring, leaving early blossom vulnerable to frost
  • Record low temperatures destroy early blossom
  • Resilient trees produce a ‘late bloom’ saving the harvest but crop expected to be 75% of its usual yield

An early apple blossom in April was a promising start to the year for National Trust tenant farmer and cider maker Greg MacNeice.  The early bloom at the 22-acre orchard in Ardress County Armagh followed a mild winter as nature responded to changes in weather linked to climate change. But nature delivered a harsh blow when an unexpected frost in mid-May affected the blossom in the orchard where varieties include the traditional Armagh Bramley and more modern cultivars like Greensleeves.

Greg explains: “We had an abundance of apple blossom back in early May which normally would have indicated that we’d be harvesting a bumper crop of apples.

“However, in mid-May Northern Ireland recorded its lowest ever May temperature at minus 6.1 degrees Celsius.  Climate change has resulted in a series of milder winters. Spring comes earlier and so our apple trees wake up a little too soon. This means that when the blossom emerges there is still the chance of a late frost such as we had this year.

“In the low-lying parts of our orchards, the frost descended with the cold air flowing downhill much like water, collecting and pooling in the valleys and behind dense hedgerows killing off lots of delicate blooms from our early varieties and turning them black.

“We were gutted, walking through orchards over the following days and splitting open blossom only to find it blackened and dead.

Thankfully nature has an incredible ability to adapt and rejuvenate, and this is exactly what happened at Ardress:

“Our trees are nothing if not resilient and they found a way through by producing a second lot of bloom. This ‘late bloom’ has produced apples which are smaller than normal and irregular in shape but will nonetheless help us produce an excellent cider for our brand Mac Ivors Cider. 

Despite the challenges of nature and Covid-19, harvesting of the apples has just got underway and Greg is optimistic of the outcomes:  “We anticipate a crop of about 75 per cent of a normal year, which although far from ideal, is a great result considering the late frost.

This year the National Trust won’t be running the popular Apple Sundays at Ardress House due to Covid-19, but the conservation charity has been sharing pictures and video of nature throughout the seasons on its social media channels to ensure people don’t miss out on the positive benefits of connecting to the natural world around us.

For a daily dose of nature with the National Trust follow @NationalTrustNI on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter  #EveryoneNeedsNature

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