While many commercial apple producers have had poor crops this year because the incessant early rain deterred bees from pollinating the blossom, ordinary gardeners may have had more success.
An apple flower can’t be fertilised by pollen from the same tree, but needs a pollination partner from a different variety of apple tree which flowers at the same time.
While many commercial growers only grow one variety and will have a different pollination partner scattered around the orchard, they usually assess the minimum number of pollination partner trees needed so they don’t waste space they want to give over to their main variety.
“This year we had a freakily bad year for pollination because throughout the time for pollination – April and May – it was cold and rainy and the bees just weren’t about, which massively reduced the chances of trees being pollinated,” says Rebecca Bevan, team leader for fruit and vegetables at RHS Garden Wisley.
When only one type of apple is grown, bees have to travel from the majority crop to pollinating partner trees and back again to cross-pollinate each flower.
However, suburban gardeners often have a few different types within easy reach, which means the bees don’t have to travel so far to cross-pollinate the flowers.
Many suburban gardeners also grow wild flowers which encourage bees and have grown some apple varieties which will withstand a lot of rain.
Those who want their tree blossom to escape the frost should go for mid or late season varieties, such as ‘Ashmead’s Kernel’, a russet apple with a really intense fruit-drop flavour which stores well, ready for picking from mid-October, and ‘Ellison’s Orange’, a late season type which is a reliable cropper providing a rich flavour, she advises.
Wet weather also encourages fungal diseases and some trees are more resistant to that.
Unlike most varieties, Bramley cooking apples need two pollination partners, while there are several self-fertile varieties including a type of Cox’s Orange Pippin, although the RHS recommends that trees are cross-pollinated to achieve a better crop.
For better crops, Bevan advises people to create good places for bumble bees and solitary bees to over-winter in the garden.
Leave some undisturbed ground on your plot or make insect houses by tying up bamboo canes which have holes in them in which the bees can shelter.