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Perils of pollination

Pollination is a complicated story of the birds and the bees.

With the harvest finished, our focus is on winter plantings. Many elements need to come together for a good harvest - rainfall, the heat of summer months, a late frost or a summer hailstorm can all have major impacts.

For many, this past summer was not hot enough to produce good crops of tomatoes, capsicums, pumpkins and eggplants. And in the fruit lines, the inclement weather throughout spring and in March caused big problems for growing apples, cherries and grapes.

But there is one part of the jigsaw that we can have full control over, especially in the case of fruit - the mix of varieties. So many fruit trees need to be cross pollinated by another variety that is flowering at the same time, to produce anything like a decent crop. This is particularly so for cherries, apples, pears and peaches.

Cherries (other than the self-fertile Stella and Lapins) require quite definite cross pollinators. Stella, which originated in Canada, is a universal pollen donor. I have planted Supreme, Merchant, Van, Stella, Bing and Lapins to produce fruit over 30 days in December and early January.

Apples provide the biggest challenge. There are more than 4000 varieties (technically called cultivars) (and even in 1900, more than 1000 varieties were being grown in Tasmania). And apples have the distinction of the greatest harvest span of temperate fruits, with varieties maturing from early January to the end of June. Growers need to consider the apple's use (eating, cooking, juicing), flowering time and maturity time. For some, there is a fourth element: is the apple a heritage or modern variety? And for growers who wish to avoid the use of chemical spraying, is the variety disease resistant?

But there is a catch - unless two varieties planted together fling open their beautiful pink and white blossoms at the same time, the harvest will generally be quite small. Apple trees flower for just a few days during October, over four different time zones. (There are some earlier-flowering, non-mainstream varieties.)

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In the very early flowering varieties, Gravenstein is the most reliable but it lacks effective pollen (being a triploid tree) and needs to be planted near other early-flowering trees. We have ours close to the good early-season Abas. Other good early flowering trees are Akane, Tydeman's Early Worcester and Vista Bella. The fruit quality is good, but so far they have only produced small crops.

There are many more varieties that flower in the early-mid period. Gala is ready for harvest in Canberra in mid-February. March-maturing varieties include Bonza, Golden Delicious, Cox's Orange Pippin, Pomme de Neige, Spartan and Belle de Boskoop. April maturing varieties include Jonagold, Ida Red and Fuji. Red Delicious serves as a good pollinator for mid-season-flowering trees.

Bonza has been a very reliable and disease-free apple in our orchard. Two new varieties that have apple-scab resistance - ideal for organic growing - are Pixie Crunch and Crimson Crisp. Late-flowering cultivars include Summer Strawberry, Braeburn and Bramley. One of the latest flowering is Rome Beauty. Braeburn, an apple of New Zealand origin, is considered one of the few self-fruiting apples. But where it is grown in isolation, the fruit will generally have low seed numbers, which leads to problems with fruit size and shape.

Fruit is the result of the the pollen grain of a genetically compatible variety being deposited by wind or insects on to the stigma of the female flower. The pollen grain germinates and sends out a pollen tube to meet the ovule. The result is a seed. Seeds contain growth regulators which impact on the growth of the fruit. The best pollination results when all eight to 10 parts of the ovule are pollinated, so a full set of seeds can help form a well-rounded apple. All the elements must come together for the fruit to be produced.

IN THE GARDEN THIS WEEK

■ Broadbeans are one of the few plants that can be sown directly into a garden bed now. Plant each seed at a depth of five centimetres and allow 10 centimetres between seeds. For an early crop of peas, sow into growing tubs and keep in a sunny location until they germinate; when the seedlings are well developed plant out into the garden.

■ Set one garden bed for long-term growing, dig over well and add lots of organic matter, before planting asparagus crowns and rhubarb sets.

■ Continue the winter pruning of the fruit trees and deciduous climbers. Prune back old berry vines. Do not prune roses before August, so as to avoid frost damage from growth that would be promoted by early pruning.

■ Spray citrus trees with the light winter oil to smother the leaf and scale pests.

FISH FILLETS WITH FENNEL AND APPLE-DILL SAUCE

Serves 6

4 small fennel bulbs

salt

3 tbsp butter

6 fillets of flounder (250g each)

plain flour

2 tbsp oil

1 Rome Beauty apple

½ lemon

Apple-dill sauce

juice of half a lemon

5 medium apples

1 tbsp sugar

1 bunch dill

To make the sauce, place the lemon juice and a cup of water into a saucepan. Peel core and dice the apples and add to the pan. Boil until soft, then mash. Add the sugar and chopped dill to make a sauce. Keep warm.

Clean the fennel, cut into strips, add salt to boiling water and boil until al dente. Dot with butter and keep warm.

Coat the fish fillets in flour and fry in hot oil.

Peel, core and slice the one remaining apple and slice the second half of the lemon. Serve each fish fillet on bed of fennel. Garnish with a slice of apple and lemon and pour over apple-dill sauce. Serve with parsley, potatoes and other vegetables.

Owen Pidgeon runs the Loriendale Organic Orchard near Hall.

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