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National Trust's Armagh orchards prove fruitful despite a frosty May


Greg MacNeice of MacIvors Cider with its plum and ginger variety

Greg MacNeice of MacIvors Cider with its plum and ginger variety

Greg MacNeice of MacIvors Cider with its plum and ginger variety

Hundreds of National Trust gardens and orchards are reporting an excellent year for apples due to ideal weather conditions - although those in the Orchard County had a lucky escape after temperatures here plunged in May.

The unexpected frost affected blossom in the 22 acres of orchards at Ardress in Co Armagh. However, the 2,000 apple trees produced a second bloom to save the season.

National Trust tenant farmer and cider maker Greg MacNeice said: "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 6.1C.

"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.

"But 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."

Mr MacNeice said the crop was anticipated to be about 75% of a normal year, which was still a "great result" considering the late frost.

Gardeners at the conservation charity say a lack of late frosts in Britain combined with a largely warm and settled spring resulted in a prolonged blossom season. This was followed by rain in July and August, which helped the fruit to swell.

The British harvest is taking place slightly earlier than usual as the warm spring helped pollinators such as honeybees, bumblebees and solitary bees.

More than 200 traditional apple orchards are managed by the National Trust, with the majority reporting a "very good harvest", the charity said.

Nick Fraser, head gardener at Nunnington Hall in North Yorkshire, said: "Generally we do get quite a good crop, but I'd say this year is our best for at least three years.

"Thanks to the warm spring, no late frosts and a period of very settled weather we found that pollinators such as bees had excellent conditions to fertilise the flowers to form the fruit."

Belfast Telegraph