As physicist Isaac Newton realised while he was sitting in his garden many moons ago, apples like to fall out of their tree with gravity force. This law of nature is something that cider growers are all also acutely aware of.
When cider apples hit the ground, the quality of the fruits is severely compromised. This is why Thatchers is currently trialling a new way of planting trees that could help to eliminate this problem.
The largest trial of its kind in the UK, the research project is being led by John Thatcher, who started the experiment in 2010 when he planted some 16ha of trees at the Somerset-based cider maker’s Shiplate orchards. Two years later, he planted another 41ha on the site.
All 70,000 trees in the trial have been planted in an innovative, new hedgerow style, meaning they reach a height of 2.74m (9ft) and are planted 1.5m (5ft) apart. This enables Thatchers’ growers to collect the apples using a new straddle harvester, which the family business has helped to develop.
This hi-tech machine harvests the apples using a “shake-and-catch” method that stops the fruits from shooting onto the orchard floor. John says: “We believe that harvesting apples off the ground is not an option for the future, so this major trial will be of immense value.”
With thanks to Horticulture week.