In October Oli undertook a two week trip to South Africa to survey apple orchards during blossom, in support of Innovate UK project number 104610. Here’s how he got on.

I began my surveying in Ceres and the Koue Bokkeveld, where I was lucky to find several Gala orchards that had not yet dropped all of their blossoms. My first surprise was just how big South African trees are! Being closer to the equator, South Africa receives much more sunlight than the UK, which allows commercial trees on dwarfing rootstocks to grow up to 4 or even 5 metres if not kept in check. I visited several orchards with 2-3 year old new trees that were larger than established orchards back in England. In particular I visited one Golden Delicious orchard planted in the mid 1990s that had 4 metre trees with trunks over 20cm in diameter – they looked less like fruit trees and more like solid columns of bloom and leaf!

After a successful few days surveying in Ceres, I headed south to the Grabouw area where I had been told the trees were still in bloom. Whereas the Koue Bokkeveld farms are arranged in huge neat grids, the Grabouw orchards are more irregular in shape and (it seems) always on the side of a very steep hill. For these surveys I based myself back in the town of Stellenbosch, which meant dodging troops of baboons on the R45 road every morning on the way to the farms. Grabouw yielded more surveys of Gala, Pink Lady and Kanzi trees.

By the middle of my second week, it was time to admit that the 2019 blossom period was now well and truly over. I had gathered several excellent datasets, plenty to keep the project going until spring in the northern hemisphere when we could survey with more with our UK partner farms. As I had a few days to spare before my flight home, I was able to see some of the sights of Cape Town. Highlights were the brightly coloured houses of the Bo Kaap district, a delicious meal at the Shortmarket Club (thank you Yagro!) and the drive from City Bowl down to Camps Bay and Llandudno. But the pinnacle of the trip was a visit to the penguin colony at Boulder Beach. The beach is a protected nature reserve, but for a small entrance fee you can walk along the raised walkways and see the penguins nesting under the trees or sunbathing on the beach’s boulders. They are very very cute, but also very very smelly…

While South African agriculture is facing a wide range of pressures both natural and manmade, I found the fruit sector to be vibrant, forward thinking and open to new ideas. A two hour time difference to the UK, a warm welcome and great food mean Outfield will certainly be back in South Africa soon!

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