Bramley apple orchard in Sittingbourne

News from Fourayes

Apr 1, 2018

Phil's April 1st Blog 2018

The Fourayes HelioBramley apple... My interest was first piqued by an article I read about Sunflowers; more specifically about the fact that they always turn to face the sun.

The ability of Helianthus to track the sun is known as heliotropism but the Sunflower does more than just follow the sun – it only does so until it has matured. Once its goal is achieved, it simply turns the process off.

That got me thinking.

The Bramley apples on the trees in our orchards can suffer from sun ‘blush’ if they’re not sheltered. Conventional trees achieve this naturally by virtue of their leaves although, even then, some ‘blush’ can happen (as evidenced by a reddened appearance).

Some of our customers – the ones who make Bramley apple sauces, for example, prefer predominantly green Bramley apples with the whitest flesh. Others, however, prefer sun-blush apples for their redness and ‘warmer’ appearance.

But here’s the problem: an apple can have a little of both, but not consistently. Some apples can be green with a little red; others more red with a little green.

What if one apple could consistently offer both solutions?

In recent years we’ve been changing our conventional orchards to a close-planting model. The close-planted trees are trained along wires, creating a flatter, more open structure.

Whilst one important reason is to ensure all the apples on the trees get enough sun, the downside is that, as the sun moves, whole apples can be exposed to too much sun and partially redden as a result.

But what if we could introduce the Sunflower gene that keeps these flowers facing the sun? That would ensure one side of the apple would remain entirely green whilst the other would be a consistent sun-blushed red – thereby standardising every apple to a 50:50 mix?

I’m not the only person to experiment with south-facing innovations: in ancient China the ‘south-pointing’ chariot was a two-wheeled vehicle that ensured the emperor’s face would always point towards the sun. Allegedly the first such chariot was created by the legendary mechanical engineer Ma Jun who lived from circa 200-265 CE during the Three Kingdoms, so my thinking was clearly following in the footsteps of an ancient tradition. Sadly no remains of these chariots exist today and, in any event, their mechanisms were entirely mechanical.

Working with our agronomist we’ve been experimenting throughout the winter months although it’s only now that the sun has at last appeared that we are getting the first indications as to whether the HelioBramley might be feasible.

It is, of course, early days – the crop won’t be ready for harvesting until September/October this year – but I’ll keep you posted on our progress. Or you can just keep a watchful eye out for the red/green Bramley. The old adage says that ‘red and green should ne’er be seen’. I think we might be about to put an end to that!

Phil Acock. Managing Director and Mad Scientist at Fourayes; the UK’s number one grower and processor of English Bramley apples and processor of fruits from the UK and across the globe.

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