Northern Ireland

Gamble pays off with bumper Bramley harvest

After a dull, wet growing season many growers were disappointed with the size of their fruit, so orchard owners decided it was time to take a gamble, as Martin Cassidy has been finding out.

Many orchards went into September with plenty of apples on the trees but the lack of sunshine meant the fruit had not swelled to its full potential.

"There are some people who have been a little bit unfortunate, sometimes its micro climate that makes all the difference between having a really good crop and having some problems," said Loughgall grower Edmund Allen.

But even after such a gloomy summer Mr Allen still hoped his crop had the potential to bulk up.

By mid-September he faced a major decision, either send in the picking gangs and settle for a small crop or take a gamble on the weather and delay the harvest by a week or more.

Walking down through the Bramley trees reveals just how that gamble has paid off.

Apples which just a fortnight ago were considered too small have swelled to a remarkable extent.

And framed against a clear blue sky the branches hang heavy with succulent looking Bramleys.

Sunlight is what has made the difference, the sun's rays reflect off the fruit high up on the trees and filter down to the green and red tinged fruit in the harvest boxes between the rows.

Now though the rush is on to pick the fruit and get it to market or to the apple store.

Like many orchard owners Mr Allen is now working up to eighteen hours a day.

This orchard alone will produce a crop of 700 tonnes of apples.

Every last single apple on these trees will be picked by hand and a rough calculation suggests that will amount to over a million apples in this 35 acre orchard.

"A good proportion of the out grade crop of Bramleys would be sent for cider manufacture in the south of Ireland and then there is also fresh juice manufacture," says Department of Agriculture apple adviser Graham Cross.

Image caption An orchard can produce a crop of up to 700 tonnes of apples

But many of the apples grown in County Armagh are peeled and processed in local factories and supplied to bakeries for pies and tarts.

Bramley apple is also an important ingredient in ketchups and spicy sauces.

On the roads around Loughgall there are tractors pulling trailer loads of fruit to the apple stores.

One of the Bramley's great strengths is that it keeps so well.

The key though is to harvest the apples in good condition and back in Edmund Allen's orchard the boxes between the rows are steadily filling up.

Once again the weather has been a major factor for the orchard owners - this time some autumn sunshine coming to their rescue.