Fruit growers are enjoying the earliest apple harvest ever recorded in Britain – thanks to the combination of a freezing winter and scorching hot spring.
Last winter’s sub-zero temperatures forced orchards to lie dormant for longer, allowing the fruit trees to ”re-charge their batteries”.
The extreme cold combined with April’s unseasonal heatwave means apples have bloomed nearly six weeks early.
Apple farmer Colin Broomfield, of The Broomfield Fruit Farm, started picking the crop today, marking the earliest harvest in its 100-year history.
A dozen pickers were drafted in to collect apples from the 100-acre site in Holt Heath, Worcs.
Colin, 44, whose family started the farm in 1911, said: ”This is the earliest harvest we’ve ever had – it’s amazing.
”This beats the previous record by over a week – we’ve never known anything like it.
”Our squad of 12 fruit-pickers commenced harvesting the ‘Discovery’ variety and should finish within 10 to 14 days.
”The size of the crop will be about the same as last year but the quality will be much better.
”Fruit growers always look forward to a cold winter as it allows the buds rest and also kills the bugs.
”If this is followed with plenty of sun during the summer, the apples tend to be much sweeter.”
Colin, whose farm is celebrating its centenary this year, added: ”This was all started by my great-grandparents in 1911.
”We grow over 28 apple varieties here now and still remain as passionate about quality English apples as ever.”
Adrian Barlow, chief executive of English Apples and Pears Association, which represents 400 growers across the country, described the early harvest as ”a very positive business story”.
He said: ”This harvest is weeks ahead of normal – it is the earliest harvest since records began 35 years ago.
”Things are looking great for English apple growers, with supermarket sales having risen 40 per cent in five years.
”The early harvest this year is a very positive business story – it could raise in excess of £50 million in the export market.
”If you think back to the end of last year, November and December were very cold indeed.
”The freezing winter shut down the trees and made them fully hibernate.
”This had the effect of putting them into a deep sleep, allowing them to re-charge their batteries completely.
”When spring broke, the fruit trees returned with plenty of vigour.
”Light levels were also very good, which is important in turning the starch into sugar.
”The fact that it was a very warm spring – the hottest April on record in fact – made the fruit trees flower much earlier.
”And it is this early flowering which allowed the insects to commence pollination earlier.”
This year’s hot spring hit near-drought levels in Herefordshire and south-east England, threatening the younger and smaller apples trees.
Mr Barlow added: ”If the intensely dry patch had gone on for much longer, many of the trees would have been in trouble.
”Bigger apple trees had substantial enough root systems to weather the drought, but the smaller ones would not have been strong enough.”