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Abundance in UK summer fruits an indicator to past British weather?

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Peter Gibbs Peter Gibbs | 12:00 UK time, Thursday, 14 July 2011

Distance travelled ~ 500'409'600 km: day 195 in Earth's orbit

There's been a strange groaning sound emanating from gardens across the country this summer. It's not coming from the creaking limbs of aged gardeners, but from the strained boughs of fruit trees laden down with a bumper crop of steadily swelling apples and pears.

Lots of people remarked on the stunning display of blossom this spring and this has translated into one of the most prolific fruit crops in years. Not just tree fruit either, blackcurrants and other berries seem to have done equally well.

This can all be put down to the combination of a cold winter followed by a warm spring. Most plants that we grow in the UK go into a period of hibernation during the winter, before bursting back into growth as temperatures rise in spring. If they don't get a cold enough spell of weather during the winter they never go into full dormancy, which means they have less energy left over for spring growth.

Once the blossom appears, it's vulnerable to frost damage if there's a late cold snap. Cold weather also means that pollinating insects stay at home. This all means that the fruit doesn't set and you end up with a poor crop.

So why is this year so good? Well, the coldest December in a century was just the thing to push fruit trees and berry shrubs into a good dormant spell, followed by the extravagant display of blossom as temperatures soared through March and a record-breaking April. Late frosts held off until May, by which time the fruit had set.

So all this suggests that an abundance of berries in the hedgerow is more reliable as an indicator of past weather, rather than a prediction of a hard winter to come as weather lore would have it.

But then again, it was a meandering jetstream and the resulting blocked weather pattern that brought us two cold winters in succession. There is some evidence that North Atlantic weather may occasionally get stuck in a blocked pattern for a few years at a time.

So maybe the berries are trying to tell us something. As ever with weather lore, there could be a grain of truth - but don't bet your holidays on it.


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