The Lingenfelder brothers reveal the secrets of success with Cheeky. By Anna Mouton.
The farm Rustfontein in Vyeboom has been in the Lingenfelder family since 1930 and the first apples were planted in 1978. The third generation of Lingenfelders — Albert, Francois, and Guillaume — are achieving impressive results with two Cape Rose orchards.
The one was established in 2011 and consists of central-leader trees on BP 3 rootstocks spaced 4.5 x 1.5 metres apart. The other was planted in 2014 and consists of a double palmette system — Figure 1 — on BP 1 rootstocks spaced 3.5 x 1.5 metres apart.
Both orchards produce high yields of excellent quality fruit. The averages are 52 tonnes per hectare for the double palmettes and 47 tonnes per hectare for the central leaders.
“With the higher tonnes last year, you would have expected smaller fruit,” says Albert Lingenfelder, “but the size was a count higher. And the colour split was 78% Cheeky and 22% Cape Rose.”
Wind marks account for most of the defects. “We have higher pack-outs on the palmette system,” notes Albert. Fastening the branches to the wires prevents movement and helps to keep fruit exposed to sunlight throughout the growing season. Steady sunlight equals better blush and less sunburn. The narrow canopy of the palmette trees also facilitates spraying and harvesting.
Albert can list many advantages of this system — but he is not about to plant another like it. “It’s too expensive,” he says. The double palmette system requires a more costly trellis and much more labour to establish. Annual pruning inputs are 31 man-days per hectare compared to 23 for the central-leader trees.
“The V-trellis is even more expensive,” adds Keith Bradley, general manager of Fruitways Agri Services. “But we did an analysis and found that orchards with V-trellises were among those in the highest income bracket. So you’ll find that people plant them and decide it’s too expensive, but when the orchards come into production, and they see how much money they’re earning, they do it again.”
Climbing the Cape Rose learning curve
The Lingenfelders use mineral oil for rest-breaking. They do not spray gibberellins to improve fruit set in Cape Rose because the cultivar sets very well. “Where it has a flower, it has a pear,” observes Albert.
Last season was the first time that the trees were chemically thinned. A combination of 6-benzyladenine and 1-naphthylacetic acid gave good results. Chemical thinning was followed up in November by manual thinning. In years with exceptionally heavy fruit set, smaller fruit are removed by additional manual thinning in December.
The biggest challenge with Cape Rose has been learning how to prune it. “If we had known from the start on what wood it bears, and how to manipulate it, we would have made money earlier,” comments Guillaume Lingenfelder.
Cape Rose bears on three-year-old wood — a new shoot grows in year one and makes spurs in year two. Pruning should aim to keep one- and two-year-old shoots, and to renew older wood that has already borne fruit.
“In the years where there are lots of buds, we cut away the old wood. But in the years where you can see there are too few buds, we keep everything we can, even if the wood is older,” says Albert.
“The biggest thing with Cheeky is that you have to make renewal cuts every year,” confirms Dr Leon von Mollendorff, general manager at Culdevco. “That may take more intensive pruning and greater cost of labour at the end of the day. It’s a tree that you have to manage to get a proper result.”
So far, the Lingenfelders have certainly shown that they can get the best out of Cape Rose. The question is whether the outstanding yields of last year will cost them tonnes in the coming season.
“I’m busy pruning that block,” says Guillaume. “The 70 tonnes of last year are definitely not there. But Cheeky is a strange one — it looks like there are no buds and then, suddenly, you see lots of blossoms.”
More about Cheeky
Almost everyone in the pear industry talks about Cheeky when they refer to the cultivar Cape Rose. Cheeky is a trademark for Cape Rose pears that meet a specific standard. This means that not all fruit harvested from Cape Rose trees qualify as Cheeky — but every grower aims to maximise the percentage of Cheeky pears harvested.
The cultivar Cape Rose and the Cheeky trademark belong to the ARC — Agricultural Research Council — and are managed by Culdevco.
“Up to now, the ARC breeding programme has mainly focused on developing new blushed pear cultivars, since Forelle has been such a success story,” explains Dr Leon von Mollendorff, general manager at Culdevco.
“Cape Rose is a blushed variety that fills the gap between Rosemarie and Forelle, which are the other big blushed varieties. So it ripens towards weeks 4–5, whereas Rosemarie ripens in weeks 3–4, and then Forelle ripens from week 7 onwards.”
According to Von Mollendorff, Cheeky has the advantages of large fruit size and intense red blush. “It’s been developed in South Africa, it’s adapted to local conditions, and it was independently evaluated under our conditions, with the cooperation of technical advisers from the three biggest pear exporters in South Africa at that time.”
Von Mollendorff is upbeat about market opportunities for especially early blushed pears. The latest cultivar released by the ARC, Cape Blush, ripens in weeks 1–2, thereby extending the season even further. And he says that there are more new cultivars in the pipeline.
“The ARC has made very good progress on blushed pear cultivars. There are beautiful blushed pears that ripen in weeks 3–5 coming through the system.”
Image: Pruning the double palmette system at Rustfontein. Note that there are eight levels of trellis wires.
Supplied by Anna Mouton.