Saturday, May 12, 2012

Backyard Orchard Culture: Thinning baby fruits for better harvest.

Once fruit has set on the tree, it's time to thin the baby fruits for best yield. By thinning, each of the remaining fruits will get much more leaf-produced sunshine-generated energy. That means much larger fruits, more flavor, and earlier yield.

In years when I did not thin, my fruits were small and not as tasty.

 In my yard, thinning time is now - for apples, pears, asian pears, peaches, plums. If there are already about 1 fruit every 4 to 6 inches of branch, they don't need to be thinned. They say the fruit should be about one human fist apart. I have fat fists, so I left them slightly closer together. Do not thin tart cherries, sweet cherries, mulberries. It would just reduce the yield. Do thin apples, peaches, pears, asian pears, plums, unless setting was sparce. I'm not sure figs need thinning - mine drop a lot so I let the tree decide. I might remove a few that are too closer together. In my climate, the time to thin is now, to a few weeks from now. It may be a little early but I get excited. This week I thinned pears, asian pears, and apples. The peach fruits are sparse, but on branches where there are many clustered together, I thinned them to 1 per spur.

These are Liberty Apple, a disease-resistant apple that tastes great and bears well every year. This tree is on an ultra-dwarfing stock, so at 8 years old it is only 5 feet tall. It's more of a bush, than a tree. The blossom clusters set very well. Almost every blossom set. There are 4 to 8 baby apples per cluster. Left in place, the apples will be late, small, and not as flavorful. All but one or 2 should be removed, per cluster. Even with thinning this little tree may have a hundred apples this year.

Some people use their fingers to pull off the small fruits. I find that I pull of the entire spur, or twist and damage the remaining apple. I have fat clumsy fingers. So, I use a kitchen shears. To avoid spreading disease, I run them through the dishwasher between uses, once per tree. That also washes off the sticky sap.  This scissor is in a slightly wrong place - that's the one little apple I left in place. It's not easy taking a pic while holding an apple branch and a pair of scissors.  I avoiding thinning my fingers, and still have 10 on each hand.
After thinning, I have one apple per cluster. I left one per spur, which are about 4 inches apart. In each case, I tried to leave the biggest apple in place. When they grow a little bigger, I may remove a few of the closest-together ones, but basically the job is done. I'm pretty sure I left healthy baby apples - the blossoms that did not set just fall off now, whereas these have a nice start of little apples.

Of the other apple trees, the North Pole was also due for thinning, so I did that.  Also the Jonagold.   Both of these also set very well this year.  Of the new ones, Karmin de Sonneville and Honeycrisp, this is just their 2nd year of growth, but they are covered with flowers.  I thinned them as well.  I would like to get a few apples from each of those, even if it stunts future years.  I want them to be stunted.

My other preparation today was to spray each tree with some neem oil. Neem is organic. It is an extract from neem trees. Neem oil reduces fungal disease and aphids. I find it helpful, although not as helpful as selecting the right variety. My Golden Delicious got a leaf blight every year despite spraying, and Liberty so far has not got any blight, even when I don't spray. I finally cut down the Golden Delicious, and have new small starts of Karmin de Sonneville and Honeycrisp, both of which I expect to give a few apples this year. Jonagold is in between on the blight issue, so I neemed it well this year. Jonagolds are very good. I wish I could find a Jonathan or some scion wood from a Jonathan, which were my favorite apples when I was a boy.  Karmin seemed to get a little blight late in the year last year, but I still want to try with that one.  Karmin has interesting, downy furry leaves.  The apples are said to be among the most flavorfull.

In a few weeks, I will also cut the tips from the apple branches. I do that when they have about 6 inches of growth. Doing so stimulates spur formation for next year, and makes the tree/bush very compact.   But for now, they just need some sunshine and an occasional rain.

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