Saturday, December 27, 2014

Winter Project: Apple bags. 12.17.14

I haven't had as much success as I would like, with apples.  I get them to the point where lots of apples are forming.  Then a lot go to pot.  Distorted, wormy, shrunken apples.  Liberty is pretty good, not much disease or insect damage.  North Pole, one of my older trees with lots of apples, almost never yields an edible apple.  They are distorted and gnarled looking.  Jonagold, very few usable apples.  I got a good apple from my tiny Golden Sentinel apple last year.

The issue is disease and insect related.  From what I read, commercial orchards spray and spray and spray and spray.  Even organic orchards have their organic sprays.  I've been trying my backyard apples with no spray.

Reading about the options, some gardeners insert each developing apple into a modified ziplock bag.  The bag serves as an impermeable shield against most insects and disease.  The result is a vastly improved yield of edible, supposedly perfect, apples.  An added benefit, they ripen 2 weeks earlier.  Some gardeners staple the bags in place.  Others think that is not needed.  One writer refers to this as a "Ziplock® Orchard"

The concept of bagging apples is common in Japan, where a large fraction of the crop is bagged.  They use opaque bags, which must be removed to allow color formation and ripening.   They also apply stencils, which prevent color formation under the design, resulting in a yellow tattoo on a red apple.  The Japanese apples bring a high price premium, but it is happening less now because of the labor involved.  Young rural Japanese people have other things to do, than bag apples.  Prior to use in Japan, in the past century apples were bagged in France.

The apple bags are super easy and quick to make.  A box of sandwich-size zipper bags costs a couple of dollars, generic.  Mine came to a little over 1 cent per bag.

Use a sharp scissors.  Cut the 2 bottom corners, for drainage of any water that leaks into the bag.

Cut off the top flaps, because the zipper will go around the apple stem.  Most stems are too short to accommodate the top flaps.  Open the bag before cutting the flaps, or it's a trial to get open.

I prepared 200 for next spring, then put them in my gardening cabinet.  Spring is busy, better to make them now.  I doubt I'll need anything near 200, but there they are.

From the articles I read -

#The bags do not result in overheating the apples.  But the apples do wind up larger and ripen about 2 weeks sooner.

#Insects and disease do not enter through the cuts.  Rarely an insect enters around the stem.

#Some apples might have a not-perfect smudgy appearance.  That is not clear - the same author stated, so did their non-bagged apples.

#The bags must be applied very early - just after petal drop.  Thin the fruit at the same time.  If applying bags when the apples are larger than, say, a dime, then some insect and disease damage may be beginning, and you are locking the barn door after the horse was stolen.

#Based on my readings, bags work for solid fruits, like apples, pears, quince. But not for soft fruits, like peaches and plums, which may rot.

#The bags are not 100% effective, and work better in some climates than others.  Where they do work, they are much cheaper than spraying.  It's possible the bags are less effort than repeated spraying, especially with dwarf trees - no ladders.  With bags instead of sprays, you are not indiscriminately killing both harmful and beneficial insects by spraying everything, especially since multiple sprays seem to be needed.   So, both carnivorous insects, and pollinating insects both live to do their important jobs, and you can promote a beneficial garden ecosystem.

#Other types of bags, such as paper, are more trouble.  Rain and wind are more damaging to paper bags.  The bags must be removed for fruit to color properly.

#The zipper bags can be left on the fruit for storage.  According to my readings, the fruit will last longer than non-bagged fruits.

#I wonder if paw paws would ripen a couple weeks earlier too?  If mine set this year, I might try.

So this project is done.  It will be summer before I know if it works.   I have not done this before, so I can't vouch for the method.  Several writers swear by it.


  1. I think you'll be glad you bag your apples. Its a labor intensive practice and pretty much a standard in Asia to bag Asian pears. In LA where I grew up nobody eats the loquats because its full of worms. There are no disease on loquats and apples here in CA but there are lots of apples missing at the moment of ripening. The entire apples was taken off the branches by racoons. At the community garden was much worse we have signs up telling the adults to mind their children but they still climb on the trees breaking branches, take a bite and throw away unripe apples and also didn't let anyone have a taste of any apples. One old lady quit the garden because she wants to eat an Orange-pippen and the brat took all the green apples. A guy was dieing to try his hand on making apples ciders but at last no apple to talk about.

  2. I have heard of some people who trap racoons but the legality is an issue. The trapping of small children is also illegal - more so than trapping racoons, even if you release them somewhere else. That just moves the problem into someone else's yard.

    I wonder if you could apply tanglefoot to the branches. It works very well to keep ants out of figs and aphids out of cherries. I wrap with stretchy plastic and apply tanglefoot to the plastic. It might take too much to deter racoons.

  3. I suspect its possum that chew through my double netting I was afraid that it would prevent the fruit from ripening. I netted the blackberry and they didn't ripe well. Having been a farmer there are worse thing that I can do to a racoon. I'm trapping them now, there are 2X as many coons as possums. I'll get one every other week and sometimes more often then that. Take time off from work and drive him to the nature reserves, just 15 min from my house not far enough because they keep breeding; its endless work. here is the last one
    here is where I let him go: