One of the things that makes this orchard feasible as a healthy no-spray endeavor is the close attention Al pays (and is teaching me to pay) to thinning. We thin for a variety of reasons: to improve fruit size and quality; to reduce the load on the boughs; to cull small or misshapen fruit; and to deal with pests. We thin the apples several times over the course of the growing season.
When trees first set fruit, if pollination is good, they have many more fruit than can ultimately ripen into something good to eat. Some (especially Italian plums and some apples) self-cleanse by dropping a healthy portion of their fruit. Others need to be manually thinned.
The first thinning is focused on leaving a realistic and healthy amount of fruit on the tree. We do it when the apples are golf-ball size and the fruit is so small and sour that we drop it on the ground and leave it to enrich the soil. After the first thinning, the tree focuses its energy on the growth of the remaining fruit and the effect is stunning! Below is a pair of photos, one before the first thinning and the other one month later.
The second thinning was (for me as I learn) an exercise in the process of ‘If you think you’ve thinned enough, thin more!’. It’s hard to remove good fruit from the tree! It’s a chance to look critically at the distribution of fruit along limbs and cull any runt fruit. The apples are still quite tart, but have enough flavor and sugar for a small cider pressing, with the pressings composted to feed the garden and orchard. (This doesn’t produce a lot of cider, just enough for our families; sorry!)
The third thinning is the beginning of inspecting the fruit for coddling moth damage and really making sure that the tree has an appropriate fruit load to ripen. The apples we thin are again used for a small cider pressing.
Since we’re committed to no sprays on our trees, we manually remove any fruit that has had coddling moth eggs laid in it. This year has been worse than most; the wind patterns have been different than in past years and we think the adults may be blowing in on the breeze. We will still have plenty of fruit for you, wonderful members, but we’re noticing more damage.
All this time and effort means the final crop is delicious, beautiful and healthy fruit for you, and for the critters large and small who love this orchard.