The short answer is, you “thin” them! Thinning is surely the most important, and also the most labour intensive, job we have to do here on Our Mates’ Farm. Apple trees have a tendency to over-produce fruit, and without thinning you can have a lot of small apples one year, and then none the following year as the tree struggles to recover from such a heavy crop. It can also lead to limbs breaking under the weight during one of these “on years”. In a conventional (i.e. non-organic) orchard there are thinning sprays you can use, and in a wider sense apples are one of the most heavily sprayed crops there is. However in an organic orchard, the options for spray thinning are not really effective, leaving only real one choice: thin by hand.
To most people this job appears to be quite a drudge, taking thousands upon thousands of tiny apples off the trees, however I love it. It gives me a chance to see what is happening at the micro level. What insects are in the trees? Is there any damage on the fruit from black spot, caterpillars, moths, frost, sunburn? And the best part is that I can take any fruit that is damaged off the trees, leaving behind the perfect fruit with plenty of space and sunshine to grow into, with a bigger share of nutrients from the tree to fuel it. So don't be put off by the photos of damaged fruit below, they are just there so you can see what we see. Rest assured our crop will not look anything like this come harvest.
To get there we will spend the next few months thinning our way through our Galas and then our Fujis. The other varieties seem to be cropping a little lighter this year so we will leave them for last, if we get to them at all. We have some help, and of course we have other things to do in between like summer pruning and mowing, but it promises to be a wonderful summer up close and personal with these beautiful apple trees.
|Thinning is about turning this....|
|We get to see life at this level|
|Our lovely neighbours Peter (behind the tree) and Ellen helping us thin as part of their Certificate II in Horticulture|
|This is what frost damage looks like|
|The dreaded black spot, but there isn't much of this (it took me two weeks of searching to find this cracking example)|