Growing Season Preview

  

All through winter, till warm weather wakes them up, these little woody sticking-out buds contain the makings of leaves and fruit to come. Dormancy is pruning time here. When warmth comes too early, the buds open and expose themselves to deadly spring frosts! So the first dramas and suspense of the growing season come from ‘warm snaps’ in March and early April. NOTE: These pictures are many years old, taken in a dry year – the apples came out much smaller than they did in 2014! But the photos work as illustration.

By early May, the buds reach what growers call “full pink.”  It takes about ten days, into the third week of May, for all our varieties to flower and fade. Each variety has its own schedule.

During bloom, it’s ALL ABOUT BEES, BUGS, BIRDS: THE POLLINATORS! All day they collect sugary nectar from blossoms. As they move, pollen from one blossom sticks to them, then drops off inside other blossoms. Immediately, each pollinated flower starts growing into a fruit.

Active bees (and other bugs, and birds, and bats in some places), make fruit grow by pollinating blossoms. Flying creatures tend to stay grounded in cold or rainy weather. Too much bad weather: no crop. Growers of all kinds try to sweeten the odds by RENTING EXTRA BEES. That way, a good crop can form during just one or two fair days. Beekeepers work hard for their rents, moving hives from farm to farm.

Then comes “petal fall.” At once, the pollinated flower parts thicken.The others stay slim. They turn yellow and fall away. In this photo it’s hard to see the early difference between pollinated and unpollinated blossoms.

A week or so on, from the same distance away, the difference jumps out.  The shriveled remains of unpollinated flowers are almost gone. But in a few weeks, the growing season reaches another decision-point. Later in June, each tree naturally sorts through its new crop. Small, weakly-pollinated fruit falls off. In our climate, this sorting process is called “June Drop.” Meanwhile, growers decide whether to thin out the crop even more than the trees themselves will do.

For us in the fruit business, this branch is still crowded.  If these little apples all grow on, they’ll end up small, jammed together, and strictly for the birds. For centuries, orchard workers thinned acre after acre by hand, knocking off thousands of tiny apples so the rest could grow large.

We still do a little hand-thinning. But these days, it’s possible to spray fruit trees with specific hormones, to simulate the tree’s natural own method of causing weak fruit to drop. In years of heavy pollination, most growers try to boost the early-summer ‘drop’ in this way.

Weeks later, in mid-to-late summer, see how thinning gave these apples space to grow. Each apple receives more nutrients from the tree, and more sweetening-power from sunlight. Toward harvest time, fewer swelling apples will shove their swelling neighbors to the ground. Growers make so many of these little differences that matter to people, not so much to Ms. Nature.

Here’s our cluster late in the McIntosh harvest, mid-October maybe, after sunny days and cold nights have turned all the starches in the apples to fruit sugars, and made the skins as red as they can get. The apples were small that year, but the quality was excellent.

 

 

 


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