One of the hardest things about growing tree fruit is thinning it. It goes against ones nature to grow a tree and put all that time and effort in just to pull off fruit before it is ready to eat. It is also one of the more important aspects to growing Quality Fruit. We usually will thin a little when apples are about nickel size and then wait for the “June Drop”. June fruit drop refers to the natural tendency of fruit trees to shed some of their immature fruits. Fruit trees will set more flowers than they need for a crop to offset losses from weather or other cultural factors. According to Purdue University Consumer Horticulture, “Only one bloom in 20 is needed for a good crop on a full-blossoming apple tree.”
What Causes June Fruit Drop?
Fruit trees set fruit so that they can produce seed. Too large a crop will strain the tree’s resources and result in smaller fruits, possibly of lesser quality. So the tree protects itself and its seed by thinning the crop, once it senses weather and growing conditions are stabile. We have found that mother nature still leaves way to many apples on the tree so we must go through and manually thin the crop, hand picking into 5 gallon buckets. We like to do this when they are smaller than a golf ball. By collecting the fruit instead of leaving it on the ground, we help to break the life cycle of fruit damaging insects and pest. This is one part to IPM or Integrated Pest Management.
Why Thin The Fruit?
- 1.Bigger Fruit Less fruit means that those that are left will develop to be bigger
- 2. Better Fruit By thinning you will increase the sugars (brix level) and have more nutrient dense produce
- Annual Bearing Many trees will become biennial bearing if allowed to carry a big fruit load. Big crop now then no crop next year. It is natures way of achieving balance.
- Health of the Tree. Many branches cannot take the weight of a fully developed apple load, especially the tip bearers which have fruit primarily on the ends of the branches
Here is a picture of a young apple that would have snapped off branches if it were not supported
While this tree is not overloaded look at the support required!
Thinning is as much an art as it is a science. Start by removing the smallest, misshapen, bruised or those with pest damage. Apples grow in a cluster of 4-5 which should normally be thinned to 1 or 2. As a rule of thumb it takes 40-50 leaves to support 1 apple.