County Ag Report - What it Takes to Run an Apple Orchard

Published: Oct. 14, 2022 at 3:11 PM EDT
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“Apples actually start late in the Winter for me with pruning.”

Picking an apple off a tree in an orchard only takes a few seconds, but a lot has to be done before that apple is ready to be picked.

“I start pruning when I can walk on top of the snow and get the upper part of the tree and then after the snow melts, I’ll get the lower part.”

During our recent visit to McElwain’s Strawberry Farm, we spoke with owner, Frank McElwain, about his addition of an apple orchard two decades ago. We asked McElwain to tell us about the work an orchard requires from the beginning of the season to the end.

“There’s fertilization of course you need to do in the Spring, and then you need to watch for problems with any disease and insects.”

McElwain says that caring for apples takes place over several stages of their development.

“Apples are interesting because you watch their development, and you care for them as the blossom and the fruit develops. So, when the leaves start coming out there’s green tip, and there’s silver tip, there’s what they call pre-bloom, bloom, post-bloom or petal fall.”

Sometimes it’s necessary to remove some apples so the remaining ones grow to the desired size.

“When the fruit is small, very small, we’ll actually sometimes come out on trees that are too thick, have too many apples, and we’ll take some off and reduce the numbers so that the ones that are there will have the right crop load and the good size that we want to see from them.”

How do you know when apples are ready to be picked and are any left on the tree?

“Some of it’s based on their color, some of it’s based on how easily they come off the tree, but in the end it’s how they taste. And once we think they have a good flavor, we’ll start picking them. We pick our orchard clean including apples that fall on the ground. We get the ones on the ground so that we don’t have more pressure from disease and insects.”

And in case you were wondering, yes, there is a proper way to pick an apple.

“You shouldn’t just yank it because you can damage the little branch where it’s connected. So, it’s good to use two hands to kind of support it and you twirl the apple and tip it a little bit, and it will break off like that. And it should break off right at the little stem, and not break the branch”

Bernie Lagasse, NEWSSOURCE 8