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What's Happening

Apple orchards are busy places – even during winter! Here's what's going on now in the typical New York state orchard on a monthly basis throughout the year.

MonthTree stageWhat's happening?
January dormant

Dormant pruning

Grower continuing education

Maintain/service orchard equipment

February dormant

Dormant pruning

Grower continuing education

March silver tip

Plant new trees

Dormant pruning

April green tip to tight cluster

Plant new trees

Bloom in southernmost orchards, rented bees arrive for pollination

IPM

tree training

May pink to fruit set

Bloom in northernmost orchards

baby apples!

IPM

June fruit sizing

Fruit thinning

IPM

July

fruit sizing

terminal bud set

Fruit thinning

IPM

Harvest preparation

August fruit sizing

Summer pruning

Harvest preparation

Harvest begins (in southernmost orchards, of early-season varieties)

IPM

September fruit sizing

Harvest begins (statewide average)

IPM

October  

Harvest ends (statewide average)

IPM

November  

Harvest ends (northernmost orchards, late-season varieties)

IPM

December dormant  Grower continuing education

 

Bee rental: Most apple varieties require pollen from other variety(ies) to successfully pollinate blossoms. Growers rent bee colonies from professional beekeepers to help pollinate their crops.

Fruit thinning: Depending upon how many apple blossoms were pollinated, resulting in baby apples, growers may opt to thin some fruitlets off the tree. That allows the remaining fruit to grow larger without overtaxing the tree.

Grower continuing education: Growers' continuing education meetings, conferences and tours take place when things are quiet in the orchard. Continuing ed topics include production techniques and crop marketing. Some growers travel around the world, to learn from and teach their counterparts in other apple-growing countries.

Harvest preparation: The orchard and packinghouse are a flurry of activity in the days before harvest. In the orchard, as harvest supplies including field bins and ladders are pre-staged. In the packinghouse, fruit storage rooms and packing lines are cleaned and sanitized to ready them for new-crop apples.

Harvest: Picking crews move through the orchards methodically, picking every apple by hand. A crew might include 4-6 pickers, and a crew leader who is also in charge of quality control. The crews fill 4x4-foot field bins as they move down an orchard row; when the field bins are filled, they are transported to the packinghouse. Pickers may make 2-3 passes through an orchard section over a week or so, as fruit reaches optimal maturity.

IPM: Growers monitor pest activity in their orchard, and act as needed to protect both the fruit and the trees themselves from damage. Most growers employ Integrated Pest Management (IPM), which combines a range of chemical and nonchemical crop protection tools and practices. Under IPM, growers monitor pest activity, and act as needed to protect both the developing fruit and the trees themselves. Chemicals, synthetic or man-made, are used only when necessary and then at a minimum.

Plant new trees: Apple trees are not grown from seed; apples breed like humans, a seed will be a cross between the "mom" (the blossom variety) and "dad" (the variety that provided the pollen). Like human children, no two baby apples are exactly alike. Commercial apple trees are propagated from cuttings or "stooling" by commercial tree nurseries. Growers order new trees as much as two years in advance for high-demand varieties.

Tree stage: Once winter dormancy ends, an apple tree's buds progress quickly to full bloom, concluding with fruit set. The nine stages of bud development are: silver tip; green tip; quarter-inch green; half-inch green; tight cluster; pink; bloom; petal fall; and fruit set. Terminal bud set is when the current season's growth period stops; new buds form at the end of branches that will bloom the following year.

Tree training and pruning: Growers use training and pruning to develop and maintain smaller, relatively conical shaped trees. This tree shape balances vegetative (tree) growth with reproductive (fruit) growth. Well-trained and -pruned trees are more productive over their lifetime, and yield better-quality fruit. Winter pruning encourages tree growth, which if overdone can be to the detriment of fruit production; pruning in summer enhances light distribution to color the fruit.