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Apple pollination and thinning

Apple flowerApple trees can take up to a decade to bloom and produce their first fruit, so the rest of the book presents information I can only consider theoretically.  It sure is nice to dream about white apple blossoms and growing fruits, though.

I was stunned to read that an apple flower requires an average of 68 bee visits to ensure proper pollination!  It turns out that the multiple seeds inside an apple need to be individually pollinated, and that a fruit with only one or two seeds is likely to be dropped by the tree before it is mature.  Michael Phillips borrows honeybees to put in his orchard at the critical period and sometimes even cuts his dandelion flowers down to make sure the bees concentrate on apple blossoms.  He also encourages wild flowering plants at other times of the year to build up his bumblebee and orchard bee population.

Then, after carefully getting as many of his flowers pollinated as possible (usually 1 in 8 will make fruit), he goes back to the orchard and manually thins the tiny fruits to one apple per cluster.  He also picks off fruits until they are no closer together than four inches along the branch.  Thinning the apples about 35 days after full bloom helps make sure his trees bear every year rather than lapsing into biennial fruiting.  He ends up with about the same weight of fruit as he would without thinning, but the resulting apples are much larger.

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This post is part of our Growing Organic Apples lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:

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