Farm Focus: Thinning Trees
Last week Farmer Al's note focused on two of the main chores on our springtime To Do list: thinning trees and irrigation. This week we're going deeper into the process of thinning our trees and why we do it. If you have fruit growing in your backyard this is the time of year to give your trees some extra TLC to make the best of the season!
Each year our stone fruit, apple and pear trees wake up from their winter slumber with a celebration of beautiful flowers that will become summer and fall fruit. We hope this happens after the danger of hard freezes, strong rain, wind or hail has passed. Just like the plum branch below you can see that the tree puts many flowers out in hopes that it will be able to "set" as many fruit as possible. Then the tree will also "leaf out" with fresh green leaves that will generate the energy needed to grow and ripen fruit.
There are two limiting factors for a tree's capacity to grow the delicious, sweet fruit we're looking for
#1: Energy. Each tree's capacity to produce energy is limited by the number of leaves on its branches. If there is too much fruit it can mean means less energy put towards each individual fruit.
#2: Space. Big fruits need lots of room. If you imagine all of the blossoms above getting pollinated and turning into fruit, they would be rubbing up together which can cause scarring and mildew.
If fruit doesn't have enough of either, quality will suffer so we must remove some fruit from the trees. Our tree crew takes a lot into account to determine which fruit stays and which must go.
This year, because of the late winter weather we had, our fruit is ripening two weeks later than average. Our tree crew is now in their third week of thinning trees, a yearly chore that takes a whole lot of time and skill. Only now is fruit large enough (nickel to quarter sized) for our staff to see their overall quantity and quality. .
Some of the things that are considered for each fruit:
- Insect Damage - this is the time of year that earwigs will climb up into trees and eat fruit so anything with a bite cavity will be discarded.
- Size - Fruit that are small at this stage have a longer way to go so we help the tree focus its resources on the fruit well on their way to being big and juicy.
- Location - We want each fruit to have the room to grow big and also be free from other fruit or branches. .
- Leaf Proximity - The energy from each leaf is used by the fruit growing nearest to it so we want to make sure that there is a healthy balance between fruit and leaves. In an 18 inch branch with plenty of leaves can ripen approximately 3 peaches. Anything more than this can be overload.
Each type of fruit (ie: peach, plum or pear) has its own particular challenges and each individual tree, down the branch, will need to be assessed to determine each fruit's viability. Plums, for example, are the same size and shape as the leaves so it takes extra time and care to thin the trees. Peaches, on the other hand, are easy to differentiate from their long pointy leaves but need much more room on the branch
The crew will continue this tedious work for the next few weeks. Once stone fruit is done they will shift over to our fall crops like pears, which have already set fruit and then pomegranates and persimmons which are still blooming. Then we will begin the many months long processes of harvesting the fruits of our labor!
In the meantime, here are some photos of the last spring blooms of our 2018 crops!
Name that blossom: pomegranate, olives, grapes, persimmons, and oranges.