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2019 - a great year for apples?

It certainly looks that way. If you're a forager or backyard orchardist in the North East, you've likely seen more apple blossoms on your trees this year than last year? Left to their own devices, most apple trees tend towards biennial bearing - last year they took a bit of a break to focus on vegetative production. This year they appear to be focused of fruit production.

Having foraged hundreds of feral apple trees, and harvested backyard orchards across the region for many years now, I've learned to temper my mid-May expectations. All those blossoms on the tree could very well turn into fruit, but a lot of things can go wrong between now and September/October. 

Inspecting blossoms, or posing for selfie? You decide.

Besides late frosts, hail storms, and other severe whether events, my main concern is prolonged wet whether. The last two years are good examples- 2017 was forecast to be a good apple year in many regions both commercially as well as for backyard orchardists, similar to the bumper crop we all experienced in 2015. But the climate conditions had other plans. A wet and cool early summer created perfect conditions for a variety of fungi, scab and rust to flourish, and many untreated trees were overwhelmed. My orchard was white with blossoms that spring, as were most feral and wild trees I forage from. But by late August those trees had either partially or totally defoliated, leaving most of the apples on the branch, never to ripen properly.

2018 was even worse, with wet and humid conditions, the scab and rust was even more ubiquitous and aggressive. Many wild and feral trees here in the Catskills had lost most or all of their leaves by early September.

And now, May 2019, my orchard is white again with blossoms. I tend very minimally to my own trees and even less so to the wild, feral and abandoned orchards I forage from. With the landowners' permission I'll prune them on occassion, and spray them every now and again with some organic pest control solution. But this year, with abundant fungus spores, and unknown summer conditions, I am taking extra precautions and I recommend others do the same.

So what can we do? Well, if we get a decently dry summer, we probably don't have to do anything. Our main concerns will shift to other threats- japanese beetles and other bugs for example. But on a rainy day like today, I still fear the wet weather, and with all the spores from previous years' fungi just waiting for the right conditions to emerge, it is a good idea to take some extra steps this spring and summer to increase your chances of a healthy apple crop.

1) Invest $11 in a one gallon sprayer (or bigger if you have lots of trees). Want to add a caption to this image? Click the Settings icon.

2) After flower pedals have fallen off (and pollinators have done their job), spray the trunks, branches, leaves and ground with a neem oil solution. It is organic and, when used correcty, can be very effective in pest and fungus management. For more info on neem oil check this article out. Michael Phillips recommends a regimented approach. I plan to follow that approach this year.

3) Put good compost down around your trees. By doing so you are offering your trees' surrounding fungal, bacterial and insectal (is that a word?) community a hospitable environment. Your trees rely on a variety of beneficial species to break down nutrients, and protect against pests. This is a HUGE topic, so if you want to dig more into this, google "permaculture orchard" and have fun going down that rabbit hole! I'm not an expert, but I continuously try to learn more about holistic orcharding, and I know who the experts are within a variety of fields and topics. So if you want to dig more, I can help point you in the right direction. Happy orcharding!


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