The Orchard: Getting Ready for the Season

Spring is in the air!  And, like most people, we are getting ready for the upcoming season.  But, along with planting and prepping the soil, our orchard is also getting ready for the season with pruning activity, preventing bugs and avoiding bad weather conditions with superior technology.

We spoke with our Director of Horticulture, Matt, about the importance of getting our apple trees ready for the season.  As we walked out into the orchard, he had his pruning shears in hand, manually caring for each individual tree and that’s when we knew we were talking to someone who really cared about what he was doing.

Why is it Important to Prune?

It’s important to prune for good fruit production.  You need good horizontal lighting on an apple for good color.  By pruning, the goal is to get our branches to grow horizontally – that induces fruiting.  You’ll only get good fruit on your 45-degree angled branches.  We are balancing the crop load of the tree. Each aisle is 87 trees.  It takes us around 30 minutes to 2 hours a row to prune.  We have 6,000 trees in total. We started pruning in November when all of the fruit has dropped.  The process takes all winter.

You never want to take more than 1/3 of the tree.  The tree will just go into vegetative growth which is something you don’t want.  Branches that become too thick become too dominant on the tree – these are the branches to prune.  Every cut creates water spurts.  When you injure the tree, the tree senses that and shoots out a couple of branches to recoup itself.

We have to remove the cut branches from the ground because they can hold bacteria.  So, we make sure to carefully clear all of the cut branches and try to have a bare ground between trees.  We keep a little bit of a cover crop so that it doesn’t cause the sand to blow into the trees. No one wants a sandy apple.

What is Rootstock?

Rootstock determines the height and habit of the tree.  Malling 9 is the most common rootstock and are well known for dwarfing. Our Pixie Crunch variety have Malling 9 or “M9″ as some call it.

This particular rootstock is about 40 – 50% the size of a normal apple tree but has great fruit production and bears fruit earlier than most.  The reasoning behind the choice of dwarf trees for our orchard is so that our smallest guest can participate in apple picking.  Plus, with fewer ladders comes fewer safety hazards and more enjoyable experiences for all.

What are the Different Stages of Buds to Fruit?

 Through most of the winter, your apple tree will be dormant.  This means that it’s at the stage following harvest where the fruit bud scales are tight and there are no visible signs of fruit buds.  But as winter passes your tree will go into the silver tip stage.

The silver tip stage is where the fruit bud begins to slightly separate itself and will have a shimmery gray color to it.  This is an exciting time.

In early spring, your tree will enter into the green tip stage.  This is the stage where you will want to be sure that you are completely finished with pruning.  You don’t want to prune during this stage because it can harm the fruit production of the tree.  You will notice that the fruit buds will have tiny green leaves emerging.  The leaves are small but still visible.

In mid-spring, your tree will enter the tight cluster stage.  Small tiny clusters of green flowers will start emerging from your buds.  This means that we are getting close to one of the most beautiful stages of the fruiting process – full bloom.

Around Mother’s Day, your fruit will reach the full bloom stage. Now, you can sit back and admire the beauty of the apple tree as it blossoms.  This stage is gorgeous and is worth a visit to an apple orchard to see.  At this stage, approximately 80% of your flowers have bloomed.

The petals will begin to fall and now it’s time for the real fun – the stage of fruit set.  Now, you will be able to see little tiny baby apples growing on your trees and what a wonderful thing that is after all of that hard work that you’ve put into caring for your trees.

June can be a tricky month for apple farmers.  This is the month where you can experience June Drop.  June Drop happens when the tree has undergone immense stress from a tough winter.  The tree releases all of its fruit and it’ll take years for that tree to recoup.  With our temperatures dropping well below zero, it could be a real worry.  But, so far our trees are doing great.

Harvest season begins right around Labor Day.  Now you get to enjoy the “fruits” of your labor.  We will be opening the Orchard this year and are excited for our guests to experience it right along with our Adventures.  We also love using our freshly picked apples and creating wonderful recipes at our Farmhouse Restaurant.

How Do We Prevent Bugs and Disease?

We use a method called Integrated Pest Management in our Orchard. Integrated Pest Management is a system that focuses on reducing pests by using a series of pest management techniques that are safe for the environment and children and use both chemical and non-chemical methods which are defined by the Indiana Department of Environmental Management.

How Do We Protect Our Trees from Bad Weather Conditions?

Orchard-Rite is a machine (looks like a windmill) used for frost protection.  When the heat rises it creates a cloud in the sky and we are pulling that cloud back down for heat.  So, if we are experiencing a frost, we can create as much as a 6-degree difference by using our Orchard-Rite and pulling that warmer air down to our trees.  It only takes 1 degree to make or break your crop so this technology is really important.

Our team is hard at work to ensure that the Orchard is ready for its big debut!  Join us this year as the orchard officially opens!  Watch our Facebook page for more information.

Published: March 13, 2019