Growing Apple Trees
Apple orchards are operated in cooperation with the laws of nature. As in the rest of life, no two days in the orchard are the same. Activities occur year-round making the apple orchard a busy place.
In January, pruning begins while the trees are dormant. Limbs are sawed off or clipped back to llow more sunlight into the tree canopy. Pruning allows the tree to produce larger, better tasting fruit. Historically, apple trees were much larger than trees grown today. Modern orchardists rely on the dwarfing trait to produce a smaller tree that is much simpler and quicker to prune.
April is the time to prepare for spring planting. The average tree will bear fruit in three to six years with full production coming by eight years. Since apples do not grow true-to-type from seeds, young trees grown from grafting are transplanted to the orchard.
Beginning in April, the buds begin to swell. Spring is near and the pace of the farm quickens.
With the opening of the “king” blossom (the largest and center – most of the five-blossom clusters) in mid May, it is time for pollination to begin. In northern Maine, apple trees bloom at the end of May. Bee colonies rented from bee keepers are moved into the orchard, usually at night so the bees are home” and not in flight. Sunny, mild days are needed during bloom to encourage the bees to collect pollen and nectar from flowers and complete the necessary cross pollination.
In some dry years, irrigation must be used during July. Fruit size and firmness are affected by moisture in this critical month. During the spring and summer months, growers inspect their trees for potential problems such as the disease called apple scab.
August is the last growing month before the apples begin to ripen. Red apples need the assistance of the cool nights during harvest to trigger an enzyme which increases the amount of color or “blush.” Because of the cool climate, Maine is one of the best apple growing states.
When picking begins around the end of August, there is a constant buzz of activity until the last of the fruit comes off near the end of October. Now it becomes the job of the farmers to market their fruit, through their own farm store or shipped fresh to supermarkets, restaurants, and schools nationwide and around the globe. From the end of August to the end of October, many of Maine's apple orchards are open to the the public on weekends for apple picking.
Source: NY-NE Apple Institute, Westfield MA 01085
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