Saturday, November 3, 2018

New York, New England, Canada Fruit Pest Management Conference

I'm on a roll. So, in mid-October 2018 I was up in Burlington, VT with a group of fellow-minded (mostly tree fruit) Extension, research, and consultant folks from the New England states (mostly), New York, and our friends up north, Canada (mostly Quebec). This is the our 82nd get-together, believe it or not. I've been probably close to 25 times beginning with my work at University of Vermont and continuing with my 18 years at UMass, during which I don't think I have missed a year? There were just over 30 of us, as evidenced by this group photo:

Northeastern IPM Center Tree Fruit Working Group, 24-October, 2018.
Photo byCornell's Art Agnello, our facilitator at far left.
We reported on special orchard problems during the past growing season, gave research and Extension reports/updates, and much enjoyed a regional beverage tasting, all at the Bishop Booth Conference Center on the shore of beautiful Lake Champlain. You can further investigate this Tree Fruit Working Group on the Northeastern IPM Center website, including reports and research presentations. (2018 to be posted soon I hope.)

But we had a special guest, Peter Triloff, a consultant from the Lake Constance region of southern Germany. Peter was being hosted by Vincent Philion up in Quebec, so they came to the meeting togeher, and Peter gave an update on canopy adjusted spraying. Wow, kind of blew away some conventional wisdom I had, such as going slower equals better spray coverage (not necessarily) and that air-induction (AI) nozzles are NOT the way to go, because drift reduction, although important, should not be priority when spraying. What is priority? Better coverage while still controlling drift. AI nozzles do not give you as good spray coverage compared to regular hollow cone nozzles with finer droplets. So how do they achieve higher spray coverage with smaller droplets while controlling drift? Peter says by modifying the air flow to match the canopy, which includes throttling down while speeding up.
One screen of Peter Triloff's presentation at Interpoma as mentioned below
Now, there are many fine points, but there is one major talking point: radial fans are a disaster if we are talking tall-spindle type trees. (And why would we talk anything else?) A tower (vertical air flow pattern) is the only way to go. I certainly get the impression spray technology over there is way ahead of us. And they have restrictions, such as wind speed limits (app. 8 mph?), sprayer inspections, and full sprayer clean-out between tank mixes. Peter's talk also honed in on the money and time saving that could be achieved by speeding up while still maintaing good coverage. Diesel fuel savings too which they seem to be into out there. AND, pesticide use reduction by about 2/3 because spray is not going on the ground or drifting! Target the canopy and save money, time, and reduce pesticide use. What's not to like? Here is a presentation on this subject from 2014 given by Peter Triloff at Interpoma in Italy. The presentation he gave in Vermont was updated and quite thought provoking. Mostly, we could do a lot better with our spray application technology here in Massachusetts, New England, and the Northeast? I present my case:

IFTA New Zealand 2018

I admit to being lame and not publishing a blog post in almost a year. It's been a busy year with lot's going on, so I ought to make an attempt to get back in the saddle. (No promises.) Will start with a big deal, I was lucky enough to spend almost two weeks in New Zealand last February with the International Fruit Tree Association. Mostly I want to share with you a photo album I put together, but here's a (very) quick synopsis of my trip.

IFTA New Zealand 2018 attendees.

First stop Napier, on the North Island. I liked the public water pool/hot tubs after a long series of flights that spanned two days. One-day IFTA Conference to kick things off, intro to New Zealand apple production and some pretty technical production talks. Of course you know NZ is now famous for Jazz, Pacific Rose, and more recently Envy but don't forget Granny Smith, Gala, and Braeburn also originated in New Zealand! Two full days or orchard tours in the Hawke's Bay apple growing region. Many highlights including NZ Plant & Food Research (Future Orchard Production System), Prevar, and Rockit apples. Very technical and detail-oriented apple orchards, apple quality is key given the money is in export apples. We had a day off with guided activity options, I chose a bike ride along the coast and sheep country topped off by lunch at a winery. With wine of course! Made the bike ride into a stiff wind back to point of origin kind of onerous, but overall the day was a great one.

Public pool/hot tub beachside in Napier. Sweet.

After a short Island hop courtesy of a chartered Air New Zealand flight we landed in Nelson. Nelson is a rather cool place with a downtown filled with shops, bars and restaurants. Two full days of orchard tours in Nelson/Tasman Region. Again, highly technical apple growing, including Drape Net demonstration, 2D apple canopies, and grafting. Another day off with a group trip to Abel Tasman National Park. Choice of activities, I opted for Catamaran ride. Needless to say it was great. While in Nelson, I also caught a glimpse of the "Crux" aka Southern Cross constellation one evening.

Dr. Greg Lang. You think he is enjoying the Cat?
Departing Nelson on bus, destination Christchurch, we stopped in Kaikura. Again, choice of group activities, I went swimming with dolphins. Whoaa, that was an experience, wet suit and mask/snorkel, flippers and all. Whisked off back of boat, saw dolphins, whistled back on boat. Several/many times. Exhausting, ever seen the movie "Open Water?" Thought crossed my mind.

OK, one day of orchard tour out of Christchurch to Timaru Region, one orchard, M A Orchards, first (and only?) Honeycrisp planted in NZ in 2012. Large red apples being harvested, bound for North America. Of concern was some significant drop. Reflective fabric in place. Very interesting.

Bin of harvested NZ Honeycrisp, 7-March, 2018

Thanks to IFTA, all our NZ hosts and sponsors, and Onward Travel for making it all a pretty seamless experience with good orchards, good food, good company and entertainment, good scenery, good recreation. And to WSU's Karen Lewis who did two rounds of hosting over a period of a month.  Every stop/activity times two. She has special skill, knowledge, and stamina to be able to go the mile (kilometer?), and we all appreciated her presence many times over.

Karen Lewis, fearless leader. The end is near...
And be sure to check out the photo album here...

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Precision chemical apple thinning in MA in 2017

OK, I have been through this before, the whole measuring apple fruitlets thing and entering data into the precision thinning spreadsheet to determine if I needed to do more chemical thinning (or not) routine, you can read all about it here: But in 2017 I decided to ease the workload AND at the same time do more varieties. Yea, right.

To that end, I used four groups of dwarf apple trees -- Honeycrisp, Gala, Fuji and DS-41 (Pazazz) -- at the UMass Orchard in Belchertown, MA. These trees were either on M.9 or B.9 rootstock, and six to ten years in age, in other words pretty much settled down tall-spindle type trees planted three feet apart. The Gala/M.9 were tallest (at the top wire), the 10-year old Honeycrisp/B.9 the shortest (barely 7 feet).

Instead of doing the recommended 15 spurs per 5 trees, for 75 spurs total, I said to myself "surely 5 spurs per tree, 5 trees, 25 spurs total will be enough in these trees and give me a good enough idea of what's going on and save me a lot of work, right?" Yea, right.

I ended up making measurements three different times, and deciding -- likely w/o much input from anyone else, and probably not enough commiserating about it -- that after two chemical thinning sprays*, I was done. No more measurements, no more chemical thinning sprays. It looked kind of good, see Figs. 1-4 from the precision thinning spreadsheet.

*I think, can't really verify with spray operator, but it was something like petal fall carbaryl, followed by a carbaryl/Fruitone spray at modest rates, let's just say it was pretty much a "grower standard" for 2017. Pretty lame, huh?

Fig. 1 -- Honeycrisp predicted fruit set

Fig. 2 -- Gala predicted fruit set

Fig. 3 -- Fuji predicted fruit set

Fig. 4 -- DS-41 (Pazazz) predicted fruit set

Some explanation on what you are seeing in the Figures:
  • 2 and 3 on the x-axis are the measurement times, app. 7-10 days apart, after the first fruit measurement (which is not shown)
  • the blue-purple bars (y-axis) are the predicted number of fruit setting based on the measurements and fruitlet growth rate model
  • the green bars are the target number of fruits per tree, which was initially decided on when bloom clusters were counted; it was decided that 50 fruit per tree (60 for Pazazz, large fruit size an issue) was the target crop load, which is about 10% of all the flowers setting (app. 100 flower clusters per tree, times 5 flowers per cluster, equals 500 flowers, if 10% set equals a crop load of 50 fruit, right...admittedly a bit fuzzy?)
Now that you got it, well it sure looked to me like we were getting some pretty good thinning across the board with the second chemical thinning spray that was made between measurement 2 and 3. So, as already mentioned, enough was enough, right? Yea right.

I could tell by mid-summer that most of the trees were clearly overset. But I left them to harvest, and then picked and counted all the fruit off each of the five trees. Here is the average number of fruit left per tree (across the 5 trees) by variety compared to the target number of fruit and what the spreadsheet was telling me after the last measurement (see Figs. 1-4 above).

no. fruit at harvest
predicted fruit set
target no. fruit
DS-41 (Pazazz)

Except for DS-41, all the trees had more fruit on them at harvest than what was predicted on the last measurement date and all had way more fruit than the target number. (I knew that about mid-July!) 

One other data observation before I get into what went wrong. I counted the number of fruit left at harvest on each of the 5 tagged spurs. (Except for Honeycrisp, it dawned on me this would be a good idea after I had already picked the fruit. D'oh!) The results are kind of interesting, because, think about it -- if five flowers, 25 fruit set potential, 10% (the already defined target) then there should only be 2.5 fruit left per 5 flower/fruit spurs counted. Or 12.5 fruit per 25 clusters counted (125 fruit potential). My results on the 5 trees (25 clusters) are: Gala, 21 fruits left; Fuji, 16 fruits left; DS-41 (Pazazz), 11 fruits left. Remember, there should only be 12.5 fruits left. This somewhat mirrors the results above, in that DS-41 actually had the best thinning compared to the others. I could say more about this, but suffice it to say the flower clusters I tagged and picked to measure fruits were pretty representative of the end result.

OK, so what went wrong here? I have several (five to be exact) observations:
  1. How often have you over-thinned using chemical thinners? my experience is the first time you think you have thinned enough, hit them again with another chemical thinner application! (Caveat, watch the weather forecast if heat and clouds are forecast, be more careful.)
  2. Maybe using just five spurs per tree is not a good (big?) enough sample? if one or two spurs per tree are "duds" -- meaning they are not representative of all spurs on the trees, maybe they are damaged and/or readily shed their fruitlets? -- then it is going to throw the whole prediction off? Next time (if there is one) I will look at a minimum 10 spurs per tree (or 5 spurs over 10 trees?); I've had this issue/theory before...
  3. If after the last measure, the bar chart is still showing more fruit than the target, chemical thin again? Only when the bar shows less fruit than the target can you stop?
  4. You could always hand thin to the target fruit number to be on the safe side :-)
  5. Maybe the predicting fruit set model needs some kind of revision? But I will defend it here, because I introduced a lot of error into my procedure in an attempt to make it easier and do more; shortcuts are not good in this case, maybe?
Speaking of shortcuts, I would like to point out that I procured an inexpensive ($80) Bluetooth caliper on Amazon and paired it up with a custom spreadsheet I developed on my iPhone to enter data automatically in the field (Fig. 5).

Fig. 5 -- using a Bluetooth caliper and iPhone to enter fruit growth measurement data

It worked OK, just OK. I had to keep an eye on it to make sure it recorded data properly. If just one observation was skipped, then all the entries from thereon would be off, which would not be good. It has to be drop-dead reliable/accurate to be really useful. Needs work. Speaking of which, with all the talk about machine learning now, why not an app that can snap picts of fruit clusters and analyze which fruitlets are growing (or not)? I don't think that is too far-fetched?

Where do I/we go from here? As I've said before, it is a useful exercise to get out and measure fruitlet growth to help assess what is going on with your thinning program. And if you largely grow solid blocks of a few varieties, by all means go whole-hog and fully follow the procedure outlined here. It will work. Unfortunately, if you have many discrete blocks (tree age, variety, site, etc.) it's just too onerous/time consuming to implement the procedure in all blocks? (But do it in high value blocks, don't waste your time with McIntosh...) What's really needed is a bullet-proof way to measure and enter data quickly (and accurately) w/o having to employ too much man/woman power? Ideally in a mobile package, that also gives immediate feedback? Perhaps a chemical thinner spray has to be made sooner than later (because of weather conditions?) and having that immediate feedback would be useful (vs. having to go to home/office and entering the data into XLS spreadsheet)? Can we do that? I understand Cornell folks are working on an app that might help, keep your eye out for it in 2018. I just hope it is simple enough to be truly useful. I have some say, I am a beta-tester for Jaume and Poli at Cornell...

Alas, chemical thinning decisions are never "simple," are they? Good luck in 2018...

Sunday, October 8, 2017

New Brunswick Apple Growers Association

 August 10-16, 2017 I was the guest of the Apple Growers of New Brunswick presided over by my good buddy Andrew Lovell of River View Orchards in Keswick. Our itinerary was several grower visits followed by their Annual Grower Meeting at the Mactaquac Inn on August 16. Although not a real vacation, I always highly enjoy going to Canada, finding everyone friendly, it's clean, and has some awesome scenery. Oh, and there were a couple boat outings involved, one of my favorite activities. There's a lot of water in Atlantic Canada! Let me detail some of the orchard visits we made in New Brunswick, where, although it is a small apple industry, there are some very progressive growers and there is interest in expanding -- particularly growing more Honeycrisp, which they can do quite well. (Second to none, really, eh?)

First up on Thursday, August 10 was Verger Belliveau Orchard in Memramcook. There, Garth Nickerson, Crop Development Specialist with the New Brunswick Dept. of Agriculture, Aquiculture, and Fisheries met up with Robert Bourgeous, owner of Verger Belliveau. (Let me give a quick shout-out here to Garth before I forget, who spent much time with me over the course of a week, driving many miles, introducing me to the growers, sharing some lunches, a little bike riding, some local beer and food. Thanks friend.) Robert, Garth and I looked at a block of young apple trees, McIntosh, Cortland, Honeycrisp, Gingergold, and Gala planted on M.9, B.9, and G.202 rootstocks. The NB growers think G.202 is  particularly good with Honeycrisp on top in their climate. I noted their use of hay/straw mulch, being concerned with vole damage, but Robert insisted that was not a problem, one reason they bait heavily and mow frequently. The mulch conserves moisture (no irrigation here) and may help prevent cold injury during open winters.

We also stopped at a trial organic apple orchard, which looked pretty good in my opinion (for an organic block of trees). We then moved to their home orchard, where we met up with Sam, Robert's son, and Nathalie Beliveau, their orchard consultant. We looked at a planting of Evangeline, a new variety that the NB Apple Growers own, and to be frank, they are trying to figure out what to do with it? Evangeline plantings are just coming into bearing, so time will tell, but my bet is it will become a local niche apple, and perhaps be a very good cider apple too. Speaking of cider, Sam and Robert (but mostly Sam I think!) have successfully introduced Scow Craft Cider, which has become an important part of their diversified and expanding apple orchard business. No doubt they are a major player in NB apples, having the largest packing line and storage in the Province. Oh, and we had a nice lunch (thanks Robert and Sam) in Shediac, "Lobster Capital of the World" and where purportedly the salt water beach actually has warm water. (Not that I was allowed to take a dip in it, I didn't have my Speedo with me!)

Young apple trees on Geneva 202 Rootstock at
Verger Belliveau Orchard
Organic apple block at Verger Belliveau Orchard
Evangeline apples at Verger Belliveau Orchard

Up next, La Fleur du Pommier, aka The Apple Flower, in Cocagne. Realize New Brunswick is the only delegated bi-lingual, English/French speaking Province in Canada. The French language, particularly in the eastern/Moncton area is widely spoken by many, along with English, including these apple growers. Interesting trying to follow their -- which included at The Apple Flower, former owner Euclide Bourgeois, and new owners Pavel Borgeois (Euclides son), Jean-Francois Michaud, and Ken Carrier -- bilingual conversation. (Same at Verger Belliveau, sometimes I wondered if they were talking about me?) OK, these guys are long-time accomplished orchardists, and there was little to fault (if anything) during the walk-about of their orchard. We noted the rather vigorous growth habit of Evangeline, and thus the need to keep up with removing larger branches in their young tall-spindle blocks. Not so much a problem with Honeycrisp, even on the more vigorous Geneva 202 and 935 rootstocks. I will say their young tall-spindle plantings were very nicely managed. Some older Honeycrisp blocks on Beautiful Arcade (BA) were a novelty, as well as their token peach and cherry trees, which we attempted to talk about pruning, but ultimately I gave up! After surveying La Fleur du Pommier, we made a quick trip to nearby Uris Williams & Sons which was recently acquired by Ken Carrier. There, we discussed the biennial nature of Ginger Gold, where return bloom sprays might be of benefit, and a block of older, vigorous Cortland, where reduced pruning and using ReTain for prolonged harvest management were advised.

Tall-spindle Evangeline apples at La Fleur du Pommier
Obviously accomplished orchardists at La Fleur du Pommier
A little more hand thinning needed here at La Fleur du Pommier

Friday, August 11 - Although promised a trip to Mrs. Dunster's Donuts by Andrew Lovell we only had enough time to visit his friend Eric Walker's dairy farm near Sussex, where Eric's father (his name escapes me now? sorry...) gave us a look-through at their new automated dairy barn. They milk about 150 Holstein cows using three milking "robots" which cost about $200,000 each. Hailing from Vermont you would think I would know something about the modernization of the dairy industry but I was pretty blown-away by the automation and how those milking robots accomplish their task of manual "hands-off" milking every cow 24/7. I will say when I suggested this is almost 100% automated, I got a chuckle out of Eric's dad meaning, yea right, things still go wrong and need fixing! But you'd think if they can figure out how to do that, well then, can automated harvesting of apples is in an orchard near you be very far off! We ate lunch with Corn Hill Nursery's owner Bob Osborne at their Cedar Cafe. A transplant many years ago from the USA, Bob runs a thriving ornamental nursery and woody plant propagation business with customers mostly from the greater Moncton, NB area. Using his propagation skills, he also grows a limited number of mostly grafted apple trees in a couple small nurseries for local growers. Dry weather in NB this summer has hampered nursery tree growth, however, a block of 2-year-old apple trees looked pretty good and will be ready for delivery in 2018. Did I mention how great the lunch on the deck at Cedar Cafe was? And I was able to snag a bag of Mrs. Dunsters on my way out of NB on the way home!

In the afternoon, following a scenic ride eastward through some beautiful NB farm country, we arrived in Kiersteadville on Belleisle Bay just off the St. John River. Steve and Bob Bates, who's primary vocation has been growing vegetables, have planted tall-spindle orchard blocks of Honeycrisp and Ambrosia over the past 2-3 years. They were anxious to see how they did, and overall the planting looked real nice. One major stumble, however, was the lack of tree support given to newly planted trees -- they were waiting for bamboo from Nova Scotia (damn Nova Scotians!) yet had all their wires and line posts in, trees could have easily been fastened to the wires for support. (BTW, I recommend U-Hooks for doing that.) Another discussion we had was the extensive use of individual bamboo tree stakes, even thought they were also using 4-wires down the row, my thought being why not ditch the bamboo (recommended by Nova Scotians, again damn Nova Scotians!) and just use the wires for support. The downside being they might have to provide some kind of vertical stabilizer (like how they use a vertical wire between horizontal wires "tree stabilizer system" in western New York, details available from Finger Lakes Trellis Supply) to assist in training trees vertical? Following a delightful home cooked meal on the deck of Bob and Janice Bates home, I was treated to a nice boat ride on the St John River by father-in-law Brad. I won't detail how we almost lost Bob overboard, but it was needless to say a tense then laughable moment! Thanks to the Bates family for a delightful afternoon and evening, one puzzling thing being though is these Canadians like to drink Bud Light???!!!!

Nursery apple trees at Corn Hill Nursery
3rd-leaf Honeycrisp overlooking Bellesisle Bay at Bates Orchard

Over the weekend, Andrew took me to the Fredericton Farmer's Market, which was more than I bargained for, with many vendors, inside and out, selling their wares: vegetables, fruit, meat, fish, maple syrup, bakery, crafts, etc. Many options to choose from, quite impressive, reminded me of a smaller, one-day only on Saturday, version of Seattle's Pike Place. And, Eugene (Gene) Hoyt, who has always treated me like a friend when I visit New Brunswick or see him at IFTA meetings, took me to St. Andrews by the Sea for lunch and a little harbor wharf walking and sight seeing. St. Andrews by the Sea is a classic Atlantic seaside fishing/tourist destination, and many (many!) years ago as a college student and while working in Maine we (not with Gene though!) went there to drink Schooner Lager (beer!) at the Algonquin Inn because the drinking age in Canada was a year or two younger than the USA. "Today is the day to drink Schooner beer!" Oh, and I did a bit of bike riding on Fredericton's rather extensive recreation trail network, which included a stop at Picaroon's for an IPA and then Garth met me on the trail, where we ended up at a neat little Fredericton brewery/tap house called Gray Stone. Thanks to Andrew and Gene and Garth for a really enjoyable weekend!

Garth and I started the work week on Monday, August 14 with visits to three orchards near the St. John River just west of Fredericton. All three are also scheduled tour stops on Wednesday during the New Brunswick Apple Growers' Association Annual Meeting. First was Everett Family Orchard where we looked at six acres of well-manicured pick-your-own orchard with Chuck Everett. Unfortunately, some crops of Honeycrisp were on the light side where again a return bloom enhancing spray program is advised. Chuck has an interesting way of protecting newly planted trees from deer browsing too. It was clear Everett's has carved out a nice marketing niche for Fredericton locals seeking fresh air and locally grown u-pick apples. Next we visited Andrew Lovell at River View Orchards on Keswick Ridge. Too bad Andrew has been having a little battle with apple scab this season, but he sells a lot of deer apples and will muddle through it with pick-your-own too. A high-density planting of Evangeline was outfitted with soil probes that monitor temperature and moisture content, an experiment replicated in other locations, managed by consultant J. P. Prive for the NB Apple Growers and NB Province who fund the experiment. The objective is to see how soil and environmental conditions affect young Evangeline apple tree growth. After lunch we went to Hoyt Orchard Ltd. where former owner/new manager Eugene Hoyt (now owned by Mike O'blenis who also manages a local paper mill) showed us a brand new planting of Honeycrisp and Ambrosia apples on Geneva 202 and 935 rootstocks. Despite dry weather, the trees showed good growth on this old apple orchard ground which was fumigated to enhance new orchard establishment. Posts and wire were going in as we visited which we all agreed was overdue. Gene treated us to a very pleasant pontoon boat ride on a large backwater lake of the St. John River created by the Mactaquac dam. And thanks again to Garth for the steak BBQ supper (with some Argentinian Malbec red wine, Garth's favorite) at his house back in Fredericton.

With Chuck Everett looking at Honeycrisp crop
at Everett Family Orchard
Chuck Everett's solution to deer browsing
newly planted apple trees
With buddy Andrew Lovell at River Valley Orchards
Examining soil sensor experiment in Evangeline apple trees
at River Valley Orchards
With friend Eugene Hoyt surveying newly planted Honeycrisp
on G. 935 and 202 rootstocks at Hoyt Orchard
Gene Hoyt and Garth working hard (someone's got to do it!)
on Mactaquac dam backwater of St. John River

Tuesday, August 15 Garth and I took a drive upstream to visit Jolly Farmer in Northampton. I had no idea, but Jolly Farmer is a 10 acre greenhouse growing herbaceous/bedding plants for the nursery/garden center business in both Canada and the USA. They wholesale mostly cell-pack containers and plugs which are finished out by their customers. We took a quick tour of their modern and clean growing greenhouses and operations/shipping buildings with Joel English who is in charge. Interestingly, Jolly Farmer also has a small orchard operated family owner Hoey Jacob. Turns out Hoey operated a large wholesale orchard in New Hampshire back in the days when wholesale was profitable in New England. Hoey is no slouch when it comes to knowing how to grow apples, but their take on IPM practices, including extensive monitoring and trapping to determine pest presence was commendable. They were having a problem with trunk borers, probably exacerbated by weed and grass growth right up to the trunks of trees, but we discussed how to address that issue, mostly by improving the situation at the base of the trees (cleaning up the ground-cover) and using an insecticide where necessary. It was an enjoyable visit to Jolly Farmer. From there we drove up the River a bit to Dukeshire's Apples Orchard Shade Farms where we met up with George and Patty Dukeshire. Orchard Shade reminded me of certain Vermont wholesale apple orchards, when I became familiar with them working at the University of Vermont. Wholesale apple growing, particularly McIntosh, reached a peak in the 70's and 80's in New England, but after the outing of Alar, went into a mostly death spiral. Some orchards chose to go the retail direct-marketing route, and many of those are currently thriving. Orchard Shade has joined that group putting a reduced to non-existent emphasis on wholesaling to more direct-market retail sales, including pick-your-own. I hope it works out for them, certainly the views and scenery at Orchard Shade are beautiful!

Joel English at Jolly Farmer explaining plug-filling process
and quality control to Jon
Hoey Jacob at Jolly Farmer orchard surveying apple crop with Jon
The view from Orchard Shade Farms

Finally, the New Brunswick Apple Growers Annual General Meeting at the Riverside Resort/Mactaquac Inn in the morning of Wednesday, August 16, followed by a tour of Everett Family Orchard, Hoyt's Orchard (with a mid-afternoon beer break of course!), and commencing at River View Orchards with a most excellent BBQ meal. I was asked to give an overview of my experience visiting New Brunswick apple growers to the approximate 45 attendees, and here are the talking points I came up with:
  • Rootstocks - B.9 and M.9 both seem to be performing well, M.9 looks like it has more push, however, B.9, as long as you grow it strongly for 2-3 years, is very good. G.202 and 935 seem to be performing well. Beware the virus sensitivity issue with G.935 and red Honeycrisp strains (and Pazazz). B.118 consider for free standing plantings? Geneva Apple Rootstock Comparison Chart.
  • Varieties - Honeycrisp is the gold standard. Most people wish they could grow Honeycrisp like you do. Just push the trees early, then stand back and enjoy. Watch nitrogen management in bearing years, and push fruit off young trees into direct market. Cortland still has some traction, Ambrosia, Evangeline, TBD. Pazazz?
  • Support systems - lucky to have a guy like Andrew Lovell who knows what they are doing, so it's turn key? But is it? I saw too many instances of not getting newly planted trees ASAP. Very important to do this!
  • Diseases and insects - codling moth an issue. Scab always an issue. Potato leafhopper in young plantings. Canker diseases? What about using more Decision Support Systems? RIMpro, NEWA, SkyBit? Avoid M.9 because fire blight will sooner or later catch up with you? Leaf curling midge, rust mites, mildew...
  • Training and pruning - having Mario here was one of the best things you could do, I see very few problems. Watch the leader in young plantings, argument about stripping vs. pinching? Also, don’t wait to get newly planted trees supported, attached to wires, conduit, bamboo, whatever. Even temporarily if necessary. U-hooks first choice for securing trees to wires IMHO.
  • Opportunities - Apple Growers of New Brunswick, Provincial support/Garth Nickerson, availability of land
  • Obstacles - infrastructure, storage, packing; alliances or go at your own? cold winters
  • Remember: Time is the enemy, Money matters, Performance counts
  • You have to spend money to make money (you can’t save your way to prosperity)
  • Forks belong on your dinner table not in your orchard (this relates to pruning)
  • Further information
  • Get out there and travel around, that is how I’ve learned at least half of what I know about growing apples, and arguably the most important part which is good horticultural practices, those will get you a long ways, pest management is important but secondary…
Thanks again to all the New Brunswick Apple Growers for the hospitality and working vacation. I hope you learned something useful from me as I did from all of you. Have a great harvest in the many years to come and I look forward to returning some day to see my friends. JC

Saturday, December 3, 2016

It's the calcium stupid!

Earlier this week I attended the Annual Meeting of the Connecticut Pomological Society in Glastonbury, CT. One main reason for going was to hear Jeff Alicandro of agri.assistance, a crop consulting service out of western New York, USA. Jeff by himself is entertaining, but the information he typically espouses is unique to most everything else I see that comes out of traditional channels, i.e. University research, Extension, industry, other consultants, etc. Trust me, at the very least it is very interesting. And often controversial. Did I say entertaining?

Alicandro's talk focused on Honeycrisp, specifically "Experiences & tips for growing Honeycrisp in the northeast US." I particularly liked one of his slides, the "Honeycrisp 3-Step Executive Summary." I suppose you want to know what they are?
  1. the 3rd most important step for improving Honeycrisp fruit quality is improving calcium nutrition
  2. the 2nd most important step for improving Honeycrisp production & fruit quality is fine-tuning crop load management - including thinning programs, but just as importantly return bloom programs
  3. and the most important step for improving Honeycrisp production & fruit quality is achieving well-balanced tree vigor - with VERY MODERATE levels of vegetative re-growth in your bearing Honeycrisp orchards
A few specifics I gleaned, and maybe already knew :-)
  • gypsum applied to the ground will improve calcium nutrition, plus it has added benefits; see this handout
  • if you are not applying calcium sprays 8-10 times beginning at petal fall, you are not applying enough foliar calcium
  • NAA (Fruitone, Pomaxa) and ethephon (Ethrel) sprays during the summer are essential to annual, moderate cropping on Honeycrisp trees; there is some evidence ethephon applied just post-harvest is a big plus
  • shoot growth on Honeycrisp should only be 8-10 inches; watch nitrogen application (nitrogen is your enemy and calcium is your friend when it comes to fighting bitter pit); shoots are a big calcium sink, and they will always beat fruit in the battle for calcium uptake
  • avoid over-pruning, don't plant Honeycrisp too close together such that they need to be pruned excessively to keep them in place
  • Apogee/Kudos is advised on over-vigorous Honeycrisp trees, and may just in general be advised for reducing shoot growth (hence calcium sink) and fighting fire blight (although Honeycrisp is considered moderately resistant to fire blight)
What's all the fuss about calcium? Well, preventing bitter pit of course. (Among other things, including generally enhancing storage life.) 2016 was a particularly onerous year, with lots of bitter pit showing up on Honeycrisp. Partly, it was the dry weather and light crop loads, but bitter pit minimization is a constant issue with Honeycrisp. So, here is another of Alicandro's handouts for your perusal. Let's all become better managers of Honeycrisp nutrition, crop load management, and tree vigor/balance to produce better Honeycrisp fruit! (And make more money!)

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Precision chemical apple thinning in MA 2016

Well here we are, post petal-fall/fruit set/approaching 3/4 inch diameter apples, and indeed there has been lots of cold damage to tree fruit here in Massachusetts. No peaches (Happy Valentine's Day) and apples were looking pretty bad (early April freeze) until we finally got out of bloom and saw some fruit setting and sizing. It's not all pretty though, apple orchards in eastern MA generally have fared better than those in the Connecticut/Pioneer Valley. Fruit set has depended a lot on variety (Macoun looks good, McIntosh intermediate, Cortland not so good, Honeycrisp, well, it depends) and site (obviously). Return bloom was probably not going to be great either given the heavy apple crop last year. When all is said and done, I predict some orchards will have less than 25% of an average crop, some will have greater than 75%, some will be in the middle at 50%. There will be apples, the price will be good, so it will be a good year to have apples (if you have them). Sometimes years with short crops turn out to be more profitable for some. The cup is half full at least.

So, despite my usual reluctance to measure fruit as they grow per the Precision chemical Thinning Protocol/predicting fruit set (PTP), and with a little prompting from Poliana Francescatto at Cornell, I went whole hog and set up 7 demonstrations across 3 different orchards (TFF, CSO, and SHO) and 3 different varieties (McIntosh, Gala, and Honeycrisp). But, I cheated a bit, by reducing the number of flower/fruit spurs used to 10 per tree (vs. 15 per the PTP) in 2 orchards (TFF and CSO), and just 5 spurs per tree in one orchard (SHO). All my results are published here.

Some comments on the process and results:

  • These were generally nice tall-spindle trees, therefore I felt that using 10 (or as few as 5?) spurs per tree was representative. Wonder if using 10 trees by 5 spurs per tree would be easier and quicker to find numbered spurs within tree? They can be hard to find when foliage fills in.
  • Those little string tags blow around and get tangled in other spurs, sometimes making it difficult to figure out which spur was being used. I have used flagging tape in the past, would
    probably go back to that. (Or something even better? Suggestions?)
  • I did not number the individual fruits. After all measurements were taken, the fruits were sorted largest to smallest within each spur, the assumption being the largest fruits remained the largest upon subsequent measurements (ditto for the smallest). Data would have to be sorted in the XLS spreadsheet, there is a little trick to it. (Thanks Poli!) Seems to work OK, but going to add to potential error.
  • It may be easy to overestimate the potential crop based on counting flower clusters. I suspect there are many flowers on 1-year-old wood which are not likely to set, yet it can be difficult to discount those.
  • Wish there were an easier way to measure fruitlets: do we need to measure to nearest 0.1 mm? Can a template be used to quickly size the fruitlets to the nearest 1 mm (vs. using calipers)?
  • It appeared initially, despite expected spur leaf and bud damage from the April freeze, that trees were going to overset actually. Hence, chemical thinner applications commenced, up to 3 applications, and appear to have worked quite well. We will count the fruit on each tree upon final set to see if the PTP worked or not?

I will try to update once final set is counted...

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Don't Panic!

Some of you may be wondering if your fruit trees are at risk for breaking bud and growing with all this warm weather. Certainly, if it were later in the winter, this might be the case. And, reports of (ornamental) cherry bloom in the mid-Atlantic area (Washington D.C., and Newark, NJ), don't help. (Don't Panic!) We're not too worried about apples. Stone fruit chilling and grapes, however, are further along and with continued warm temperatures (with additional heat accumulation) there is potential for injury, as winter is just beginning. A review of chilling, dormancy, and rest might help explain what is going on.

First, the concept of dormancy and chilling hours/units. Deciduous trees, such as apple and peach, gradually acquire cold hardiness and dormancy beginning in the fall with cooler temperatures and decreased day length. They have adapted such that they don't wake and start growing in early or mid-winter, because obviously this would be a problem. If they broke (or swell) buds, started growing, and then the temperature dropped below freezing, they would be toast. In fact, this concept of endodormancy (aka “rest”) has been well studied and quantified.

These chilling hours (or units as they are called when somewhat modified), in their most simple form, accumulate when the temperature is between 32 and 45 degrees F (it is generally agreed). Some studies have gone further and adjusted this accumulation based on other temperature factors, such as when the temperature is above 45 but chilling units are still accumulated (but at a slower or faster rate). For apples, it is generally accepted that approximately 1,200 chilling hours between 32-45 are necessary before they might start growing again. It is, however, somewhat variety dependent, with a range of app. 800 (low chill varieties like ‘Anna’) to 1800 chilling hours/units. Peach, however, has significantly lower chilling hours/unit requirements: 500-1,200, again highly dependent on variety. All this is important too in warmer climates where sometimes not enough chilling hours/units are accumulated to properly break bud and flower (and fruit).

Buds are most hardy (resistant to minimum winter cold temperatures) when the chilling has not been close to met and temperatures have gradually declined. This allows buds to increase in hardiness. Once the chilling requirement has been met, it is the amount of heat units that accrue that move buds forward to bloom. (But only after the chilling requirement has been met!) After chilling is met, temperatures above 32 degrees F. allow for internal development in the buds.

So, where do we stand in chilling hours/units right now? A pretty neat website, http://getchill.netcalculates them for you for any location that has a Weather Underground weather station ( For the UMass Cold Spring Orchard (KMABELCH4) since November 1, 2015 (through December 22), the calculation results:
  • Below 45 Model: 633 chill hours
  • Between 45 and 32 Model: 522 chill hours
  • Utah Model: 679 chill units
Zestar! flower bud, low risk for injury
as chilling requirement has not been met (yet)
The important numbers are Between 45 and 32 Model (633 chill hours) and Utah Model (679 chill units). Both well below 1,000. Apple buds aren't going anywhere (yet). Peach buds, well, their chilling hour/unit requirements are less (as low as 450). There could be an issue with stone fruit if the warm weather persists (especially with some chilling still). Even though we might not have enough warm temperatures to actually break bud, they will be more sensitive to mid-winter cold once rest has been broken. I would not fret too much about it yet, however, as most peach varieties we grow have fairly high chilling hour/unit requirements.

Peach buds at higher risk because
chilling requirement is close to met;
in fact, these buds look swollen on 12/23/15
Second, and this is more problematic. Any time very cold temperatures -- particularly a rapid drop in temperatures -- following very warm temperatures during the dormant season, can result in plant tissue damage. This is a cold hardiness issue. Stone fruit are more sensitive to this because of their genetic disposition to just stay “greener” all winter. Keep in mind that fruit tree buds (and the cambium layer just under the bark) do not fully stop metabolizing during the winter and are still quite “alive” despite their dormant appearance. Very warm early or mid-winter temperatures followed by a rapid drop to extreme cold is definitely not good news, although certainly it is not always a disaster either. (Just plain bad news.)

So that you might be able to sleep tonight, consider apple trees are pretty well adapted to survive and grow despite the vagaries of weather. Peaches (and other stone fruit) are less suited for surviving wild temperature fluctuations, i.e., they are not as well adapted as apples to our wildly fluctuating weather here in central New England. Now, what the long-term effect of climate change (warming) on our fruit trees is another question? (Weather is short-term, climate is long-term. See Northeast and Northern Forests RegionalClimate Hub Assessment of ClimateChange Vulnerability and Adaptation andMitigation Strategies.) Ask me again in April how today’s “weather” will affect our 2016 tree fruit crop. (Hint: we have a long way to go until apples and peaches are harvested and in the cooler in 2016. And I might just tell you the answer is 42.)

Many thanks to my colleague Win Cowgill at Rutgers University for helping me track down and understand the concept of chilling hours/units and dormancy of deciduous fruit trees, as well as supplying some of this text. You might also want to check out About Chilling Units and Hours from University of California Davis (although the emphasis is on low chill varieties suitable for normally warmer climates) and Cold Injury to Fruit Trees (a presentation I gave at the Ontario Fruit & Vegetable Growers's Conference in February, 2014.) And, if this is all too mind boggling, well there is always The Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything, which of course is...
"Answer to Life" by Originally uploaded by en:User:Martinultima - en:Image:Answer to Life.png. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons -