Monday, December 30, 2013

2013 Fruiting Wall Apple Update

In 2013, my Fruiting Wall Apple (FWA) vs. Tall Spindle Apple (TSA) experiment was picked on September 11 at the UMass Cold Spring Orchard. As a refresher, these app. 8-year old Silken apple trees on M.9 rootstock were converted to the FWA in 2011, thus this is the 3rd year of harvest. There are 100 trees total, 56 are FWA and 44 are TSA. There are 3 full replications of 13-15 trees each FWA and TSA, with another FWA of 14 trees. This past year, I did give the FWA a quick dormant prune by removing 1, 2, or 3 of the more "onerous" branches in each tree. Then the FWA got hedged in early July with a hand-held electric hedge pruner. TSA got pruned per TSA rules,. i.e., remove 1, 2, or 3 of largest branches, singularize branches, limit tree height.

OK, I am going to make it easy on myself, here are the "raw" data from the 2013 harvest:

2013 ‘Silken’ Fruiting Wall Apple (FWA) vs. Tall Spindle Apple (TSA)

Converted to FWA in 2011

Yield in 2013

FWA = 3.7 bins X 15 bushel bins = 55 bushels = 2,220 lbs.
TSA= 3.7 bins X 15 bushel bins = 55 bushels = 2,220 lbs.

FWA = 2,220 lbs. divided by 56 trees = 40 lb. per tree
TSA =  2,220 lbs. divided by 44 trees = 51 lb. per tree

FWA spacing should be 3 ft. X 10 ft. = 1,450 trees per acre
TSA spacing should be 3 ft. X 12 ft. = 1,200 trees per acre

FWA = 1,450 trees X 40 lb. per tree = 58,000 lb. per acre = 1,450 bushels per acre
TSA = 1,200 trees X 51 lb. per tree = 61,200 lb. per acre = 1,530 bushels per acre

app. 5% reduction in yield for FWA vs. TSA

Those are the facts. I am still reasonably convinced after three years of working with the FWA that you will typically reduce yield (somewhat) per acre, and fruit will be somewhat smaller. There are mixed opinions amongst the harvest crew which trees were easier to pick? I think the FWA has the potential to put less load on trellis. (More compact trees.) Not necessarily sure who should convert, probably a bigger orchard where labor savings are paramount and somewhat smaller fruit can be marketed. What this study fails to show is what effect on fruit quality and packout, hence maybe profitability? I will leave the big research jobs like that to Cornell, but if it were my orchard, I'd buy a one-pass hedger and wouldn't hesitate to convert most of my orchard to the FWA. JC
Typical bin of FWA 'Silken'
Typical bin of TSA 'Silken'

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Top 10 Reasons to NOT Grow Sweet Cherries in the Humid Northeast!

It's been a bit trying to grow sweet cherries this year given it has been one of the wettest Junes on record here in New England! I have always said sweet cherries like hot, dry, sunny weather. (Like in Washington.) Well, it's been hot enough but not nearly sunny or dry enough to grow sweet cherries successfully (IMHO) here in the humid Northeast. After struggling for several years with uncovered sweet cherry orchards at the UMass Cold Spring Orchard, I am about ready to give up. So, I came up with my Top 10 Reasons to NOT Grow Sweet Cherries in the Humid Northeast! (One reasonably successful sweet cherry grower here in Massachusetts came back quickly after I told him of my intention with the statement "Only 10???!!!" Ha Ha, I too could actually think of more, but I will stick with 10 for now.) Of course, anyone is welcome to refute by leaving a comment...

So here we go, my top 10 reasons for NOT growing sweet cherries here in the northeast...

Number 10.) Cherry trees love to die! Yes, I picked that up from a statement made by a NY colleague a while back, and I pretty much agree. In particular, if they don't like the site (wet feet) or just plain aren't happy, well they are toast. And it's often hard to put a finger on the cause, often I think it is canker. (More below on THAT reason.) Planting on raised berms has been reasonably effective in keeping the rootstock and tree happier and is recommended. Still, they need to go on your best, very well-drained sites. They still just might die.

Number 9.) Yes, we have dwarfing rootstocks, but they are not without problems. For one, Gisela 5 will runt out real quick and produce very small fruit if not grown on a good site (with irrigation) and pruned adequately and appropriately to promote new shoot growth. And choose your variety on Gisela 5 wisely -- self-fertile and heavy cropping Sweetheart on Gisela 5 is a bad choice. Regina, however, is a better choice. And Gisela 6/12 can produce rather hefty trees requiring significant pruning and requiring ladders to pick. (Although fruit size will benefit from the more vigorous tree.) I will have to admit in reality dwarfing Gisela cherry rootstocks make growing sweet cherries more tolerable and really don't belong on this list!

Number 8.) Cedar waxwings -- are largely a frugivore ( They migrate through the Northeast (to Canada, and their breeding grounds, God bless the Queen) in late spring (June) in moderate size flocks and according to Wikipedia "When the end of a twig holds a supply of berries that only one bird at a time can reach, members of a flock may line up along the twig and pass berries beak to beak down the line so that each bird gets a chance to eat." I have not directly observed this cedar waxwing behavior ( in my sweet cherries, however, I can verify this is what the end result will look like on early ripening sweet cherries not covered by bird netting. Please do watch one of my more creative and visually stunning YouTube videos about my stilted attempt to shoo the waxwing point to whoever can name song.) They are a beautiful migratory songbird BTW, Although their Conservation Status is listed as "Least Concern" that does not mean you can go out and shoot them as they are Federally protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 which carries a fine of up to $15,000 for misdemeanor conviction in violation of the Act. Believe me, it's not worth growing sweet cherries if you feel you need to shoot the Cedar Waxwings. Once the waxwings have moved on to their Canadian breeding ground (God bless the Queen), well then the other dicky birds, i.e., robins, starlings, etc. move in. Unless you grow many, many acres, and are willing to accept some depredation, bird netting is an absolute must to grow sweet cherries with any hint of profitability. 

Number 7.) Monilina sp. aka brown rot. Requires numerous fungicide sprays during bloom and when fruit ripen. Exacerbated by rain and humidity and bird pecks and splitting/cracking. Only one really good class of fungicides (the DMI's such as Indar) on brown rot, so repeated application(s) are bound to lead to resistance. (Monilinia already has demonstrated resistance to the DMI fungicides in some locations.) Yes, brown rot is manageable, but it's a pain in the butt in wet years requiring a lot of tractor-sprayer trips (like every few days) through the cherry orchard when fruit is ripening. Covered orchards are better, but not immune to brown rot on account of the increased humidity and longer drying time.

Number 6.) Did I mention when it rains, well, "Does a Bear Do His/her Business in the Woods? Subtitle: do Cherries Like to Crack and Split?" Heck yes. Rain covers are great at reducing splitting, however, they are expensive, require considerable maintenance, and unless care is taken to divert run-off away from the orchard root uptake on the margins can still lead to splitting. And did I mention how massively expensive and maintenance-intensive rain covers are? And if I was "lucky" enough to have acquired a rain cover for my cherries, it would be straight for the liquor cabinet the moment a severe thunderstorm warning is posted!

Number 5.) They have much better weather for growing sweet cherries in the PNW (Pacific NorthWest) anyways. I suspect Lynn Long will support me on this one. Greg Lang has to be shaking his head... :-)

Number 4.) Bacterial canker. With an emphasis on bacterial. Bacterial diseases of tree fruit are the least predictable, most fickle, largely endemic, most devastating, and often hardest to control. (Think fire blight of apples.) Sweet cherry are a willing host of Pseudomonas, which generally thrives in our alternately cool and wet spring and fall weather in the northeast, with plenty of wild hosts to sit and wait it out on. Look at this bacterial canker on Regina sweet cherry, planted three years ago on a site which, until now, had been mostly devoid of bacteria canker. Did it come in on the nursery? Has it built up on site? It has killed app. 20% of the trees. (Repeat after me, "cherry trees like to die, cherry trees like to die...") Not good. I think stressed trees (think water-logged roots), or previously infected trees (including nursery stock) are most susceptible. Be prepared to battle -- I don't use that term lightly -- bacterial canker on all fronts if you plan to grow sweet cherries in the northeast.  

Number 3.) Did I mention those Voen and Haygrove covers are ridiculously expensive and maintenance-intensive!

Number 2.) You can make more money growing apples in the same acreage and in less time. I will refer to the two best sources of information I have regarding economics of hi-density cherry vs. apple. They are Oregon State University and Cornell University. Regarding the hi-density cherry orchard, "This orchard will generate sufficient gross income to cover all cash costs in year 8 and all economic costs for the 25-year period in 16 years." ( For the tall-spindle apple orchard, and if I read Alison Demaree's cost of production spreadsheet correctly, I will phrase the same statement above with the apple numbers thrown in: "This apple orchard will generate sufficient gross income to cover all cash costs in year 4 and all economic costs for the 30-year period in 13 years." OK, case made. These are based on wholesale returns for cherries in the PNW (about $1 per pound) and Gala apples in NY (about $8 per bushel). Now of course selling fruit retail can make a huge difference, but I think the basic economic correlation holds, i.e., apples are always going to be more profitable (and potentially less risky) than cherries here. AND, there was no inclusion in the cherry economics for a Haygrove or Voen cover and bird netting. (The tall-spindle apple orchard is turn-key.) That would dramatically affect the comparison, thus I will go out on a limb and say "I could make a lot, lot more money growing Honeycrisp apples over 10 years on an orchard acre vs. trying to grow sweet cherries in the northeast."

And finally, the Number 1.) reason NOT to grow sweet cherries: Grow sweet-tart cherries! If you really want to grow cherries here, consider growing tart cherries. Please don't call them sour cherries. I don't even like tart cherries from a marketing perspective. Where's a marketer when you need one? We  should be calling them sweet-tart cherries! (Or, tart-sweet cherries?) I mean the likes of Balaton, Erdi Jubileum, and (maybe) Danube. Much easier to grow. Great on Gisela 6 rootstock. Arguably better health benefits than sweet cherries. Makes a great pie. Can be picked stemless. Can be eaten fresh or baked or processed into juice, sauce (great on vanilla ice cream), etc. Customers really seem to like them. Birds don't like them (much). Can't buy them in the grocery store for cheap after July 1 (like you usually can with PNW sweet cherries). Heck, can't buy them period in the grocery store. Far less of a headache. (Although I am not convinced Danube is well-adapted here in the northeast.) Don't need to be covered or netted! Every farm market/roadside stand/retail grower should be growing some sweet-tart cherries on Gisela rootstocks!

Sunday, March 10, 2013


I just returned from the International Fruit Tree Association (IFTA) 56th Annual Conference held at the Boston Copley Marriott from February 23 to March 2, 2013. Hereafter, I will refer to the Conference as #ifta2013boston as I started tweeting from the Conference and it looks like social media (see IFTA Facebook page) has started to catch on a bit with otherwise very progressive horticulturists/fruit growers. 

First, on Saturday, March 23 were two Pre-Conference Intensive Workshops. Altogether, there were about 200 attendees split between "Strategies for Improving Production Practices" and "Managing Pick Your Own Tree Fruit Operations." I spent time in both -- in the "Strategies" session Equilifruit disks were passed out and explained how to use by James Schupp of Penn State, and I won't forget Tom Chudleigh's comment in the "Managing" Workshop: "It's easier to increase revenue $10,000 than decrease expenses $1,000!" Thanks to Pre-Conference workshop organizers and moderators Mo Tougas, Phil Schwallier and Duane Greene for successfully kicking-off #ifta2013boston!

Then, on Sunday, despite the weather, the show must go on, but barely! With perseverance, an excellent Pre-Conference Demonstration by Greg Lang (Michigan State U.) and Lynn Long (Oregon State U.) in front of 100 cold, snowy-wet attendees on pruning dwarf cherry systems at Tougas Family Farm. And then Jim Schupp (Penn State U.) showed us how to prune quad-v intensive planted peaches. (Pictured right.) It's typical to have some kind of weather-related obstacle during these winter orchard visits, and we in Massachusetts did not disappoint!

Monday morning the Education Sessions commenced. Loosely titled "Innovation in Production" and "Innovation in Automation" these Monday sessions were attended by nearly 350 fruit growers and other industry representatives from at least 11 different countries. (But mostly from the United States and Canada.) I should note the overall theme of #ifta2013boston was "Insights into Innovative Orchard Technology." Dr. David Rosenberger of Cornell's Hudson Valley Lab delivered the Carlson lecture titled "Societal Changes are Creating Opportunities and Challenges for Fruit Growers." The Monday afternoon "Automation" session was organized by Tara Baugher (Penn State U.) and featured speakers working on the SCRI-funded "Comprehensive Automation for Specialty Crops."

All-day Tuesday, February 26 was the Field Learning Tour which went to three orchards in Massachusetts and one in New Hampshire. Six 50-passenger buses (thanks A Yankee Line!) were split between a North and South route but all visiting the same orchards. On the South Route (which I was on) we stopped at (in order): Belkin Lookout Farm, Natick, MA; Tougas Family Farm, Northboro, MA; Tower Hill Botanic Garden, Boylston, MA (for lunch); Brookdale Fruit Farms, Hollis, NH; and Parlee Farms, Tyngsboro, MA. So much practical pruning, growing, and marketing information on apples, peaches, and cherries at these typically diversified New England orchards. Terence Robinson (Cornell U., pictured at right) was instrumental in getting discussions going between our orchard hosts and tour attendees.

Returning to Boston Tuesday evening after a long-day in the orchards, enthusiasm for the cider silent auction to benefit the IFTA Research Foundation was still high as we enjoyed a New England boiled dinner of corned beef and cabbage during the 2013 IFTA Awards Banquet. Speaking of awards, here are the deserving recipients:
  • Carlson and Outstanding Researcher Award  -- Dr. David Rosenberger, Cornell University
  • Outstanding Grower Award -- Tougas Family, Northboro, MA
  • Outstanding Extension Award (tie) -- Win Cowgill, Rutgers U. and Jon Clements, UMass Amherst
  • Hall of Fame Award -- Art Thompson (deceased), U. of Maryland
  • Industry Service Award -- Elwin 'Stub' Hardee (deceased) & Family, Hollis, NH

Thanks to Banquet emcee Tim Welsh and cider silent auction organizer Ken Hall for a fun and productive banquet! Announced near the end, the cider auction raised nearly $6,000 for the IFTA Research Foundation!

On Wednesday, Education Sessions resumed. For the morning, the topics were "Innovation in Technology and Varieties" and during the afternoon "Innovation in Climate Change Strategies & Production" were featured. A featured speaker during "Technology and Varieties" was Neal Carter of Okanagan Specialty Fruits who are trying to introduce non-browning Arctic Apples to the USA. His talk "Apples and Biotech -- Why They Fit" was followed by Nancy Foster with USApple's "View from the Hill." One of the best talks of the afternoon was Jeff Andresen's (Michigan State U.) "Climate Change 101 for Fruit Growers." Andresen (pictured left) painted a challenging picture ahead for fruit growers with increased likelihood of seeing earlier springs and more frost/freeze events like those that occurred during 2012.

On Thursday morning two buses (100 attendees) left Boston for the Hudson Valley of New York for the Post-Conference Study Tour. First stop before leaving Massachusetts, however, was the UMass Cold Spring Orchard where Redhaven peach and Honeycrisp apple NC-140 rootstock plantings were visited. Then onto Thursday PM stops in the Hudson Valley:
  • Yonder Fruit Farms in Valatie and Hudson, NY for tall spindle apple planting established in 2012 and Delicious Pruning/Rootstock trial respectively
  • Golden Harvest Farm and Distillery, Kinderhook, NY for Applejack and other spirits sampling
  • Fix Brothers Farm, Germantown, NY for Orsi platform demo and older "tall spindle" apple pruning discussion
  • Mead Orchards, Tivoli, NY for diversified fruit and vegetable farm marketing discussion

And then overnight at Poughkeepsie Grand Hotel for dinner on our own. (I heard the Bull and Buddha was pretty good!)

Friday early morning we departed Poughkeepsie across the Mid-Hudson Bridge for Cornell's Hudson Valley Lab in Highland. At the HVL we were treated to indoor laboratory and outdoor field research being done by the HVL's scientists -- Rosenberger, who is also Director, on pathology; Peter Jentsch on entomology; and Steve Hoying on horticulture. It was all very informative and these researchers (and Extension educator Mike Fargione) at the HVL provide essential support for Hudson Valley fruit growers who maintain open space and provide locally grown food and economic development to the region.

After departing HVL continuing Post-Conference Study Tour stops included:

  • Porpiglia Fruit Farms, Marlboro -- packing line, storage, and plantings
  • Crist Bros. Coy Farm, Clintondale -- tall spindle apple plantings and hedging
  • Wrights Farm Market & Bakery, Gardiner -- gourmet box lunch, cider donuts
  • Dressel Farms, New Paltz -- modern storage and Cider Week, but no sampling, and we did not go look at one of the oldest tall spindle apple plantings in eastern new york :-(
  • Crist Bros. Home Farm, Walden -- brand new Greefa pre-sorting line
  • Fishkill Farms, Fishkill -- Eco Apples and year-round farm market (some crops organic)

After the day of orchard visits and a brief return to the hotel we had a brief ride to Locust Grove Estate and Samuel Morse Historic Site for an authentic Dutch-Colonial dinner hosted by Hudson Valley entertainers and cooks John and Cynthia Vergilii. It was really great and a fitting end to the Post-Conference Study Tour. Kudos to Steve Hoying and the Hudson Valley Young Growers for an informative and entertaining IFTA event no one will soon forget. Finally, on Saturday morning, back to Boston for travel home...

Of course I want to thank very much all the people who worked particularly hard and/or significantly contributed to make #ifta2013boston a success. They include: Mo Tougas, Phil Schwallier, and the IFTA Board of Directors; Tara Baugher for putting together the automation session; Rick, Glen, and Teresa who are IFTA's management team with AMR Management Services; Tim Welsh and Ken Hall for hosting the banquet program and cider auction; all our Pre-Conference Workshop and Conference speakers; all our Pre-, Post-, and Conference tour stop hosts; and Steve Hoying and the Hudson Valley Young Growers for arranging the Post-Conference Tour. 

For more of my pictures of #ifta2013boston see my Flicker album...