Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Pommier, Le Mur Fruiter (aka 'Apple, Fruiting Wall')

I was in Belgium last month where Koen Carolus of Carolus Trees in the St. Truiden region showed us their 'fruiting wall' method of producing apples. (Video.) In a nutshell, all pruning is done with a hedger, and usually just once a year. Huge labor savings. Does it work? Growers claim higher yields of medium-size, above-average quality of fruit are produced on dwarf trees spaced app. 3 ft. apart. Otherwise, the trees would have been managed like a tall-spindle.

Of course I had to try it myself, so I split a row of Silken apple trees on M.9 rootstock going into their 4th (5th?) leaf up into 2 groups -- either fruiting wall or tall spindle. I bought a B&D battery-operated, hand-held hedger at Home Depot and gave the fruiting wall trees their first haircut just after bud-break. They will receive another hedging when about 8-10 bourse shoot leaves develop.

Here you can compare the bloom density of the two systems -- fruiting wall or tall spindle. What do you think?


Why we hate to love Honeycrisp

Honeycrisp is notoriously biennial if left to it's own. Look a the return bloom (or lack of it) on May 12, 2011 on this group of Honeycrisp apple trees (top picture) on Bud 9 rootstock at the UMass Cold Spring Orchard in Belchertown, MA. These trees bore a crop of about 740 boxes per acre in 2010. A good crop. Too good a crop apparently if I want to pick any fruit in 2011. I failed.

Compare that to the return bloom on these McIntosh (bottom picture). These trees yielded 1,385 bushels per acre in 2010! And, they will have a good yield in 2011. You got to say one good thing for McIntosh -- return bloom is generally not a problem. (In fact, it is a very productive apple year-after-year.)

So, what's a Honeycrisp grower to do? Thin early and heavy during the on year and start adding Fruitone-N at the rate of 2 oz per acre with cover sprays (after thinning is done). That should help even out production. Oh, and pay attention to dormant pruning when you can do some spur pruning to start the process of producing consistent crops with Honeycrisp. Note also that this biennial bearing problem is worse on young trees and some growers report (anecdotal) more evening out of the crop as the trees age.