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!)