A Seasonal Story about the Orchard: Apple Thinning

by Chris Negronida Bartender at FLCH, Orchard Manager at West Haven Farm and essential staff at Black Diamond Farm

by Chris Negronida

Bartender at FLCH, Orchard Manager at West Haven Farm and essential staff at Black Diamond Farm

The apples are sizing up nicely and many of the trees are showing a good crop.  The sun has already left a red blush on many of the small apples, helping them to stand out against the clay coated leaves.  It is my favorite time to work; the late afternoon.  As I arrive at the farm workers are finishing the last tasks for the day and heading home with a few quarts of fresh strawberries left over from the days labors.  The long evenings of the Summer Solstice will still give me many hours to work with good light.  Soon the tractor is parked and the gate closed and I find myself alone, with the crows and the trees, and few evening peepers tuning up for their symphony.

An un-thinned gorup of apples makes for a grape-like cluster of small ones!

An un-thinned gorup of apples makes for a grape-like cluster of small ones!

 My task is fairly simple; for each cluster of apples, (there are normally five blossoms in a cluster) I am to choose one apple that will remain on the tree and pluck the others off.  This allows the room and resources the fruit need to grow to a good size and is important in helping the tree create new fruit buds for the following year's crop.  Sometimes the choice has already been made for me, as a number of the blossoms never reach fruit set, or fall off naturally.  However many times I find myself in a position to choose between more than one perfect apple.  I feel grossly under-qualified to make such a decision, choosing one apple to mature in the summer sun and dropping the others to the ground.  As the shadows grow longer I methodically round each tree, my eyes darting from branch to branch.  The first time round is always slow, yet no matter how thorough I feel I am being, a second and even a third walk around the tree will always yield new clusters, which I sometimes could swear were not there the first time. As I suspected, thinning apples is not unlike picking them.  Although the apples are smaller and much less willing to let go of the tree than they will be in a few months, the motions and the rhythm feel very much the same.  It is reassuring too realize that the feeling I get of being at home in an orchard is as much a product of the trees themselves as it is the season.

A well-thinned organic apple crop, covered in protective clay to keep the chewing pests away.

A well-thinned organic apple crop, covered in protective clay to keep the chewing pests away.