Right Now in the Orchard

Taking Good Care of the Ambrosia Apple Trees

You might be inclined to think that summer is a sleepy time in the Ambrosia orchard. It’s true that the apples are all hanging nicely in their trees, growing bigger by the day. However, there’s a lot for the farmers to do to ensure that those Ambrosia apples stay nourished and healthy  all the way to the harvest.

Ambrosia apples growerWe touched base with Tom Ouchi of Ringo-En Orchards in Vernon, BC to find out how he’s nurturing his Ambrosia apples right now.

He was happy to report that his Ambrosia crop is looking great. He has a heavy crop this year (meaning there are a lot of apples). Last year he had a short crop so he’s happy to see so many apples this year. And, he also reports that the apples are of good size; bigger than last year. Things are off to a good start!

“We had good weather during pollination this year,” he explains. That means that the bees were busy and pollinated a lot of blossoms. It’s great news but it also means he had a lot of thinning to do.

Thinning happens a few times in the early stages of the Ambrosia apple season. Excess blossoms are removed as are excess applets (the small fruit buds that develop out of the blossoms). Tom finished his final thinning of small apples, by hand, around mid-July.

Thinning is an important step because you want to make sure that all of the tree’s energy is going to the good apples. If there are too many blossoms or apples, the tree wastes a lot of energy trying to grow all of them. This can be very stressful for the tree and can result in small, underdeveloped fruit.

Speaking of stress on the tree, that’s what Tom will be watching for in the coming month or so. This is especially true when the temperature rises. When we get a hot weather streak that lasts longer than 10 days, the trees could even start to shut down.

Every farmer has a different strategy to help their trees out when temperatures are hovering around the 35° mark. Tom makes sure that they are well watered. He uses drip irrigation all the time but during those hot stretches, he’ll also water the entire orchard in the evening (not just at the base of the tree).

“I do some overhead watering in the evening to wet the whole area, including the grass between the rows,” he explained. This increases the humidity in the orchard and that helps to keep the trees healthy and happy.

The other concern during hot, sunny stretches is sunburn. Yes, apples can get sunburnt! Tom says watering helps to deter this as does using a calcium spray. The calcium is primarily for the health of the trees but the added bonus is that it also acts a bit like sunscreen for the apples.

As the Ambrosia apples continue to grow over the next month or so, they will become more tolerant of the heat and the sun. Until then, Tom and other Ambrosia apple orchardists need to make sure that these big, beautiful apples continue to grow right up until it’s time to pick them.

So far, the growing season appears to be right on pace. Early indicators suggest that we should see the BC Ambrosia harvest around the end of September.

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