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Fruits of Labor

Apple work doesn’t stop when trees are picked

May 15, 2011
By MIKE ZUMMO , The Leader Herald

New York's apple growers had a good season last year, and the trees are starting to bloom across the state as spring tries to take hold and breathe life into the summer growing season.

Growers were rewarded with a strong season this year, with about 30 million bushels of apples being picked, many of which were plucked from trees in Fulton and Montgomery counties, according to the New York Apple Association.

However, getting that strong season takes a lot of work during the winter season.

Article Photos

Ken Coyne of Bellinger’s Farm in Fultonville inspects apple blossoms at the farm as he stands near a tractor on Friday. Coyne is the son-in-law of orchard owner Tom Bellinger. He is married to Bellinger’s daughter Linda Coyne.

The Leader-Herald/Bill Trojan

Ken Coyne, who runs Bellinger's Orchards along with his father-in-law, Tom Bellinger, and wife, Linda Coyne, said before the winter, the orchard is mowed one last time to keep the grass short, which he said helps reduce the field mouse population.

Then, he said, in January, the trees are pruned to ensure an equal balance of vegetative growth to that which produces fruit.

"Overly hairy trees will not produce marketable fruit," he said.

Ed Pavlus of Pavlus Orchards in Palatine said the winter involves mostly pruning.

"You take out a lot of the junk wood and stuff like that so you can get more sunlight in there," he said. "You take off the water sprouts so you keep the sunlight, and that makes it easier to spray.

Coyne said a properly pruned tree should leave enough space between branches for a bird to fly through without touching a branch. To that end, he uses small chain and hand saws to keep branches from crossing or pointing straight up or down.

Then, Mother Nature takes over.

During the winter, the sap in the trees flows back into the ground to protect the trunk from snapping during the cold winter. The trees remain dormant until the spring sun and warmer weather, which has just reached the region over the last few weeks. This triggers the flow of sap from the roots upward into the branches and buds.

"The trees require a certain amount of dormancy for them to be productive the next year," Coyne said. "This is probably the primary reason why some of the varieties here in New York can't be grown successfully in southern states."

Right now, that hard work is starting to take shape as growers are reporting large bud counts, meaning trees are blooming well, the association reported. That bloom is coming despite the cold, wet spring the Northeast experienced.

"It's been a cold, nasty spring but our trees don't seem to care," NYAA President Jim Allen said in a news release. "Our trees are pretty much right on schedule, believe it or not. Depending on how the rest of the growing season shakes out, we should have apples ready for market by mid- to late August."

Pavlus said his six acres of apple trees are about a third into bloom, which is normal for this time of year. Bellinger's apple trees just went from the pink stage -where the flower bulbs are ready to pop open the trees,

A good stretch of mild, sunny weather this week will help with the pollination of trees. Warm sunny weather forecasts are good for generating bee activity in the orchards, which means better pollination.

Spring time calls for other measures, including monitoring apple scab, which Coyne said can wipe out a crop and cause problems for years. Also important is fertilizing the soil to make sure the proper minerals are at the appropriate levels.

During the summer, Coyne said it's necessary to monitor the crop to ensure pests, such as apple maggots, mites and others do not destroy the crop.

Then, it's a matter of waiting to see what the harvest looks like at summer's end before starting the process over again.



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