Saturday, April 28, 2012

Strawberry Harvest & Peach Thinning

  Strawberry harvest began a few days ago and is going strong.  Since we never had a spring frost this year, no blossoms were killed, so we have a huge strawberry crop this year.  The berries are large and great-tasting.
Customers are picking many quarts of flavorful 'Earliglow' strawberries.
  Raspberries and blackberries are blooming now and will have huge crops this year also.  All these berry crops can support large numbers of berries, since each berry is relatively small.  Most tree fruits, however, cannot support all the fruit that set in a frost-free year like this one, or all the fruit would end up being so small and lacking in sweetness that nobody would want to buy them.
  So we need to thin tree fruits, removing the excess fruit so the remaining ones will grow bigger and sweeter.  Apples and pears can be thinned about 3 weeks after full bloom, by spraying a growth-regulating spray that causes some of the young fruit to drop.  We sprayed our apples and pear trees last Mon. April 23, and have seen some resulting fruit drop, but not quite enough.  So we will have to remove even more fruit by hand later.
  For the past 10 days we've concentrated on thinning the peach trees, in between customers coming to harvest strawberries.  No growth-regulating sprays work well to thin peaches without causing damage to the foliage, so we have to thin peaches mechanically.  With the huge fruit set this year, we have to remove 90% of the young fruit.
  So we invested in pneumatic limb shakers this year.  We placed these on each branch and give it a vigorous shake for a second or two, knocking some young fruit to the ground.  I just finished going over the entire one-acre peach orchard of about 100 trees yesterday, after spending 40 hours using the limb shaker.
I spent 40 hours shaking excess tiny peaches from our 100 trees using a pneumatic limb shaker, powered by an air compressor that runs via the power take off of our tractor.
  Now four workers and I are doing follow-up hand thinning.  We leave the best fruit, spaced 6 to 8 inches apart, on the trees, and twist off the rest.  In 2010--another year with no spring frost--before we got the limb shakers, we had to spend 350 hours hand thinning, about 3 1/2 hours per tree.  With the limb shakers, I hope to cut that labor requirement to about 2 hours per tree, or 200 hours total plus 40 hours using the limb shaker.
This peach branch, after using the limb shaker but before hand thinning, still has far more fruit than the branch can support.
The same branch after hand thinning now has only the biggest, best fruit, that will ripen into large, sweet, flavorful peaches.
  Growing great peaches takes a lot of work!  Come buy some peaches this summer to taste the results of our labor.