Good Fruit Grower

August 2013

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HOT TIPS for Honeycrisp Mike Robinson is experimenting with Honeycrisp in one of Washington State's warmer growing regions. by Geraldine Warner hen Washington State growers began planting Honeycrisp in the late 1990s, the wisdom was that the variety would present an opportunity for those in cooler growing districts. Art Zink was one of the first to adopt the variety at his 1,300-foot-elevation orchard at Methow in north central Washington and felt confident that growers in cooler areas would have a distinct advantage with the variety over larger operations in hotter areas in the Columbia Basin, where it would probably sunburn badly. But with high consumer interest in the variety, Honeycrisp's range has been expanding. With returns of Growers visited the Honeycrisp orchard of Mike Robinson (right) in June and will have the opportunity to return near harvest to see the impacts of various growing practices. "If you fill the space on Honeycrisp and you get good-sized fruit, 80 bins is a pretty easy target." over $100 a box, growers can afford to invest in practices to mitigate lessthan-ideal conditions. Take Mike Robinson, for example. Robinson had a weak-growing 23-acre block of Granny Smith apples on Malling 9 rootstocks at his orchard in Othello in the heart of the Columbia Basin that he struggled to get a good green color on. The decision to graft them over was easy. But to what? He decided on a red strain of Honeycrisp. The south-facing slope is too hot for Honeycrisp and the tree spacing —Mike Robinson (5 by 14 feet) too wide for a variety that will stop growing once it fruits, Robinson acknowledges, but he's treating it as a grand experiment. He's trying to figure out how to grow Honeycrisp in volume so that when the price goes down he'll be able to compete. Grafted One half of the block was grafted over in 2011, with two sticks of Honeycrisp wood per tree. He's training them with a single leader on a four-wire trellis with the aim of creating a fruiting wall. He's following the philosophy of Stemilt Growers horticulturist Dale Goldy: Push the tree as hard as you can as fast as you can, and when the tree has grown enough, stop fertilizing it in order to improve fruit color and avoid bitter pit. The other half of the block was grafted last year, and those trees are being trained with two leaders, which Robinson thinks will be a good fit for this variety. Where one leader is growing more vigorously than the other, he'll take the fruit off the smaller one until it catches up. Tree training is accomplished mainly through pruning. During the first winter after planting, each branch is cut back to a 6- or 12-inch stub with a Dutch cut. During the second winter, he cuts the one-year wood in the tops of the trees (above 5 feet) back to stubs and cuts the one-year wood below five feet to the point where it will be stiff enough to hold fruit without moving. Limbs that grow back from the stubs are usually flat and don't need tying down. In August, before harvest, he removes unwanted upright branches. Fertilizer Growth is natural. Quality is intentional. In vineyards, orchards and fields, professional growers create a plentiful, premium crop with a discerning eye, a careful hand — and calcium. Nature's Intent Calpril and Dolopril neutralize acidic soils and correct calcium and magnesium deficiencies. Our line of all-natural, fast-acting products has been proven safe and effective through extensive testing. Until the trees fill the space, he's applying 100 pounds of ammonium sulfate fertilizer in the fall, two 50-pound applications of CAN 27 (50 percent ammoniacal nitrogen and 50 percent nitrate nitrogen) in the spring, and 50 pounds of calcium nitrate in June. To alleviate bitter pit, he applies calcium at least 20 times (twice weekly), starting with liquid formulations and then shifting to calcium chloride later in the season. Sometimes he treats only alternate rows, depending on the tree size and amount of blow-through. In one of many experiments in the block, he omitted the spring fertilizer applications on four rows, which left those trees looking significantly weaker than the rest. He fears the trees will never ultimately achieve the same production as the others. Yield • Increase crop yield, size, and shelf life. • Boost overall crop quality, color, firmness, flavor and Brix. • Improve long-term soil health by stimulating positive microbial activity and high cation exchange rates. Get growing with Nature's Intent. Call 877-571-3555 or visit us at to find a distributor near you. 10 AUGUST 2013 GOOD FRUIT GROWER Most of the fruit in the second leaf is removed to encourage the trees to grow to fill the space. If Honeycrisp trees are overcropped and stop growing, they never start again, he said. His yield target for the third leaf is 40 bins per acre, which he thinks is achievable because of the naturally large size of Honeycrisp apples. In the fourth leaf and fifth leaf, he's aiming for 60 bins. At maturity, he's hoping for 80 bins per acre. "If you fill the space on Honeycrisp and you get good-sized fruit, 80 bins is a pretty easy target, particularly if you're blossom thinning, because you can keep production consistent," he said. He's experimenting with mechanical thinning, with the Bonner machine and handheld devices, as an alternative to hand-thinning blossom clusters. Until Honeycrisp

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