Good Fruit Grower

December 2011

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New Equipment & Technology Blossom thin PEACHES T Three Springs Orchard at Bendersville, Pennsylvania, has one Darwin machine co- owned with a Maryland grower 50 miles south. Since their seasons are offset a bit, shar- ing one thinner works for them, says Dave Wenk, who operates Three Springs Orchard with his brother John. "We bought a Darwin fifty-fifty with another grower, Henry Allenburg European string thinner has been successfully tested in Pennsylvania. by Richard Lehnert at Smithburg, Maryland," Wenk said. "He bought, I paid half, and I store it. He uses it first and finishes a week before I need it. "For us, it saves a week of green peach thinning by a crew of 12 people," he added. "At $4,000 a week for labor, the machine paid for itself in the first two seasons." Large fruit Dave's son, Ben, has come into the business to develop direct-to-consumer fruit sales through seven farmers' markets. These markets are upscale, located in suburbs of cities like Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Washington, D.C., where customers pay premium prices and want excellent quality fruit. One big element of peach quality is size. "We have gone to earlier and earlier peaches, and it is so hard to get size on these early season semi-clingstone varieties," Dave said. He thinks it's essential to thin early varieties early—before the green peach stage. There is probably some location effect to size of peaches, he says, but he sees a whole-tree effect as well. While it may be somewhat important to space out peaches along the tree limbs, he says, it's also crit- ical to reduce the tree load earlier so the tree doesn't use its resources to grow fruit that will be removed during thinning. "We have bigger fruit because we use the Darwin," he said. "We reduce competition right from the start." When the Darwin was first brought to the United States, the rotating spindle was used along sides of the trees, with the brush in a vertical position. It was first tried on peach trees grown in the perpendicular vee design, which only a few growers used. The latest design can run the rotating brush either horizontally, over the tree tops, or vertically, along the sides, or both. Their spindle is ten feet long. The Wenks use the Darwin on their open- vase trees in the horizon- tal position only. "I drive up one side of the row and down the other, doing the top of each tree from both sides," 32 DECEMBER 2011 GOOD FRUIT GROWER he Darwin mechanical string thinner, developed in Europe for thinning organic apples at blossom time, has been tested in Pennsylvania as a peach blossom thinner and is now being adopted by growers, who find it saves them labor and gives them larger fruit. Orchardists are finding it can pay for itself within a year or two. Dave and Ben Wenk share a Darwin with a grower 50 miles south of them. It works because their seasons don't overlap. richard lehnert

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