How to Grow Tasteless Apples

For around forty years, the provincial government has been financially supporting this method of apple growing. Looks pretty modern and efficient, doesn’t it!

It’s very seductive. Bankers and government officials love it. Dwarf trees. High capital input, almost no labour, and no skill. Very techno-savvy. Much like a robotic automobile assembly line.

The trees might need support so they don’t fall down, but that’s easy. Yeah, sure, there are sap restrictions and flow problems, but, hey, you can control those by pumping more water and fertilizer through the stalks, using a heavily pruned top to pump water out of the roots. 

Yeah, you get a lot of shade, which is bad for apple quality…

…, but you can train your Mexican workers in five minutes to lop away at that stuff two weeks before harvest and let the sun in, right?

Right. Very efficient. But let’s have a closer look. How many fruit buds do you see in this bearing space, about 20% of the tree’s space? Hint: they’re the big fat buds. What? 10?

And look at how they all hang down.

Argue how you will, apples grow best on shoots above the vertical: they have the highest sugar, the highest nutritional value, the richest flavour, the fewest diseases, and the most even ripening. This method of farming produces lousy apples. Not only that, but all this summer pruning is creating beautiful immature wood, poorly suited to get through a winter.

The upper-tree branch below shows how much good potential can be created by summer pruning… all wasted because this branch is not a part of the structural or bearing potential of the tree and must be removed.

In fact, to grow decent apples, all of this stuff has to be cut off.

And all of this, too.

How much longer are we going to subsidize poor growing practices with cash injections, rather than teaching “farmers” how to farm?

How much longer can we afford to damage our bodies, our society, and our land in this way?

1 reply »

  1. Harold, I’m a real tyro at pruning but “helping the tree assuming its natural shape” seems a no-brainer to me. Years ago I knew some friends–Portuguese-Canadians–who told me about grafting and pruning that their fathers did in the Okanagan when they arrived in Canada. It was painstaking (no pun; no staking then) work but they were swift and knowledgeable, tender and efficient. Industrializing orchardry is the opposite of Fred Tamminga’s poem which I reprint below.

    Beside the waiting hole
    and Golden Russet to be planted
    are the hunchbacked hands–the barky skin
    shellacked with the hard sick shine of
    rot–the crooked fingers
    curving with arthritis worm
    have hooked into the moist hot pile
    of peat and loam and cow manure–hands
    no throb
    no passable composure

    (from whence cometh their help?)

    But see them now unbending:
    fingers like a lowspeed blender
    homogenizing planting dirt until
    the formula fingers find
    that it is good

    Tamping with the palms
    (strong fingers arching a five-gallon can)
    (fingers closing their eyes
    for the interlude between the doing)

    Once more they open–palms are up
    sliding along the thinskin bark
    of bottom branches–like fingers reading
    or writing for all I know
    a visionary poem

    The of the poem is “Commentary on the Hands of a Blind Old Gardener” and the subscription was this (German): “Wenn ich wüsste, dass die Welt morgen untergeht, so würde ich doch heute noch einen jungen Apfelbaum pflanzen.” by Martin Luther


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