You can cover your baby apples with bags to prevent disease and insect damage.
PHOTO: DEBRA CARMICHAEL
After several years of struggling to get the two trees in my yard to produce edible apples, I was about to give up entirely and remove the trees. Then I read about apple growing in Japan, where instead of using apple tree spray, tiny apples are encased in cloth bags to protect them from pests. When the bags are removed just before harvest, the apples are perfect inside and out.
I investigated further and discovered that Cornell University’s extension service had experimented with using paper lunch bags. I decided to try it for myself.
A few weeks after petal fall, when the apples were still smaller than a dime, I thinned the blossom clusters down to one fruit per cluster leaving the center or “king” blossom in place. I also thinned these so they were 4 inches apart on the tree. Then I encased each remaining apple inside a paper lunch bag and placed staples close on either side of the stem and along the open edge across the top of the bag. The miniature apple was just round enough to keep the bag from slipping off. During the first week, each tree shed perhaps 10 percent of the bags, possibly due to fragile stems getting damaged while attaching the bags. There was no need to use any pesticide spray on the apples, and by September many of the bags were literally bulging.
About two weeks before harvest, I removed the bags and found pale green apples that were fat, round, smooth-skinned, scrumptious-looking and bore no marks of any kind. After only a few days of sunshine, they began to deepen into their normal reddish hue. They were simply gigantic compared to anything I had ever seen on the trees before.
For the price of a few packages of paper lunch bags, a box of staples and the time required in the spring for setup, the return on my investment was amazing. For the first time, I grew apples that I was proud of. They tasted delicious and had no residues from toxic apple sprays.
Some gardeners report similar results with an easier method that uses stretchy nylon “footies” (used in shoe stores by sockless customers) instead of paper bags. For details, search our site for “footies.”