Summer: With the opening of the "King" blossom (the largest and centermost of the five-blossom clusters), pollination begins. Bee colonies rented from bee keepers must be moved in quickly, usually at night so that the bees are at "home" and not in flight. Sunny, mild days are needed during bloom to encourage strong bee activity. Apples need more than one variety of pollen for the cross-pollination that ensures good fruit set. Fertilizing and tree training round out the busy June calender. Limbs must be tied up or weighted down to spread the young tree into the perfect shape. In some dry years, irrigation must be used during July. Fruit size and firmness are affected by moisture in this critical month. Spraying, mowing, and shaping practices continue, and some pruning is done to expose growing fruit to sunlight. August is the last growing month before the apples begin to ripen. Red apples need cool nights during harvest to trigger an enzyme which increases the amount of color, or "blush." Mowing is completed and bins (the large bulk boxes picking buckets are emptied into) are positioned strategically around the orchard. Ladders are repaired and the harvest logistics are carefully planned. Storage rooms must be cleaned and their refrigeration systems tested. Most growers store some of their fruit in controlled atmosphere (CA) rooms where the temperature is rapidly brought down to 32 degrees, and the oxygen is replaced with nitrogen to slow ripening. Apples come out of these rooms months later as fresh as the day they were picked. For an apple to pass the"admissions test" to a fall CA room, it must have the proper starch and hardness measurements (to determine ripeness) at harvest.
Fall: Apples bruise easily and must be hand picked. Additional harvest workers are hired to help get the crop in on time. When picking begins in late August, there is a constant buzz of activity until the last of the fruit comes off in late October. The farmers then market their fruit; either through their own farm store or packed and shipped fresh to supermarkets, restaurants, and schools nationwide and around the globe. During the harvest season, some farms invite the public to come for the fun of picking their own apples (PYO).
Many apples are processed into sauces, pies, and jelly - or pressed into fresh cider and processed apple juice. Some apple varieties are designed specifically for this market. For others, cider is a delightful by-product of apples not "pretty" enough for the fresh whole-apple market.
An apple is in the pome family - a fruit whose seeds are embedded in the core of the fruit. A surprising member of this family is the rose. Apples come in many colors and shapes; select one of each type and have a taste test! Every apple is loaded with minerals, vitamins, and fiber. At 85% water and 1% fat an apple makes a low (80) calorie contribution to the five-a-day recommendation from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
With the harvest complete, it is time to prepare again for winter. Growing an apple takes all year, and there is always something going on in the orchard. If you look closely, you can even see the promise of next year's crop at the tip of each branch in the snow. It is the bud that will become the apple which you might eat a year from now.