[NAFEX] Which apples will be aborted?

Jim Fruth jimfruth at charter.net
Wed Oct 7 12:35:23 EDT 2009

    While writing to Betsy Hilborn about bagging apples, I told her 
something that, as I wrote it, realized I should be writing to the group.  I 
wrote about fruit (apples) borne in clusters and the science behind which 
will abort.  As I wrote, I recalled having learned it back when I was 
studying Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) researching it for the floss within 
its seed pods for a paper company who were thinking about making tissue 
papers out of it.
    Milkweed produces few fruits and part of my job was to figure out how to 
make the plants more productive.  The plants produce clusters of a hundred 
or more flowers but, usually, fewer than five pods reach fruition.
    What I did first was to put a daub of honey at the base of the flower 
stems within each flower cluster to be studied.  Next, I put a handful of 
honey bees into seamless, one gallon plastic bags, and inflated each so the 
closed opening was at the bottom.  When captured honey bees are confined, 
they continually look for a way out, upwards or toward the side.  Then I 
opened the bottom of each bag, placed it over each flower cluster and 
twist-tied the base of the bags to each stem.  When honey bees encounter the 
smell of honey, they forget about trying to get out and immediately go after 
the honey.  Of course, there are far to many bees in each bag for each to 
gobble up any honey so the rest of them went after the (very sweetly, 
aromatic) Milkweed blossoms.  When all, or most of the flowers appeared to 
be pollinated, the bees were released.  Those bees went back to the hive, 
told their buddies and,soon, my tiny patch of Milkweed was abuzz with bees 
looking for more honey and pollinating the rest of the flower clusters.
    What happened next was both expected and astounding.  With surrounding 
plants producing 0 to 5 pods per flower cluster, the clusters within the 
experiment area produced dozens, and more, pods per cluster.  With that in 
mind, I told Betsy:

    I bag only the king apple, the largest one in the center of a cluster. 
I snip the others at the time of bagging.  The ones that drop are usually 
not the king apple.
    When a whole cluster of apples blooms all at the same time, the first to 
get pollinated seize the opportunity to seal the other apples off from the 
path of nutrients.  If there are alot of pollinators, the whole cluster 
might develop but if pollinators are not abundant, fewer apples will grow to 
maturity and the last pollinated will drop.
    I bag the king apple because, in my orchard, the king apple frequently 
blooms a day or more before the rest of the cluster of flowers bloom and it 
grabs the path of nutrients sealing off all others.  In some years, all of 
the flowers in a cluster bloom on the same day and the king apple might be 
the later pollinated; when that happens, it will be aborted, along with the 
bag I put on it.

Jim Fruth
Brambleberry Farm
Pequot Lakes, MN  56472
For jams, jellies, syrups and more:
1-877-265-6856 (Toll Free)
1-218-831-7018 (My Cell)

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