What if? What if all the wild apple trees were saved in Eastport, Maine? What if we could feed the wildlife and harvest apples for a cider mill? What if we didn’t let all those apples go to waste?
Every fall I see an over abundance of apples on trees and weeks later they are on the ground. Even though the deer population has exploded, there is more than enough! I have asked the locals, “Why don’t we use these apples?” I always get that quick response, “Those apples are no good!”
As a child, we picked apples and I recall my mother cutting out the “bad part” or the occasional worm. I think we were eating organic apples! The idea that we eat an apple a day to keep the doctor away has dwindled because of the massive pesticides used in apple production. What do these pesticides do that can’t be done with organic methods? Well, they make the apple look pretty. If our environment is healthy, organic methods can work on apples…if we can tolerate some imperfections!
So, my vision, or my mission, would be to start caring for our wild apple trees in Eastport, one by one. If you have a wild apple tree or two on your property, let’s start with assessment of the tree.
Is it worth the effort? Are there large trees infringing within the canopy of the tree? Apple trees should be clear of other trees allowing sunlight to be able to get to the entire canopy. An invasive species such as knotweed or multiflora rose should be eradicated. If that is possible and if the tree still has a healthy central leader, the apple tree might be a candidate for reviving!
Anytime of the year, remove dead, dying, diseased or damaged branches down to the trunk if possible. If there is more than on trunk, remove one at ground level if possible.
Remove any trees, shrubs, understory plants out to the canopy of the tree. Remove any suckers from the base and any water sprouts from the tree branches (straight up growth). Sometimes there is nothing left but straight up growth, so at this point only prune out 1/3 of the largest and all of the very small ones. Try to keep horizontal branches with little spur growth. These are the branches that bear fruit. The upright suckers and water sprouts do not.
Clean up all debris and add a nice topdressing of compost mostly around the drip line. This is where the feeder roots are and compost will feed, cool, and protect those roots.
Pruning in late winter before the buds break are key to the health of the apple tree. Removing crowded and crossing branches are necessary at this time. Again, any dead, dying, diseased, damaged, suckers, or water sprouts can be removed at this time as well. This is when any thinning of branches should be done for aesthetic reasons. Never ever top a tree. Always prune branches down to the next branch or to the tree trunk.
These steps can be repeated every year.
Now let’s start gathering some apple recipes!
Want to get some hands on pruning of an Apple tree? Come with TWIG on March 16th in Eastport, Maine! Details forthcoming!