Bananas: From the Bunch to Your Breakfast

Where do bananas come from?

Bananas originated in the Malay Archipelago in Southeast Asia. Today they are grown in tropical regions across the globe, from South and Central America to India, China and Africa.

Bananas grow in hot, tropical climates. Banana plants look like trees but are actually giant herbs related to lilies and orchids. The plant grows from a root clump (rhizome), similar to a tulip bulb. There are over 500 types of bananas! People cultivate mostly cooking bananas and plantains (the starchy cousins of the sweet banana). Over 500 million people depend on the banana trade to support themselves and their families.

Banana plants at a farm in Costa Rica

Photo credit: Anna Clark

The dessert banana, also called the Cavendish, is the most popular type of banana in North America and Europe. When Americans were introduced to bananas in the 1880s, they were considered an exotic luxury and eaten with a knife and fork. Today, the average person in the U.S. eats more than 75 bananas a year. Tarantulas like to hide in banana leaves.

Banana plants grow quickly and can reach their full height of 20-40 feet in only 9 months. After growing for about 6-8 months, the plant develops a nice crown of leaves. Then a flowering stem emerges from the top, and a large bud begins to develop.

As the bud unfolds, it reveals double rows of tiny flowers. Each of these flowers will become an individual banana, or a “finger.” Each row of bananas is call a “hand” and is made up of 14 to 20 fingers. Each stem grows 9 to 12 hands, which means that a single banana plant can produce up to 240 bananas.

Flowering banana plant

Photo credit: Radim Schreiber

Bagging the Fruit

Farm worker bagging bananas on a banana farm in Costa Rica.

About 14 days after the stem has emerged, the weight of the growing bananas causes the stem to hang upside down. At this stage, many farmers cover the fruit with a bag to help protect it from insects and sun damage. Farmers also support the plant by tying it to neighboring plants with twine. This helps prevent the plant from toppling over from the weight of the bananas.

Harvesting

About 12 weeks after bagging, the green-colored fruit is ready to harvest. In order to harvest the bananas, one worker cuts the stem from the plant while another stands underneath to catch the falling stem on his shoulder. After one growth cycle, the banana plant will be cut down and a new plant will grow from the root clump (rhizome) left behind.

Once cut from the plant, the bananas are carried to the processing plant by horse or by workers.

After harvest, the plastic bags are recycled on Rainforest Alliance certified banana farms.

Processing

Worker washing bananas

At the processing plant, workers remove bananas from their stems by hand and break them into smaller clusters. The workers must be very careful to cut neatly and accurately in order to prevent breaking the skin, which can cause rotting.

The workers submerge the bananas in large tanks of cold water. The cool water lowers the temperature of the bananas and washes off sap and latex from the cut stems.

Next, the bananas get stickers. Workers carefully pack the bananas in boxes so they do not bump against each other. This helps to minimize bruising before they arrive at their destination.

Worker packing bananas into boxes for shipment.

Photo credit: Rob Goodier

Finally, the boxes are carefully loaded into refrigerated ships, called reefers. The ship’s storage area is kept cold enough to prevent the bananas from ripening, a technique called “putting the bananas to sleep.”

Upon arrival, the bananas are placed into ripening rooms for 3 to 8 days before being brought to the markets. The bananas are loaded into a truck and shipped off to be offered to banana lovers on grocery shelves.

Rainforest Alliance Certification

Banana farmers that wish to be certified through the Rainforest Alliance must are required to:

  • Protect ecosystems
  • Conserve water, soil and forests
  • Provide decent working conditions for all workers, safety training and protective equipment
  • Maintain positive relationships with local communities
  • Establish an integrated system of waste management

When discussing apple rootstocks and cultivars, understanding the terminology used to describe the tree is important. All apple trees purchased from nurseries are grafted or budded, meaning that there are at least two distinct parts of the tree. The scion is the above ground or vegetative portion of a grafted or budded tree comprised of the trunk, branches, leaves, and fruit. The scion is the cultivar or the part of the tree that has name recognition such as Gala or Honeycrisp.

Photo by Jon Clements, University of Massachusetts

The scion is grafted onto the rootstock which forms the root system of the tree. In apple trees, the rootstock will ultimately determine the height and spread of the mature tree. Suckers emerge from the base of the tree originating from the rootstock. If the scion cultivar dies, sometimes it is the rootstock that will continue to grow, usually producing fruit with different characteristics than the original cultivar and frequently of inferior quality. Often this is what can confuse homeowners as to what kind of apple tree was planted.

The architecture of the above ground portion of the tree also has specific terminology. The crown refers to the entire above ground portion of the tree with leaves and branches. The term “collar” refers to areas where intersections occur. The branch collar refers to the area where a branch attaches to the trunk or main shoot of the tree. The tree collar is at the base of the tree where the rootstock and scion join. A spur is a short woody shoot on an apple tree that primarily produces flowers and subsequent fruit. Spurs are shoots that usually grow very slowly, often less than ½-inch per year. Spurs typically terminate in a flower bud containing numerous flowers. Some trees are genetically dispossessed to produce most fruit on spurs, and are referred to as spur-type trees. Spur-type trees are generally smaller in stature than non-spur trees. Shoot length is shorter on spur-type trees resulting in a more compact tree so that trees can be planted closer together. Bourse shoots are vegetative short shoots that arise from beneath where a flower bud arises. Sometimes a tree produces very vigorous growth in a year resulting in excessive upright growth. These very long, upright branches are referred to as water sprouts and create shade within the tree and are unproductive. They should be removed during dormant (winter) pruning.

Photos by Mike Parker, North Carolina State University

Mike Parker, North Carolina State University

Emily Hoover, University of Minnesota

Spreading shoots of young apple trees

Photo 5

Removing upright shoots on bent branches in midsummer can cause a massive sunburn problem in hot climates like Australia’s. (Courtesy Bas van den Ende

2ndphoto

Bending branches below horizontal creates upright shoots that remain vegetative. (Courtesy Bas van den Ende

Photo 4

Removing upright shoots in midsummer will only cause more upright shoots to grow from the pruning cuts. It’s an unwinnable and costly situation. (Courtesy Bas van den Ende

Photo 2a

Bending branches below horizontal can create blind wood. (Courtesy Bas van den Ende

Photo 3

Bending shoots below horizontal too early will stop extension growth and prevent the tree from filling its space on the trellis. (Courtesy Bas van den Ende

BaktashGala3rdyr

A perfectly trained two-year-old Gala tree (on MM.106 rootstock) on the Open Tatura system. Scaffold branches obey the 3-to-1 rule and have been spread at the correct angle. This method of spreading ensures that the space on the trellis is quickly filled with fruiting wood. It also allows renewal of fruiting wood while keeping enough vigor in the tree to grow an optimum crop of apples of good size and quality annually. Only a few vigorous shoots on the back of the leaders are removed in summer. The crop keeps vigor in check. These trees produced 10.5 tons per hectare (10.5 bins per acre) of packed fruit 30 months after planting. The planting density is 1,818 trees per hectare (about 700 trees per acre). (Courtesy Bas van den Ende

The proper angle of shoots or branches is an aspect of tree training which encourages formation of flower buds and fruit, allows for sunlight to penetrate into the canopy, gives structural strength to the tree, and directs growth within the young apple tree.

Shoots or new shoots refer to current growth up to one year old. These shoots are long and vigorous, and their tip buds often remain vegetative.

Branches are older than one year and have formed new shoots and laterals. A branch can have wood of ­different ages.

Crotch angles and strength

Branches with narrow crotch angles are structurally weak and can easily break in the wind or from heavy crop loads.

Branches with wide crotch angles have greater connective strength and will not break because supporting wood is formed on the underside.

Effects of branch spreading

The way that shoots or branches are spread and positioned, and the time of year when this is done, affect growth and cropping.

Regardless of the growth habit of the apple variety, when shoots or branches are spread or repositioned from an upright position to a more horizontal position, terminal extension growth and apical dominance are reduced, and development of lateral branches is increased.

Spreading the entire shoot or branch in a straight line results in uniform growth along the length of the shoot or branch and creates a strong crotch angle. The closer to the horizontal a branch is spread, the more uniform are buds that develop along the branch, especially those towards the base.

Arch bending

Arch bending is where the tip of the shoot or branch is bent below some point along the shoot or branch to form an arch or curve.

This creates a different response than does straight-line spreading. Arch bending has little effect on crotch angle. At the highest point along the arch, one or more upright shoots will typically form. Other shoots are shorter in both directions from the arch.

Apical dominance

The gravitational force responses to spreading or bending are the result of a phenomenon called apical dominance.

Apical dominance regulates growth via two plant hormones. Firstly, a plant hormone called cytokinin, which is produced in root tips, moves up the tree and breaks dormancy at the highest points (tip buds) in the tree.

When the tip buds start to move, another plant hormone called auxin is produced in the actively growing shoot tip. As auxin moves down the shoot by gravity, it stops lateral buds below the tip from developing and branching.

Apical dominance is strongest in vertical shoots where auxin moves downwards and accumulates uniformly in buds, stopping them from developing lateral shoots.

The effect becomes weaker with increasing distance from the tip. As buds become more distant from the tip, they are released from the auxin influence and may develop lateral shoots.

Apical dominance varies between species and ­varieties, and is very strong in apple and pear.

Bending and arching affect apical dominance differently

As shoots or branches are bent away from a vertical position, auxin and cytokinin are no longer concentrated in the tip, and the number and length of lateral shoots are increased while extension growth is decreased.

If shoots or branches are arched below the horizontal, apical dominance by the bud at the tip is lost.

Auxin accumulates in the lower side of the shoot or branch, and cytokinin accumulates in the uppermost buds on the curve of the shoot or branch.

These buds, which are no longer under any apical control, develop into new upright shoots as the tree seeks to reestablish apical control in the shoot or branch.

Thus, spreading or arch bending can have a profound effect on shoot growth, which can then later affect ­precocity and yield.

What is a good angle?

The best production comes from branches trained to grow at about a 45-degree angle from vertical. This angle is wide enough to prevent the branch ever competing with the tree’s leader. The angle is also narrow enough to allow for the apical bud to be strong enough to impose its own apical dominance on that shoot. This allows for some continuing vegetative growth to retain the vigor of the branch, which in turn allows fruiting wood to be renewed, and optimizes fruit size and quality.

When shoots or branches are spread more than 45 degrees early in the life of the tree, strong shoot growth often develops from the upper surface of the shoot or branch.

With spreading, the tip of the shoot or branch must always be the highest point.

Avoid bending branches

When you bend a branch or shoot below the horizontal position—so that the tip is at the lowest point—the dominant bud at the highest point on the bend will develop into a strong vertical new shoot, especially when the trees are young.

These vertical new shoots should be avoided as they cannot be made into suitable fruiting wood. They can also cause crowding and shading.

Removal of these shoots in summer will not help because new shoots develop from latent buds around the pruning cuts.
If there are apples on the trees, these masses of upright shoots can adversely affect fruit calcium levels and cause storage disorders.

A pruning cut that faces up is a perpetual nightmare that can only be solved if you correct the angle above the horizontal position and restore apical dominance.

Removal of these strong upright new shoots in summer can not only lead to extensive sunburn of the apples, but also removes a large proportion of the leaf area that the young trees need for growth.

A general rule of thumb is that when you prune in summer or winter, you should see as few pruning cuts as possible when you look down onto the trees.

When should you spread?

In any tree-training system, the aim is to fill the tree’s space as quickly as possible. This means you must encourage as much growth as possible in the first and second years. Spreading shoots or branches before they have filled their allotted spaces will ultimately delay the time when trees should be in full production.

The best time to spread is in August and September (February and March in the Southern Hemisphere), when growth slows down, but there is still enough sap flow to facilitate spreading and ­encourage strong structural development.

You can spread in winter, but the shoot or branch may not spread as well as when you do it in late summer or in spring before flowering.

A few hints

Before spreading branches with narrow crotch angles, undercut them first. With a pruning saw that has fine teeth, make three cuts under the branch where it joins the leader. Space the cuts out about half an inch (13 millimeters) apart, and cut about halfway into the branch. The leader is the main part of the tree’s frame and is situated directly above the root system.

Shoots and branches that you spread must obey the 3-to-1 rule, which refers to the relative sizes of the shoot or branch and the leader. A shoot or branch must have a diameter of one-third or less of the diameter of the leader where it joins the leader. The 3-to-1 rule ensures that a dominant leader with a balanced structure of branches develops.

Make sure that you always work with dominant leaders that are progressively tapered to the tops before you start spreading the shoots or branches. Spreading from the base up keeps the tree calm and in balance.

Tatura Trellis or Open Tatura

In a Tatura Trellis or Open Tatura, space the bottom and second wire 12 inches (300 mm) apart in order to establish the basal framework easily. All other wires can be spaced about 16 inches (400 mm) apart.

To avoid choking the leader, select branches that are not directly opposite each other.

The grower who adopts the practice of spreading, not bending, shoots and branches of young apple trees is taking the most important step in developing a productive orchard. •

Bas van den Ende is a tree fruit consultant in Australia’s Goulburn Valley.

Often called a “miracle food” and a “nutritional powerhouse,” an apple a day really may keep the doctor away as they’re one of the healthiest foods a person can eat. These round and juicy fruits are high in fiber and vitamin C, and they are also low in calories, have only a trace of sodium, and no fat or cholesterol.

“Apples are high in polyphenols, which function as antioxidants,” said Laura Flores, a nutritionist based in San Diego. “These polyphenols are found in both the skin of the apples as well as in the meat, so to get the greatest amount of benefits, eat the skin of the apple.”

All of these benefits mean that apples may mitigate the effects of asthma and Alzheimer’s disease, while assisting with weight management, bone health, pulmonary function and gastrointestinal protection.

Here are the nutritional facts from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which regulates food labeling through the National Labeling and Education Act:

Nutrition Facts Serving size: 1 large apple (8 oz / 242 g) Raw, edible weight portion Calories 130 Calories from Fat 0 *Percent Daily Values (%DV) are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Amt per Serving %DV* Amt per Serving %DV*
Total Fat 0g 0% Total Carbohydrate 34g 11%
Cholesterol 0mg 0% Dietary Fiber 5g 20%
Sodium 0mg 0% Sugars 25g
Potassium 260mg 7% Protein 1g
Vitamin A 2% Calcium 2%
Vitamin C 8% Iron 2%

Health benefits

Apples are loaded with vitamin C, especially in the skins, which are also full of fiber, Flores said. Apples contain insoluble fiber, which is the type of fiber that doesn’t absorb water. It provides bulk in the intestinal tract and helps food move quickly through the digestive system, according to Medline Plus.

In addition to digestion-aiding insoluble fiber, apples have soluble fiber, such as pectin. This nutrient helps prevent cholesterol from building up in the lining of blood vessels, which, in turn, helps prevent atherosclerosis and heart disease. In a 2011 study, women who ate about 75 grams (2.6 ounces, or about one-third of a cup) of dried apples every day for six months had a 23 percent decrease in bad LDL cholesterol, said study researcher Bahram H. Arjmandi, a professor and chair of the department of nutrition at Florida State University. Additionally, the women’s levels of good HDL cholesterol increased by about 4 percent, according to the study.

When it comes to polyphenols and antioxidants, Flores explained that they “work in the cell lining to decrease oxidation resulting in lowering risk of cardiovascular disease.” A 2017 article published in Trends in Food Science & Technology adds that blood pressure may also be reduced in those with or at risk of hypertension, which also lowers the risk of cardiovascular disease. A decreased risk of Type 2 diabetes, which can also lead to cardiovascular disease, was found in a study of more than 38,000 women and was also attributed to certain polyphenols and the high-fiber content of apples.

There may be respiratory benefits to eating apples, as well. “Apples’ antioxidant benefits can help lower the risk of asthma,” Flores told Live Science. A 2017 study published in the journal Nutrients indicates that the antioxidants in a variety of fruits and vegetables, including apples, potentially decrease the risk of asthma by helping control the release of free radicals from inflamed cells in the airways and in the oxygen-rich blood coming from the heart.

Health risks

“Eating apples in excess will not cause many side effects,” Flores said. “But as with anything eaten in excess, apples may contribute to weight gain.”

Furthermore, apples are acidic, and the juice may damage tooth enamel. A study published in 2011 in the Journal of Dentistry found that eating apples could be up to four times more damaging to teeth than carbonated drinks.

However, according to the lead researcher, David Bartlett, head of prosthodontics at the Dental Institute at King’s College in London, “It is not only about what we eat, but how we eat it.” Many people eat apples slowly, which increases the likelihood that acids will damage tooth enamel.

“Snacking on acidic foods throughout the day is the most damaging, while eating them at meal times is much safer,” Bartlett said in a statement from King’s College. “An apple a day is good, but taking all day to eat the apple can damage teeth.”

Dentists recommend cutting up apples and chewing them with the back teeth. They also recommend rinsing the mouth with water to help wash away the acid and sugars.

Apples come in shades of red, green and yellow. The seeds contain a tiny bit of cyanide but you’d have to eat well over a hundred in one sitting for a lethal dose. (Image credit: )

Apples and pesticides

“Most apples will have pesticides on them, unless they are certified organic,” Flores said. In 2018, the Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit environment and human health organization, concluded that 98 percent of conventional apples had pesticide residue on their peels. However, the group also said that “the health benefits of a diet rich in fruits and vegetables outweigh the risks of pesticide exposure.”

Washing apples well helps remove pesticides, according to the Colorado State University Extension Service. “Washing apples and making sure you rub the skin in some way will do the trick,” Flores said. “You can do this with your hands or a fruit scrubber.” However, using chemical rinses and other treatments for washing fresh produce is not recommended because the Food and Drug Administration has not evaluated those products for safety or effectiveness.

Some researchers say not to worry about pesticides. Dr. Dianne Hyson, a research dietitian at the University of California, Davis, writes that laboratory tests have shown very low levels of pesticide residue on apple skins.

Are apple seeds poisonous?

Apple seeds, also called pips, contain a chemical compound called amygdalin, which can release cyanide, a powerful poison, when it comes into contact with digestive enzymes. Whole seeds pass through your digestive system relatively untouched, but if you chew the seeds you may be exposed to the toxins. One or two will not be harmful, as the body can handle small doses of cyanide, but if you or a child chews and swallows a lot of seeds, you should seek medical attention immediately.

How many seeds are harmful? According to John Fry, a consultant in food science, about 1 milligram of cyanide per kilogram of body weight will kill an adult person. Apple seeds contain about 700 mg (0.02 ounces) of cyanide per kilogram; so about 100 grams (3.5 ounces) of apple seeds would be enough to kill a 70-kilogram (154 lbs.) adult. However, an apple seed weighs 0.7 grams (0.02 ounces), so you would have to munch on 143 seeds to get that amount of cyanide. Apples typically have about eight pips, so you’d have to eat the seeds of 18 apples in one sitting to get a fatal dose.

The first apples grown in North America were planted by European settlers in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. (Image credit: )

Apple history and facts

Apples originated in the mountainous region of present-day Kazakhstan. The trees grew 60 feet tall and produced fruit in all sizes between a marble and a softball in shades of red, green, yellow, and purple, according to Cornell University. According to the University of Illinois Extension service, apples were consumed at least as far back as 6500 B.C.

Various trade routes passed through these trees, and apples were likely picked by hungry traders, who then discarded the seeds along their paths and probably carried the seeds with them to plant in other destinations. The seeds naturally hybridized with other local species, producing thousands of different types of apple trees across Europe and Asia. The seeds eventually made it to other continents and countries, including North America and New Zealand.

The first apples grown in North America were planted by European settlers in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Newton Pippin apples were the first type of apple to be exported from the colonies, when they were sent to Benjamin Franklin in London. Today, nearly 25 percent of apples grown in the U.S. are exported around the world.

More fun facts about apples from the University of Illinois Extension service:

  • There are 7,500 varieties, or cultivars, of apples grown throughout the world and 2,500 varieties in the U.S.
  • The world’s top apple producers are China, the United States, Turkey, Poland and Italy.
  • Apples are grown in all 50 states.As of 2010, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported that 60 percent of the apples produced in the U.S. were grown in Washington state, 13 percent in New York, 6 percent in Michigan, 5 percent in Pennsylvania, 3 percent in California and 2 percent in Virginia.
  • In 1730, the first apple nursery was opened in Flushing, New York.
  • The science of apple growing is called pomology.
  • Apples are members of the rose family, Rosaceae

Further reading:

  • Check out even more fun facts about apples from the University of Illinois.
  • Review more apple crop yield statistics from the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service.
  • Find information on fruit and vegetable safety from the CDC.

This article was updated on Dec. 12, 2018 by Live Science Contributor Rachel Ross.

The question

Can I gain weight from eating apples? I’m hooked (honeycrisp!) but I’ve been told they’re very sugary and need to scale back (only one a day, max.)

The answer

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An apple a day will not cause you to consume too much sugar, so keep up your healthy habit! In fact you should be eating more than one fruit serving (e.g. one medium sized fruit) each day. Fruit is one of the best sources of fibre, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. That’s why we’re told to get 7 to 10 servings of fruit and vegetables, combined, each day.

However, people with diabetes and those trying to lose weight can’t eat all the fruit and vegetables they want. That’s because all types of fruit and some vegetables contain higher amounts of natural sugar.

Eating too many of these fruits and vegetables can elevate blood sugar levels and deliver excess calories to the diet.

Consider than one medium sized fruit has 70 to 100 calories worth of natural sugar. Green peas (1/2 cup = 62 calories) and potatoes (1/2 cup = 68 calories) are higher in calories than vegetables that have a higher water content like broccoli (22 calories) and green beans (27 calories).

So if you are trying to lose weight, fill up on low calorie, water-rich vegetables like leafy greens, zucchini, peppers, broccoli and cauliflower. Aim for four to five servings per day. Keep your fruit intake to two to three servings per day.

People with diabetes should also limit their intake of fruit and higher sugar vegetables – but they certainly do not have to avoid eating them.

Send dietitian Leslie Beck your questions at [email protected] She will answer select questions, which could appear in The Globe and Mail and/or on The Globe and Mail web site. Your name will not be published if your question is chosen.

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Too many apples? Here’s what to do with them (Hint: It’s not pie)

Every fall, I look forward to the reopening of the local orchards and country shops selling seasonal treats. I recently made a run to my favorite spot, Riverview Orchards, and chatted with the owner, Isabel Prescott, who reminded me how fleeting this season is: Only one month remains for apple picking! Over hot cider and apple cider doughnuts, Prescott shared some of her best apple know-how:

  • Best apple for a pie: Northern Spy, which Isabel calls “the Cadillac of pie apples.”
  • Best apple for sauce: A mix. Using a combination of four or five different apples such as Cortlands, Empires, Golden Delicious, Macoun, and McIntosh will add immensely to the flavor of the sauce.
  • Best apple for a salad: Cortland, because they stay white for a long time — tossing the apples in lemon, often necessary with other apple varieties, can change their flavor.
  • Apple picking tips: 1) Twist or snap up — don’t pull towards you or they’ll all come crashing down; 2) the larger apples tend to be closer to the trunk, though size doesn’t mean much; 3) generally, the richer the color, the sweeter the apple.
  • The best way to store apples: 33 degrees F — as cold as possible without freezing. Store your apples in the fridge in plastic perforated bags. They’ll keep for months.

Alexandra Stafford

Most of the apples in my kitchen find their way into pies, butters, and sauces. But recently, while flipping through Dorie Greenspan’s Baking Chez Moi, I happened upon a striking image: a blistered flatbread topped with layers of glistening, whisper-thin apple slices. Extreme wanderlust is a sensation I’ve come to expect when perusing any of Greenspan’s books, but never have I felt more moved to pack my bags.

Alexandra Stafford

I turned the page and read the inspiration behind the recipe, the tarte flambé at Flamme & Co, a restaurant in Alsace that bakes the regional specialty in ferociously hot wood-burning ovens. Classically, tarte flambé is made with fresh cheeses, cured meat, and raw onions, but Flamme & Co serves both sweet and savory versions.

Alexandra Stafford


Greenspan’s passage sent me on an Alsatian pizza-making bender. I soon discovered that the union of tangy crème fraîche, sweet onion, and smoky bacon needs nothing more.

But the combination lends itself to countless variations: mustard greens, crisped and charred, provide spicy contrast to the creamy crème fraîche; delicata squash slices, briefly blanched, melt into the dough, their sweetness offsetting the bacon’s saltiness; apples, sliced on a mandoline, soften in a screaming hot oven and emerge with edges ruffled like campanelle pasta.

Alexandra Stafford

I’ll still make pies and cakes this apple season, but this savory use has proven to be a welcome addition to the fall dinner rotation. And, more importantly, it has subdued my longing to move to eastern France — for now, that is.

Alexandra Stafford

Savory Apple Tarte Flambé

Serves 2

1 to 2 teaspoons grape-seed, canola, or olive oil
8 ounces pizza dough (I use the Lahey no-knead dough)
1/4 cup crème fraîche
1 slice bacon, uncooked, finely chopped
1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme
1/4 cup thinly sliced white onion
1/4 cup grated Gruyère or Comté
1 apple, thinly sliced on a mandoline
2 teaspoons sugar

Fruit Tree Thinning: Reasons For Small Hard Fruit & Immature Fruit Drop

If fruit trees came with owner’s manuals, home gardeners inheriting fruit trees planted by previous occupants wouldn’t have so much trouble. Fruit tree problems are common in trees that have been planted with good intentions, but then left to their own devices. Many new fruit tree owners discover that there’s more to fruit tree care than just not killing them when immature fruit drop starts in the late spring or summer.

Immature Fruit Drop

If fruit tree blossoms aren’t thinned prior to opening, up to 90 percent of the small, hard fruit that develops right after pollination will eventually be shed from the tree. This can be a natural part of tree fruit development, since few fruit trees can divert enough energy from growing to support all these new fruits. Naturally, they shed the fruits if they can so that other fruits in the cluster or on that branch can grow larger.

However, not every fruit tree is an efficient fruit shedder and even though they may drop small hard fruit, the remaining fruit stays small because of too much competition for resources. These fruits continue to develop and may remain on the tree throughout the growing season, eventually ripening into seriously small fruits. Without a healthy, immature fruit drop, the tree doesn’t have the resources to produce lovely, large fruits.

What to Do if Fruit Stays Small

If all fruit tree problems were as simple to cure as fruits that stay small, fruit tree growers would have an easy time. Often, training the tree into an open form with only a few main branches is all it takes to correct problems with small fruit, though fruit tree thinning on a very overgrown tree is more of an art than a science. The ideal number of bearing branches will depend heavily on the type of fruit tree you have, such as with peaches.

Picking blossoms from your fruit tree and providing it with proper fertilization is still recommended, even after you’ve pruned it into shape for fruiting. Remember that your tree can only produce fruit based on the support it gets from the outside world, so if the soil isn’t fertile enough to build big fruits, you’ll still need to help the tree along.

4 Benefits of Thinning Fruit Trees

Thinning fruit trees may seem counterproductive, but here are four reasons why thinning out fruit benefits you, your trees, and your fruit harvest.

As a fruit gardener, you may have heard talk about thinning fruit trees. Thinning is the process of removing a selection of fruit from your trees while the fruit is still small. Now, it may seem counterintuitive to pluck some of the newly developing fruit before it is ripe. After all, growing fruit is your goal! However, thinning fruit trees ultimately works in your favor and, more importantly, it benefits your fruit trees in the long run. Let’s discuss why you should thin your fruit trees plus how and when to do it.

4 benefits of thinning fruit:

  1. Discourage overbearing & early fruit drop.
  2. Improve remaining fruit size, color, & quality.
  3. Help to avoid limb damage from a heavy fruit load.
  4. Stimulate next year’s crop & help avoid biennial bearing*.

* “Biennial bearing” is a tree’s tendency to bear fruit every other year. Left to its own devices, a fruit tree may bear heavily one year, then light (or not at all) the next year. Certain types of fruit tree, like many peach trees, and certain varieties of fruit tree, like Golden Delicious Apple trees, are more likely to bear biennially if the current year’s fruit crop isn’t thinned.

How to Thin Your Tree’s Fruit

What you need: Thinning fruit trees is an easy task. All you need is your fingers, or a small pair of sharp pruners, to remove the excess fruit and get the job done. When to thin out fruit: The window for thinning fruit trees opens after pollination takes place and in the early stages of fruit development – this is usually before the young fruit exceeds an inch in diameter. In most locations, you will no longer need to be concerned with thinning your fruit trees after July.

Thinning Fruit on Apple Trees

The best time to thin apple trees is a month or so after their peak blooming period. When you thin your apples, break up any fruit clusters so that one choice fruit remains. It’s usually wise to leave the fruit from the “king bloom”, or the middle bloom in the cluster of flowers, since it is the best candidate for developing into a large, healthy apple. Leave about 6-8 inches between remaining fruit. On spur-type apple trees, fruit develops on spurs along the inside limbs – bearing fruit from the trunk, outward. These may need to be thinned out to encourage bigger and better fruit from the remaining spurs.

Thinning Fruit on Apricot Trees

Apricot trees are known for their productive nature, so fruit drop will be an issue if the trees aren’t thinned. Break up any fruit clusters throughout the tree. Leave about 6 inches between the remaining fruit.

Thinning Fruit on Cherry Trees

The fruit of sweet cherry trees and sour cherry trees are not typically thinned, but, if your trees are having issues with fruit drop due to stress, you might consider thinning some of the fruit. No more than 10 cherries should be on any given spur, so thin clusters that may be creating crowding issues or contributing to cherry drop.

Thinning Fruit on Nectarine Trees & Peach Trees

These fruit trees are notorious for overbearing, which also means they are more than likely going to need to be routinely thinned – especially to avoid damage to the tree. These fruits can get heavy as they mature, and a peach or nectarine tree that is allowed to bear that weight is at risk of its limbs breaking and tearing the bark. Break up any fruit clusters and fruit “twins” that may develop. Leave at least 6 inches of space between remaining fruit.

Thinning Fruit on Pear Trees

Pear trees (both Asian pears and European pears) seldom require thinning, but if your healthy pear tree historically drops fruit while it is still small and unripe, or has a tendency to bear biennially, then consider thinning as a remedy. Remove small, misshapen or injured fruit as soon as it appears. Break up any clusters of fruit, allowing one to two fruits from each cluster to remain in order to improve mature fruit size. Leave about 4-6 inches between remaining fruit.

Thinning Fruit on Plum Trees

Japanese plum trees are as notorious for overbearing and fruit drop as nectarine and peach trees. These trees have a tendency to bear in clusters along the branch. When the fruit is large enough to be easily picked, thin these plums and break up the clusters, allowing room for the fruit to grow in size and helping to avoid premature fruit drop. Leave about 4-6 inches between the remaining fruit. European plum trees tend to require less thinning than their Japanese counterparts; however, if your prune-plum fruit matures but remains small due to overbearing, then you might want to thin the fruit to improve remaining fruit size in the future. Leave remaining single fruits every 2-3 inches, or remaining pairs of fruit every 6 inches. It’s important to note that, even if you don’t thin your tree’s fruit, you might discover the tree will get rid of the excess fruit – and sometimes all of the fruit – itself. Learn more about this natural shedding process called fruit drop in our article, ‘Shedding Light on Fruit Drop’ here.

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