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Ripening mystery

Posted by Josh Willis 
Ripening mystery
October 15, 2018 04:16PM
I have a strange tree in our (very) aging orchard. Thought I'd post here in case anybody enjoys solving orchard mysteries. As you'll see, it's probably not so much a case of "what's the problem" as "which problem from this long list." winking smiley

'Symptoms':
• By the calendar, its apples should be ripe now (or near). However, (a) the fruit hasn't colored at all (b) fruit has no sweetness or flavor. It's like biting into a tasteless watermelon - crisp, watery, not underripe / starchy, not overripe...just bland. (c) Fruit is @ ~65% proper size (though as you'll see, this last bit is common throughout the orchard due, I'm guessing, to nutrition and/or age). I googled these symptoms, and all the hits were in the realm of 'why don't supermarket apples taste good anymore.' eye rolling smiley

Details:
• 40 y/o 'Imperial' Winesap
• Weather has been singularly strange this year. We have 200% rainfall levels. (is it that simple - a 'watery' apple? I'd think the poor size precludes this, but really I've no clue). GDD's are way off too; while some apples harvested 'on time,' other apples are a month+ late with little sign of progress.
• Major leaf drop by Aug. (consistent with rest of Orchard and other trees in area - I think due to to heavy rain, a couple small droughts, poor nutritional health, and rot/scab pressure).
• Soil & leaf tests this year show low: N, Ca, Mg, S, B, Zn, and 5.9 pH. (To be sure, we'll be addressing amendments this year).
• Due to the specifics of where this tree is sited, we spread weed fabric across ~50% dripline last March. Not ideal, I know, but that's a longer story. While I've heard mixed messages about how this might effect nutrition in long run, I didn't think to see an immediate effect...but now I wonder.

Earthworks
Zone 7a in West-Central MD
Re: Ripening mystery
October 19, 2018 07:55PM
Hi Josh,

I manage an orchard near Frederick MD and have experienced the same phenomenon this season in our ~30yr old Criterion on M7. Several trees have much smaller apples and no flavor (Brix ~8-10 in early October), though they are crisp and don’t taste starchy. Other Criterion in the orchard that perhaps were naturally thinned better (we don’t thin our apples) got their characteristic flavor (and Brix of 13 in early September). I don’t have a good explaination for this. I notice with certainty varieties of our Asian pears there is a significant taste difference between thinned and not thinned fruit. I’ve seen research from Cornell that suggests that apples that aren’t thinned have a greater concentration of flavor compounds (I would guess because of a higher skin/flesh ratio) but this experience would contradict that study.

Best,
Wesley

Willow Oaks Cider
Re: Ripening mystery
October 22, 2018 12:39PM
That's interesting to hear our experience isn't totally unique in the area as well. Which makes me wonder more about our common weather pattern this year...it's been really wild, eh?

Interesting thoughts on thinning, though I wouldn't think that's our own Winesap issue - it was not a particularly heavy bearing year for it.

Earthworks
Zone 7a in West-Central MD
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