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Japanese-style Apple Bags

Posted by Brittany Kordick 
Japanese-style Apple Bags
January 06, 2020 11:11PM
We've been interested in apple bagging for years and played with it on and off. We'd like to give it a more thorough shot this spring on one variety of early apple that we have particularly bad curculio and disease issues with every year. There's been sporadic articles and studies over the years, usually using paper or plastic bags improvised by American growers or researchers. Does anyone know of a source for the bags that the Japanese are actually using? Anybody outside of Japan doing more than playing around with this?

A slightly related inquiry: in articles about the Japanese bagging practice, the art of "tattooing" particularly exceptional fruits is often discussed in tandem. Surprise -- we're also interested in doing our own tattoos on some fruit! Anybody know of a source available to Americans for fruit tattoos?

Thanks much,
Brittany Kordick

Kordick Family Farm
Westfield, NC
Zone 7a
Re: Japanese-style Apple Bags
January 09, 2021 08:30PM
Your topic piqued my interest, so I did some Googling and came across these articles and one source.

[magazine.uc.edu]

[www.brucegoren.com]

[www.wilsonirr.com]

I may have to experiment.

Washington Okanogan Valley
Zone 6b
Re: Japanese-style Apple Bags
January 13, 2021 04:34AM
Thanks for posting those links, James! Our bagging trials made the back burner last season, and probably will this one, as well, but it's still an interest for the long-term. I actually have a Japanese "in" -- we hosted a foreign exchange student from Japan when I was growing up, and we still keep in touch. I've hinted in correspondence that I would love any information/material about the practice. I traveled to Japan years ago, and certainly enjoyed viewing and tasting the perfect apples, but it was long before we were orcharding commercially and would have thought to inquire about visiting any orchards. Certainly on the list for any future trips, though.

Brittany

Kordick Family Farm
Westfield, NC
Zone 7a
Re: Japanese-style Apple Bags
February 22, 2021 07:51PM
Come to find out that stateside Dr. Guido Schnabel of Clemson University has really championed fruit bagging, particularly in peaches, as an alternative to spraying in fruit crop production. You can order Chinese-made fruit bags through his program at Clemson, as long as you don't intend to re-sell them. We obtained a sample bag from him. It's hard to imagine a full-size large apple fitting in there (you couldn't fit the bag over a full-sized apple, at any rate, but placement of the bags occurs when the fruits are still very small), and I don't necessarily like the idea of the fruit touching the sides of the bag, however much breathability there is. However, it looks like the fruit could burst the paper bag if necessary once it reaches full size ahead of, but still fairly close to, harvest, when a lot of the pathogenic infection windows and insect pest threats have passed. We're intending to conduct a more serious trial in our orchard this year, placing a few bags on all our different varieties of apples. If it works, we know we can't bag our entire crop, but we may find that it really makes a difference for certain dessert apples that we otherwise aren't able to produce much of, and thus, would be justifiable in some blocks.

Here is a link to Dr. Schnabel's Clemson site; it includes a video demonstrating bagging, bag pricing, and the online order form: [www.clemson.edu]

Brittany

Kordick Family Farm
Westfield, NC
Zone 7a



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 02/22/2021 07:55PM by Brittany Kordick.
Re: Japanese-style Apple Bags
May 19, 2022 09:03PM
Finally getting around to playing with Japanese apple bags this season. We ordered 200 of them from Wilson Orchard and Vineyard Supply in Yakima at the cost of 9 cents per bag plus shipping, with the intention of putting 5 bags per block in many of our apple varieties. Some varieties we didn't bother bagging at all -- crab apples are too small to justify and we want them to bear in clusters, not thin them down to a single baggable fruit. Likewise, the growth habit of certain varieties precludes bagging, for example, spur bearers like 'Lady,' which also were disincluded due to diminuitive size anyway. Otherwise, we tried to hit as many varieties as we could, even if we think it unlikely that we could ever justify bagging them, just to see which varieties showed the most quality improvement with bagging.

It will be months before I can report on whether the bags improved our fruit quality or not, but plenty of initial takeaways post-bagging:

This is definitely a love it or hate it job; I love mindless, tedious work like handweeding or apple bagging . . . but a lot of people don't. Another appeal for me is the skill level and art aspect of farming involved. It's just neat and I like being this kind of masochist. I can conceive of the time and labor of bagging apples -- not orchard-wide -- but in a few select varieties, similar to hand-thinning certain varieties, but not most. It's easier than it looks in YouTube videos (my technique isn't particularly consistent, as varieties don't grow consistently; I gather the bag as best I can, and mash the wire over; it ain't origami style in this orchard), but I'm testing the bags as best I can to make sure they're as secure as they should be. I will be interested to see how they do in our generous winds. I'm interested in how they would do in a hailstorm, too, but I hope I don't get the opportunity to report on that; perhaps they would confer protection and might be another reason to consider deploying them. Or perhaps the hail would puncture them and make an unholy mess. Inevitably, some apples get broken off in my quest to bag them; again, some varieties are easier than others, and larger, longer-stemmed apples are easiest. But the larger the apple, usually the longer it's been on the tree and potentially no longer the pristine apple you want to be bagging.

Which leads me to the biggest point: this went much faster than I would have thought, but the most time and biggest challenge was identifying apples worthy of bagging in the first place. There's not much sense in bagging a curculio stung apple since it may fall off. There certainly can't be any evidence of disease there already as you're just sealing any incoculum in. And there's not much sense in bagging a less than perfectly shaped, pristine apple, since presumably you're going to try and get a higher price for these babies and a wonky shape is going to preclude that (remember, these bags are used in Japan to produce exorbitantly priced, flawless fruit of distinction and good fortune . . . and cha-ching, you're going to pay for it). So preparation is key here, as well as timing. You are going to want to be working with a thinned tree for the biggest eventual fruits and ease of bagging (though I have bagged several apples where I left another unbagged beside in the same cluster to compare results) and you're going to want to have maintained your trees to this point of bagging as well as possible. The fruit can't be wet. If there are spray applications you'd like to make to your fruitlets pre-bagging, you need to get them done, let them dry, but if these apps are for pest/disease pressure, you don't want much time to pass before starting to bag . . . and you're going to need a lot of time to bag.

What is really hard for me to conceive of at this point:

Going back and removing the outer paper bag from the inner wax paper one later in the season to allow coloring to occur. Forget about this time and labor; it just seems like a much more delicate business than getting a bag on in the first place. Also, doing this on an entire MM111 tree. The idea just makes me laugh. I didn't even add a ladder into the mix for this test bagging, and found I really needed to move in unpredictable ways to get some bags on.

Best hopes for apple bagging:

I think apple bagging could be invaluable for growers trialing a new variety -- you've got a tree in your test orchard; it's going to be years before it bears properly, but leave an apple or two on a small tree and bag them so you're assured of an early sample. Having something to recommend to frustrated homeowner buyers of our apple trees who do not know how to take care of apple trees and don't want to learn, don't want to spray them in any way, etc., just want some organic apples asap (usually, we don't know what to say to these people). Also, I just think it would be quixotic and cool to try and sell an American a $75 good fortune apple (I can't wait to try tattooing our apples).

One potential issue with apple bagging: remains to be ascertained whether or not most bags are treated with trace amounts of chemicals. We are using bags with a logo of an "H" in a star, but noticed on another vendor site that sells bags similar to ours, but not the same, a warning to wear gloves because bags are treated with trace amounts of Captan and something else. I sure hope that's not why apple bags are supposed to work so well, because it's standard to treat the bags with chemicals. The traceability on these bags isn't great, and while Wilson is very interested in getting an answer for us (not least because they had no idea of this potentiality and they touch these bags with bare hands all the time), they have hit a dead end. The bags are kind of a novelty import to the US, so OMRI approval isn't really in the cards, though Japanese bags are recommended often enough for small scale organic production.

Also, can't imagine reusing these bags year over year, but we'll see.

Kordick Family Farm
Westfield, NC
Zone 7a



Edited 2 time(s). Last edit at 05/19/2022 09:14PM by Brittany Kordick.
Re: Japanese-style Apple Bags
May 20, 2022 02:05PM
We got a bag of bags from Clemson this Spring. Just approaching petal fall here in Maine so we have a little time to watch the videos and perfect our technique. We plan to stencil names of our nieces and nephews on apples and give them each an apple this fall. I want to bring a few of the extras to the farmer markets to display as conversation starters and have considered a sign-up sheet/order form for those regular customers who want a unique gift for someone. Could very easily become too big of a hassle...vinyl stickers do intrigue me. One of our markets is tourist-centric and selling ten or twenty Cortlands with a lobster sunburned on the skin would be a wonderful way to pay for the gas to fill the tank on the pickup.

Here's a second request to the hive mind for a source of vinyl stickers. Typing "Japanese fruit tattoos" into the search engine provided amusing but unhelpful results.

Shane Patrick
Pleasant Pond Orchard
Richmond, Maine
5B
Re: Japanese-style Apple Bags
May 20, 2022 02:34PM
Can't wait to hear how the Clemson bags work out for you! I was checking that website again yesterday to see if there were any updates beyond the flurry of media attention back around 2016 surrounding Dr. Schnabel's hopes to ignite an organic peach industry in the Southeast via bagging (couldn't find anything new, but glad to see you can still order bags from Clemson). It would definitely be a big plus if the Clemson bags do the job as a single layer bag that allows for fruit coloring and you don't have to go back and remove any outer bags. When we ordered a sample bag previously, we thought they seemed a little small to allow for our average large apples' growth, and the Japanese bags we ordered this year are a few inches longer . . . but there are plenty of large peach varieties out there that the Clemson bags will supposedly work on and they're certainly recommended for apples, too, so they're probably plenty big enough for most apples, too, and it's just in our minds.

So glad to hear from a fellow apple tattoo enthusiast, and one who is actually going to try to make it happen via stenciling. Great idea!

Kordick Family Farm
Westfield, NC
Zone 7a
Re: Japanese-style Apple Bags
May 20, 2022 11:47PM
Wow, I feel a separate fruit tattoo thread in the making. Forget you, fireblight, I've got vastly more important things to consider . . . lobster tattoos on apples, for instance. I was just thinking about your vinyl sticker comment. Even if we found a source for "Japanese apple tattoos" stateside or imported, the stickers themselves are probably pretty standard iterations of good fortune and appropriate catchphrases for other Japanese occasions. Odds are we couldn't order up, say, lobster apple tattoos from the average apple sticker producer.

I was just thinking that the labels we use on our apple cider syrup bottles are die-cut shapes on vinyl sticker sheets that a local graphic design firm prints for us. We could definitely ask them to print plain silhouette shapes of lobsters, text, lobsters and text (yeah, buddy), or virtually anything else our hearts could desire. However, I know that our vinyl stickers can pucker if they aren't placed just right on the glass milk bottles we use for syrup; I have a hard time imagining sticking them on a sphere without puckerage occurring in places, preventing them from laying flat. Perhaps the graphic design folks can recommend a better material (and honestly, while we adore the quality and washability of our labels, the thick stack of vinyl backing sheets we end up with post-labelling never ceases to bother us -- talk about breaking down never -- I would be thrilled if apple tattoos didn't have to be vinyl stickers or super-thick vinyl stickers).

I guess with your Clemson bags, your apples will color gradually throughout the growing season, so you would need to adhere tattoos before bagging, early on. With ours, we wouldn't put the tattoos on until we remove the outer bags a few weeks pre-harvest. I doubt it will be anytime soon, but we'll try to get up with our graphic design folks about printing us some vinyl stickers. I'll bet we can figure out something. Lobster apples need to be a reality, not just the stuff dreams are made of!

Kordick Family Farm
Westfield, NC
Zone 7a
Re: Japanese-style Apple Bags
May 21, 2022 08:38PM
Geez, you know we've got it bad when I get my mother thinking about apple tattoos, too. She had a great idea to contribute: a Cricut machine. You can work with much thinner vinyl and die-cut your own designs, get materials locally, etc. Might be prohibitively expensive to purchase a machine, but they're so trendy right now, a lot of people have them anyway for other crafting.

I also realized I mis-thought the Clemson bag/tattoo scenario. I'm not sure if tattooing will work with the Clemson bags at all since the fruit colors naturally as it grows. I was thinking that you'd put the tattoo on pre-bagging, but of course, no, you're bagging little fruitlets; you need to wait until your apples are full-sized to tattoo them . . . but by that time, the coloring process is underway.

Kordick Family Farm
Westfield, NC
Zone 7a
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