Growing apples organically, part 2

growing apples organically

I recently wrote a post on Growing apples organically, but wanted to do a follow-up today. I get a lot of questions from readers about how to do this, so I wanted to clarify a few things.

Last week, we decided it was high time we thinned and covered our young apples to protect them from the apple codling moth, which lay eggs on apples. In my previous post, I gave a general overview of how we accomplish this but thought you’d like to see some specifics.

apple codling moth trap, growing apples organicallyI mentioned how Bill put a sticky trap in our little orchard a few weeks ago, which we use to detect when the moths are active in our area. Here’s what one looks like (left), plus a photo of moths stuck on the inside to the sticky TangleTrap coating (below). If you’re wondering what that red thing is in the foreground of the photo below, that contains female codling moth pheromones (sex hormones) to attract the male moths. Remember that you can click on any photo to view an image in more detail.

Once Bill saw there were moths in the trap, he knew it was time to apple codling moth trap, growing apples organicallyact. We typically wait until our apples are the size of large marbles to thin and cover them. Bill had already sprayed the apples and leaves with a mixture of kaolin clay and water (see previous post) the day before.

I find it difficult to thin apples because I hate to remove all those potentially yummy apples! However, there are three very important reasons to thin the apples on your tree:

  1. Trees only have enough energy to grow a certain amount of apples. If you don’t thin them each year, you’ll find that your tree will become an “alternate bearer” — meaning you’ll get a crop every other year, rather than each year.
  2. The branches will become too heavy from the weight of all of the fruit, and will need to be supported or you’ll risk having some branches break.
  3. If you’re going to cover your developing apples with nylon footies (refer to previous post for information and sources), the fewer you have to cover, the better! I should clarify that the official name for the footies is “apple maggot barriers.” In Spokane County, we don’t have apple maggot flies but these barriers work well to keep the codling moths from laying their eggs on the apples.

growing apples organically, thinned applesThis is but a sample of the thinned apples in my bucket during the process. Our goal is to thin a cluster of young apples to the strongest apple, and preferably one that is pointing upward so the nylon footie won’t slip off later. We tend to thin the apples to where there’s only one apple every 8 to 12 inches. I know that sounds drastic, but it’s really the best practice.

Once the thinning is done, we cover each remaining apple with a nylon footie. To do that, we gently open up one end of the footie and slip it over the apple as close to the sewn end of the footie as possible. Then we give the rest of the footie a bit of a twist around the apple’s stem to hold them onto the apple and somewhat “seal” the footie over the apple.

This photo shows what a branch full of covered apples looks like. growing apples organically, apple maggot barriers

Once that that tedious task was done, Bill sprayed the apple trees again with the kaolin clay mixture. And from this point on — other than monitoring the apples’ growth from time to time — we’re just watching the weather reports. Any time we have a heavy rain, Bill applies another dose of kaolin spray.

I know all of this sounds labor-intensive, but really it’s just the thinning and footie-ing that takes some time. Even so, it only took us about 4 hours to accomplish this on four heavily-bearing trees. And then it’s done for another year!

If you have any questions about this topic, don’t hesitate to drop me a note at