( Originally Published Early 1900's )
I. J. PICKFORD, EAST LANSING.
Thinning fruit on the tree is an important operation in the scientific management of orchards, and one that Michigan horticulturists should practice more extensively. We want to establish in the mind of the markets and in every consumer the idea that Michigan stands for quality. Let us assist nature in her effort to put Michigan on top. Fruit growers, however, are hard headed business men and they will not go to the expense of thinning for an idealistic effect only. There must be money in the process' before they will proceed and an examination shows its value for more reasons than one.
Possibly the foremost factor is protection to the tree. No one wants a tree that it takes years to secure and that money will not replace, broken down by overloading. Nor does one want to go to the expense of propping, an inefficient resort at its best. For example Mr. O. K. White thinned a Hubbardston apple tree at Bear Lake this last season. He took off over 1,100 apples although several people thought that the tree could have matured the whole load. The tree next to it and similar in load was left. This fall the unthinned tree had lost a large branch by breaking down. This season has made you all familiar with such danger.
Let us take as next in importance the size, color and quality of the fruit. Any amount of bulletins bear out the common knowledge that thinning will increase the size of the individual fruits without making any decrease in the total bulk. Further this allows more sun-light to get in, meaning more color. It allows more thorough spraying meaning higher quality in every way. Here is what one Michigan man did. Mr. C. B. Cook, of Owosso, harvested last year over 60 bushels of choice Snows from one tree. These apples sold in Saginaw for $6.00 per barrel. Besides other care Mr. Cook had two men put in 11/2 days thinning the fruit on this tree for it had set several times over a reasonable load. Of course the thinning paid though, that is, more than the cost for the usual run of trees.
Then there is the ease of picking and packing choice, even-sized fruit. It costs less to get rid of the extra fruits at thinning time as they are simply dropped. The total bulk at harvest time is the same while the quality is much better hence the better price. This summer on the W. M. Pratt & Sons farm at Benton Harbor, I counted Red Astrachan apples as actually graded into number ones and twos. In a half bushel of ones were 60 apples. In a half bushel of twos were 130 apples or over twice as many individual fruits in an equal bulk. The 130 apples are of course harder on the tree than the 60 for they will not be so advantageously placed as well as meaning over twice as many seeds to mature with their attendant drain of vitality.
As a last point take the matter of annual bearing. It is probably an error to place much confidence in the idea that thinning is a sure promoter of annual bearing. Some varieties are habitually inclined to bear only every other year and it is doubtful if thinning will overcome this tendency.
Beach of the Geneva Station declares that no benefit along this line was noticed with Baldwins. Many horticulturists, however, believe that thinning is an inducement toward annual bearing and it is a reason-able supposition, especially with those varieties of apples not inherently bi-annual bearers, and also with peaches, pears and plums. Additional strength in the tree in the fall ought to insure fruit buds every year and ones of good vitality.
The methods of thinning are quite simple. Much can be accomplished by judicious pruning, leaving the right amount of bearing wood to each branch. When necessary to hand thin, leave no two fruits touching. Thin peaches to about 4 inches apart and apples much the same; at least only one apple on a spur. Plums and pears are thinned accordingly, always depending on the size of the variety and the condition of the tree. As to time, do it early in the season right following the natural drop. To summarize then to secure protection to the tree from mechanical injury, to gain in size, color and general quality of fruit, to assist in the ease and speed of picking and packing, to offer a possible aid towards annual bearing and incidentally to boost Michigan horticulture at a profit to everyone concerned.