Growing the perfect tree fruit in your home orchard doesn’t have to involve endless pesticide applications. With a little time and effort over the next few weeks, you can grow blemish-free fruit with zero chemical input. Heck, you won’t even need to use organic sprays any more. Using a technique known as fruit bagging, gorgeous apples, pears and peaches are just a few months away. Although this method may be too time consuming for large commercial orchards, for the home gardener with just a handful of fruit trees, it’s an excellent way to skip the pesticide applications and all the headaches that go with them.
For apples and pears, when the developing fruits are 1/2 inch in diameter, thin them to one fruit per cluster. Select the largest fruit in each cluster to develop to maturity, and use your thumb and forefinger or a scissors to clip off all the smaller fruits in the cluster. For peaches and other stone fruits, thin to one fruit per 6 to 8 inches of stem.
For apples and pears, purchase enough sandwich-sized, zipper-top plastic baggies to cover all the remaining fruit, one fruit per bag. Cut one of the bottom corners off each of the bags to allow the condensation to drain out of the bag. For stone fruits, use nylon footies instead of plastic bags. The small openings in the nylon fabric allow for better air circulation around the developing stone fruits and may help cut down on brown rot and other fungal issues.
Choose a dry day to bag your fruit. When using plastic baggies, open a bag and place it over a single small fruit. Carefully seal the zipper-top around the fruit’s stem, making sure the stem is in the center of the zipper. The bags will be upright when first put on the young fruits, but as the fruit grows and begins to hang, the bag will droop down and allow the condensation to run out of the open corner. When using nylon footies, use a twist-tie to fasten the footie to the branch itself. (The stem of stone fruit is too short for this purpose).
Leave the baggies in place for the entire growing season. The apples and pears will form inside the bag where they’re protected from fruit-munching pests, such as plum curculio, apple maggots, coddling moth, stink bugs and others. For peaches and other stone fruit, pull the nylon footies off the fruit two to three weeks before harvest to allow the skin to develop its color.
Recycle. The same fruit baggies and nylon footies can be used for several seasons. Simply allow them to dry out and pack them in a box for next year.
For the best results, bag your fruits before common orchard pests are active. If you wait too long, pest eggs will already be laid in or on the fruits, and damage will occur even after the fruit is bagged.