Hotel-sized soap bars, string and electrical conduit were displayed as apple-growing devices Tuesday to several hundred growers touring two longtime Orleans County apple farms.
The operators of the two farms, George LaMont of the 600-acre LaMont Fruit Farm and the Oakes family of the 250-acre Lynoaken Farm, successfully have switched from growing apples on standard-sized 30-foot-high trees (under which people once took the shade) to dwarf and semi-dwarf trees of between 4 and 12 feet.
The visits, part of a three-day tour conducted by the International Dwarf Tree Fruit Association, conclude today at Cornell University's Geneva Agricultural Experiment Station. On Monday, the visitors, who came from all parts of North America and other nations, observed orchards in Wayne County.
"The Dwarf Tree Fruit Association is one of the most useful I belong to," said Calvin "Pete" Nesbitt, operator of the 150-acre Pine Hill Farm in Albion.
Most apple growers knew that the pierced soap bars attached to the short trees discourage nibbling by deer. Most use string to tie back or spread out their branches.
But for some there was fresh information. This included the sight and explanations of electrical conduit an inch in diameter inserted in the ground to support the short trees and to assure maximum sunlight.
Allowing the trees to capture the sun between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., when it is most intense and beneficial, is a crucial part of the positioning of the trees in a north-south pattern, explained Darrel Oakes, who guided one tour group.
Commercial apple growers here 15 years ago began raising their apples on short trees. Gradually, they have been learning to support the trees by tautly strung wire, on spindles and trellises. No one best method is recommended because costs, terrain and weather conditions vary.
Instead of 30 or 80 apple trees on an acre, growers can now plant from 200 to 600. Moreover, they produce apples faster -- in their third year -- and are easier and less costly to maintain, fertilize, weed, spray and harvest.
Oakes said that some third-year dwarf trees last year yielded 250 bushels to the acre. George Lamont said about 800 full-sized apples per acre was an average yield but that as much as 1,300 bushels per acre of smaller-sized apples were produced.
Steve Hoying, a Cornell fruit specialist accompanying the tour, said dwarf and semi-dwarf orchards require careful management. Methods and the varieties change constantly.
For example, Dr. Terrence Robinson, a Cornell pomologist, is using four acres of Lynoaken orchard to demonstrate five different systems for raising apple trees.
The best way to manage an orchard isn't always uniform. Lamont described how different weather conditions in 1980 and 1981 resulted in different growth rates for newly planted trees.