Winter is the slowest season of the year in the orchard, but it's also one of the most important. Cold winters in Eastern Washington are very important for our trees. The trees need rest to produce flowers and fruit each year. It takes about 900 to 1,000 hours below 45 degrees to prepare the trees and fruit buds for the next season.
While the trees are resting, we prune them and prepare them for the next growing season. Workers use loppers and saws to cut extra wood out of trees. By pruning, we make sure plenty of light can reach the leaves and fruit. This helps keep the tree healthy, and allows us to grow tasty fruit with good color.
Most families take their vacations in the summer, but winter is the best time for apple growers to take a break.
Once the snow melts, usually in March, orchard work picks up pace quickly. All of the limbs that have been removed during pruning are raked up and mulched with the tractor and a mower. The irrigation water is turned back on and all sprinklers are checked and repaired. We plant new trees to replace old ones or add to production. Fertilizer is applied to keep the trees strong and growing.
As the leaves begin to emerge, we apply an oil spray to suffocate insects' eggs and stop them from hatching. Flowers follow the leaves. We bring beehives into the orchard to make sure that the blossoms are pollinated. Once the bees have done their job, the flowers will grow into apples. When the trees are blooming, sometimes the orchards must be protected from frost which can kill the flowers. Wind machines, which are huge fans mounted on towers within the orchard, move the cold air out of the orchard while bringing warm air down from above to raise the temperature.
Near the end of bloom-time, we place pheromone confusion ties throughout the orchard. This pheromone scent overwhelms the mating signal, stopping codling moths from reproducing. These ties foil our most damaging pest.
Throughout the summer, apples grow in the orchard. We do our best to make sure the conditions are ideal. It's warm and dry in Eastern Washington. The weather means we don't have to worry much about bugs, bacteria and fungus that are common in more humid climates.
We carefully apply the perfect amount of irrigation water from the mountains to keep the orchards green and healthy. When the apples get as big as a golf ball, we thin them by hand. Small, misshapen apples are removed so that only the best fruit will mature for harvest.
By training trees with string, wooden spreaders and wooden props, we ensure that apples get just enough sunlight. Summer sun helps the fruit develop sweetness and beautiful color.
Most people know that apples are harvested in the fall. But, not many people know how much work it takes. As many as 45,000 workers pick all Washington apples by hand.
Before the workers arrive, we haul large wooden and/or plastic bins out to the orchard. Picking bags and ladders are repaired and readied for the busy season.
An expert horticulturist tests the fruit for sugar levels and firmness. His advice helps us decide when to pick our apples. When it's time to pick, the orchard is busy with tractors hauling 900-pound bins full of fruit, workers gently plucking apples from the tree and ladders being moved from limb to limb.
When the bins are filled, we load them on the truck and haul them to the warehouse. From there, our apples are packed and shipped to your grocery store.