All The Best-Dressed Apples are Wearing Pantyhose This Year

Did you know that the  Environmental Working Group lists apples as the fruit that is most contaminated with pesticide residues? Here is the link to the environmental working group dirty dozen list.

If you have ever grown apples organically, you may know why they are so contaminated with pesticides. Worms love apples, and without an ongoing spraying program many of the apples will be loaded with worms. Organic sprays are not all that effective, and because they degrade rapidly, they need to be applied almost every week to keep the worms in check. That is a challenge from both a time and cost standpoint, and even many organic sprays are nasty if you get them in your face or on your skin.  Spraying weekly is just no fun. I have never been able to keep up with it.

My favorite apple is a late harvest Granny Smith apple. When harvested in November they are big and beautiful with a delicious sweet-tart tang and a nice crispy texture. However, the longer the apple stays on the tree, the more likely it will fall prey to coddling moth worms. Often by the time I am ready to harvest the Granny Smith apples only a few are left that are free of worms.

Last year I started a more comprehensive program of bagging apples. I used Japanese apple bags that I had purchased somewhere years ago.

Late harvest Granny Smith apple with the Japanese apple bag still attached

Most of the bagged apples were worm free, and they were big and beautiful. In the past I also have used unbleached wax paper bags. I cut two slits on the bottom of them to allow for drainage and twist-tied them onto the tree. These also worked well.

Young Granny Smith apple in an unbleached wax paper bag

(note scissor cuts at the bottom for drainage)

This year I decided to bag even more apples so I looked for apple bagging options at the place where I buy all of my organic gardening supplies: Peaceful Valley Farm Supply.   This is what I found on the shelf.

Apple bags from Peaceful Valley Farm Supply

When I opened up the bag, this is what I found inside.

Little pantyhose feet for my apples! Nice. I like the fact that they are very lightweight, and any water will immediately evaporate.They are less than 10 cents apiece, and I am pretty sure I can reuse them at least once or twice. They are made in America too, and since so few of us females are wearing pantyhose anymore, it is nice to know there is another use for those American pantyhose factories!

I got to work right away putting those little pantyhose on my apples. If you want to give this a try, here are a few tips. First of all, you want to get the bags on as soon as you can, but if the apples are too small they will break off the stem. It is a balancing act getting the timing right. I waited perhaps a week too long, and the apple coddling moths had already been at their dirty little job. Here is a particularly nasty example of their work: This is what the worm leaves behind after digging it’s way into my apple.

Yuck! Nasty coddling moth worm damage to my nice Granny Smith apple

Obviously, you do not want to bag an apple that already has a worm in it. Sometimes it is tricky to tell because when they go into the stem end it can be hidden. This example of an apple still has the remains of the flower attached at the end.

Apple with flower remains

Once that falls off the end will still be brown. Unfortunately if a worm goes into that area, it is hard to tell that a worm is in the apple.

Flower end after flower has dried. If you scrape this and there is sticky brown goo in it, the worm has already entered your apple. 

I have found that if the end is sticky, with any of that brown goo that was so clearly illustrated in my nasty coddling moth example above, there is likely a worm in the apple and you should skip bagging that one. You may miss a few, but if you start early enough in the season, most of the apples should be free of worms. Some growers will spray the apples once or twice early in the season before they bag them, which is a good idea but I never seem to manage to get around to that.

To bag the apples, you first must isolate one apple on each stem. This thinning will also give you huge apples, as all the energy is directed to only one large fruit, rather than multiple small apples. Here is a cluster of apples and as you can see, there is at least one fruit that is damaged already.

  This apple is the first to go

Examine the fruit carefully, and choose the most perfect apple in the bunch to bag. Carefully break off all of the other fruit at the stem. Also remove any extra foliage in the area around the apple you will be bagging.

Breaking off all except one of the apples in the cluster

If the apples have coddling moth worms in them already,  you do not want to give them a home in your compost pile. I usually put them in a plastic bag, and let them sit in the sun for a few weeks. Then I compost them. Hopefully the worms have been cooked by then.

After removing all of the excess apples, you will have one nice isolated apple on a decent sized stem, ready to bag.

Apple ready to be bagged

I like the bags to be held on tight, because I do not want earwigs making their homes inside of the bags. To make sure they are on tight, I take a roll of garden twist-ties and cut the roll in one place.This gives me a bunch of short lengths of twist tie to take out with me to use in the bagging process.

Cut twist-ties for bagging apples

Slip the little stocking over the apple carefully.

Dressing the apple

Pinch the end of the sock around a thick place in the stem, and wrap it (not too tightly, leave room for the stem to grow) with the twist-tie.

Applying the twist-tie

I like to wrap it around a few times, but that is probably not necessary.

Securely attached apple bag

The perfectly dressed apple

I have 2 apple trees, a Granny Smith and a Winesap. I have found that the Granny Smith has longer stems and more loose bunches and thus is easier to bag than the Winesap.  I will give you an update at the end of the season to let you know how the apples turned out but I am very optimistic about these fashionable new pantyhose for apples!

Update on this post:

Although bagging with the pantyhose was fairly effective, I am not sure it was any better than using the undyed (brown) wax paper sandwich baggies from natural foods store. Just make a few cuts in the end if the wax paper bag with scissors for the liquid to drain out. It seemed that some other biting type insects (probably curculio) were able to pierce through the pantyhose more easily than the wax paper bags so although there were no worms in the apples they did have other areas of damage.

Because it is so time consuming to put on the bags, and I am a lazy gardener, spraying with Kaolin Clay (brand name Surround) has become my preferred method for protecting a variety of our fruit and our olives from insect and sunburn damage. Although it is not 100 percent effective, and admittedly not as effective as bagging for the coddling moths, it works for controlling a variety of insects on many of our trees. In addition, it can be used when the fruit is still to small to bag. The combination of Surround early in the season and bagging later would be probably the most effective of all. Here is a post from the Holistic Orchard Network discussing use of Surround in apple orchards.

Have you had any experience with bagging or use of Kaolin Clay in your apple trees? Is so, please feel free to share your comments below.

© 2015. Dayna Green-Burgeson RD, CDE. All Rights Reserved.

The Rocky Mountain Locavore: Gardening, Cooking, Eating and Drinking in Wyoming

Cody, Wyoming

Every gardener has their complaints about the weather and how it thwarts their best efforts to grow as much variety as possible. My sister has challenges with the weather occasionally being too cool to ripen tomatoes in her mild Sonoma County wine country climate. 100 miles away, in the Sierra Nevada foothills, we complain that the summers are often so hot in August that all of our summer vegetables stop producing for a time. However, very few gardeners face the climactic challenges that my friends Laurie and Tom faced when they moved from Sacramento, California to Cody, Wyoming. Our recent visit there was a lesson in resiliency in growing and eating locally.

Cody is in USDA zone 4, with an average annual winter extreme low temperature of minus 20 degrees. Their last frost date in the Spring is sometime in mid-May, and the first frost is sometime in mid-September, giving them a growing season of a maximum of about 4 months for any frost sensitive fruits and vegetables. Historically, freak freezing temperatures have been recorded at least once for every month of the year except July. Dry winds blow much of the time, and the humidity is extremely low. These are challenging conditions for a gardener.

This is the spot where our friends grew their outdoor garden last year. The garden was tilled and ready to plant when we arrived on May 6.

The Wyoming garden plot ready to be planted

While we were there my husband Adrian helped Tom plant some onions. The potatoes and garlic were already in the ground in another spot. The garlic had been planted in the fall where it had been growing under a thick layer of mulch.

When you are fond of Mediterranean climate foods, sometimes you get creative in an attempt to grow your favorite treats. Here is Tom in the greenhouse and yes, in addition to the tomatoes, strawberries, and artichokes, those are fig trees in the greenhouse.

Watering the plants in the greenhouse

The strawberries from the greenhouse were the sweetest strawberries I have ever eaten. So far, the indoor fig harvest has been small.  They planted just about every variety they could find, and this year the trees with the largest fruit set are: Peter’s Honey, Tarantella, Chicago Hardy, Desert King and Neverella. They will transplant the artichokes to the garden soon.

They are still debating whether to keep the tomatoes in the greenhouse all summer or try to move them out to the garden at some point. Last year, the tomatoes were in the garden when they had an early freeze in the beginning of September so they had to pull up all of the plants with the tomatoes attached, hang them in the barn, and gradually pick the tomatoes from the plants as they ripened. They also enjoyed plenty of fried green tomatoes.

You may remember my last post about my measly bean harvest shown below:

My sad little bean harvest from last year

Faced with my own bean-growing disabilities despite living in the “fruit and vegetable capitol of the United States”,  their dried bean harvest was awe-inspiring to me. This is what they had left this spring after eating their home-grown beans for much of the winter:

Wyoming heirloom bean harvest

Take a look at all the varieties of heirloom beans they were able to grow in Wyoming:

Vermont Cranberry

Tiger Eye

Scarlet Runner



Limelight Lima

King of the Early


Jacob’s Cattle



Agate Pinto

All of the beans above are bush beans. They also grew one type of pole bean successfully:

Gold of Bacau Pole Bean

Most of the bean seeds were purchased from Fedco seeds .

They also grew an unusual type of garbanzo bean that you can pop:

Hannan pop garbanzo bean

One evening we enjoyed the Pizza Tom cooked in the wood-fired brick oven.

Tom loading pizza into the brick oven.

Pizza in the wood fired brick oven

After the pizza was cooked beans were put in the still hot oven.

Laurie uses a bean pot for the beans. She covers the beans with about 2 inches of water and bakes them in the covered pot in the brick oven until the beans are tender.

Bean pot in the brick oven.

The Marfax beans were cooked simply this way, with minimal seasonings. They were delicious reheated and served the next day with tortillas and salsa.

Wood oven roasted Marfax beans

They also used the brick oven for baking bread several times while we were there.

Chickens are also being raised for both meat and eggs.

Laurie feeding the chickens

In California, I have been on mushroom hunts in the North Coast, and everyone is lusting after the elusive King Boletes, otherwise known as Porcini mushrooms. Collecting even one of these mushrooms in considered a prize. Laurie and Tom have found fields of boletes while riding or hiking in the hills of Wyoming. These were harvested and dried and stored for later use.

Dried Wyoming King Boletes mushrooms

The boletes made a great sauce for some delicious local lamb one evening for dinner. Locally grown lettuce for salad and home-grown potatoes which had been stored over the winter completed the meal. After dinner the lambs are also a source of entertainment.

“Little Richard” the baby lamb

Mama lamb thinks baby is a pillow

Prior to moving to Wyoming, Tom made some killer red wines from California Zinfandel and Barbera grapes.  Unfortunately, grapes do not grow well in Zone 4, so his grape fermentation projects were put to a halt. Adhering to the code of eating locally, he continued to ferment grains, which grow well in Wyoming. Fermented grains are beer, and Tom has made some great batches of beer over the years. However, recently he decided to take it to the next level, by opening a licensed distillery and using locally grown wheat to make spirits.

The distillery

The silos to the left of the distillery hold the locally grown wheat which is fermented in open top fermentation tanks.

Fermenting wheat

The wheat mash is then pumped into the still.

The mash inside of the still

Here is a photo of Tom with the American made still, purchased from Vendome. in Kentucky. As the mash heats, the volatilized alcohol rises up the tall distillation column in the back of the still.

Tom and the still

The condensed distillate is then separated by Tom into 3 categories, heads, hearts and tails, in the tank shown below. The decision of what constitutes the “hearts”, which is the final product, is the art and science of the master distiller.

The separation tank with the three sections for heads, hearts and tails

The final spirit is then siphoned into oak barrels for aging. Here you can see Tom topping off the barrels with a funnel. Note that the spirit is completely clear when added to the barrel. The golden color of aged distilled spirits such as whisky is imparted into the product during the barrel aging process.

Siphoning whisky into the barrel

Finally, the barrels are stored in a barrel house for aging.

The Barrel House

While we were there, some of the first batches of Single Track Spirits all wheat whisky were fermented, distilled, siphoned into oak barrels and tucked away in the barrel house.

The first 7 barrels of Single Track Spirits Wheat Whisky safely tucked into the barrel house

I returned home from Wyoming to my own gardening challenges. The branches of the apricot trees that had a promising fruit set on them looked like this when I returned.

Dead apricot branch

It looks like I will go without apricots again this year. However, our citrus trees seem to have experienced a substantial fruit set, and the lemon branch looked like this when I looked at it today.

Lemon branch: Each one of those green nubbins will eventually be a lemon

I thought of my friends in Wyoming, who have managed to eat locally despite their numerous climactic challenges. Eating locally means using what you have and using it well. In my case it reminds me of the old adage:  “When you have lemons, make lemonade.”  In the case of  the resilient Wyoming Locavore, you might substitute: “When you have wheat, make whisky” !

© 2012. Dayna Green-Burgeson RD, CDE. All Rights Reserved.