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.