Apple Pruning, Thinning, and Windfall Kitchen Projects

I'm a summer pruner. 

There's a good reason for this. According to my pruning guru, Ann Ralph, summer pruning is the best way to keep your fruit trees of a manageable size. There's no reason for a family of four to have huge, overwhelming fruit trees. We simply do not need that much produce, plus, if I can't reach the fruit? It's wasted.

I took a course from Ann last summer and I learned SO MUCH. Mostly not to be afraid of pruning and thinning fruit, both of which need to be done ASAP in your home garden. I already thinned the peaches and I will wait to prune that tree until after harvest, which should be within weeks. But today I tackled the plum, cherry, fig, and apple trees. (Our new Asian pear is still small and doesn't need pruning until next summer.) All but the apple tree are still on the small size, though all are bearing, so all needed a bit of a tune up. Mainly with those I pruned out branches on the inside, trying to keep the tree in a 'vase' shape, letting air and light in to the middle. 

But the apple, oh the apple. It always gets away from me. Here's a before and after.





I'm mainly concerned with taking out three kinds of branches: 1) Those that are sticking straight up, 2) those that are crossing or rubbing, and 3) those that are dead or damaged. I have three tools that I use for this job (and most other trimming jobs in the garden): A bypass pruner, a lopper, and a Japanese pruning saw that I borrowed from my dad and never returned (sorry, Dad). These three tools I consider essential.


While I was pruning, I also thinned the fruit. Clusters of 5-6 apples were thinned to 2 or 3. This still left plenty of fruit on the tree for harvest in a couple of months. 

The brush was added to the official brush pile (the lizards will be thrilled).

 And about 20 pounds of unripe, or windfall, apples, were destined for the kitchen rather than the compost.

The chickens got a small share, of course. But the rest I had plans for. First, I made pectin. It takes all day, but it's quite easy to do. (I use Mrs. Wheelbarrow's recipe.)

Roughly chop four pounds of unripe apples.

Put the apples in a large pot with six cups of water.

Bring to a boil, then simmer for 45 minutes. Mash them early and often with a potato masher, on the stovetop as they cook.

Drain into a jelly bag for 4-5 hours. I have a makeshift rig. My mom gave me the jelly stand, but this is a 'nut milk bag' I bought a while back, and I clip the bag on with whatever chip clips I have handy. If you don't have a MacGyver outfit like me, just go the colander lined with cheesecloth route.

Do not squeeze the bag, you want only the clear pectin/thick juice. Then bring the juice to a boil you cannot stir down, about 210 degrees - this might take up to 30 minutes. Let the juice cook at 220 degrees until syrupy. Then ladle into hot 4 ounce jars and water bath can for 10 minutes. No extra acid needed. Apparently the canned pectin lasts for a year, but we usually use it right away for peach preserves in June.

For my next apple project, I wanted to dehydrate some apple pieces to use for snacks or in oatmeal. We don't have a dehydrator, so I figured I'd use the oven on its lowest temperature. But, it's 90 degrees here today, no humidity to speak of (like, ever), so why not use solar power? First, I sliced up the apples with my mandolin, and soaked them in water spiked with lemon juice while I got the slices all trimmed and ready. I did not peel the apples.

Then I placed them on drying racks placed on cookie sheets and sprinkled them with cinnamon.

I placed them out on our sunny patio table

And then I covered them loosely with a bit of recycled row cover. They'll stay out there until the sun goes down tonight.

I've still got about 12 pounds of unripe apples. I'll probably make 'pink juice' tomorrow, which is nearly the same process as the pectin - I'll cook apples down with water and mash them, then drain them - but I'll squeeze the drainage bag to get as much nutrition from the apples as possible (all that cloudy juice). I won't cook it any further, I'll just maybe add some honey and then we can drink it, or I can water-bath can it for later. I might also make some very tart applesauce. I'm not sure, that's all tomorrow's project! :)

**** Update, two hours later: Apple chips are already completely dehydrated! Who needs a fancy machine???

The power of the sun!

The power of the sun!

And the pectin is such a pretty color, I had to share.