By Bev Johnson

Master Gardener

Bunkey was looking at the calendar and realized that it was almost July, time to bag apples. 

A few years ago, he had planted a Haroldred, a cultivar of the old Haroldson. He had quite an argument with his dad about that one. “No apple is as good as the old Haroldson” he said. Bunkey informed him that the Haroldred is a better tree as it is resistant to many of the diseases the older tree was prey to. Bunkey also has two of the University of Minnesota’s other cultivars, Sweet 16 and State Fair, both super hardy trees. He has had everyone’s favorite Honeycrisp but found that it is not reliability hardy.  30 years seems to be the life of that tree before decline and death. 

Bunkey has a horror of stepladders. He swears he gets a nosebleed just standing on an airmail stamp. That means that Petunia is the one to get up in the apple trees to thin the apple clumps to no more than 2 apples then bag the remaining apples with a zip lock bag. She zips the top of the bag around the small apple then cuts a corner off the bag for drainage. She can bag 100 apples in about half an hour. The tree will have more fruit than they need so she only bags what they will eat.

Their new neighbors watched this procedure with amazement. Man, what nutty people they must be, putting bags on apples.  They were of the old school, spray several times in growing season to prevent insect damage. They have almost every bottle from “poison row” in the local nursery. If it moves, they spray it. Last fall they were laughing out of the other side of their mouths when Bunkey harvested his apples. Not only were they blemish free, but they were also larger and brighter colored than theirs. Bunkey explained why the difference. 

All apples will drop a few apples whether bagged or not. The tree can only support so many apples. If you religiously thin your apples to no more than 2 per clump, you will have apples every year and never have broken branches from an overloaded tree. Bagging prevents apple maggots infesting the apples, reduces bird damage and acts as a mini green house, protecting the fruit from damage.

If you have iris, now is the time to check for iris borer. Infected iris will have brown streaks or splotches on the leaves.  Flower stems may fall over and separate from the rhizome. The rhizome will smell like rotting potatoes. The culprit is a small moth that winters in the iris leaves. In the spring, she lays eggs that hatch into the borers. They get between the layers of the leaves and eat their way down to the rhizome. The damage they cause leads to an infection of the rhizome causing it to rot and stink.  

Prevention starts in the fall after the first killing frost. Cut the leaves down to about 2 inches and bag or burn them.  

Do not compost these leaves as the compost won’t get hot enough to kill the critters. For now, remove any infected leaves.  In August, or when it gets cool enough to dig things up, dig up infected iris and cut or break off any infected rhizomes. Iris need thinning every 3 to 5 years as the middles die off. Replant only rhizomes with a healthy fan of leaves. Discard the excess. Rhizome is the part of the plant that looks like dried dog poop.

We leave Bunkey holding the ladder and passing sandwich bags.