Being cruel to be kind: Do I need to remove the fruit from my bare rooted trees in their first year?

I broke my husband’s heart today. As I left the house he looked up with a woeful expression and begged me to reconsider. He asked me if there was anything he could say to change my mind but I remained firm. The tiny fruits being set on our new fruit trees in their first year simply had to be removed. It was a hard decision to make but consultation with the nursery we bought our orchard bare root trees from and reading had convinced me that removing the fruits in the first year would help the trees to channel all of their energy into creating strong root networks rather than a small crop and that we’d reap the benefit in future years. I hadn’t banked on how sad it’d make him though, nor on how long it’d take to do! I just stripped one of our trees (the Sunrise since you ask) and it took me a good twenty minutes to do which has suddenly brought home to me the enormity of having an orchard of 30+ trees and how much fruit that will actually mean for us!

Tiny “sunrise” apples on growing on the tree

And so it was that when I returned triumphantly bearing my prize aloft and demanding that he be impressed that I’d picked more than 116 tiny apples from a single tree (more had been lost in the long grass), my husband sniffed disdainfully and sarcastically remarked that that was indeed an impressive number of apples that we wouldn’t get to eat and wandered off to water our new holm oaks with a G&T and the dog in tow.

116 tiny apples, just imagine what we could have done with them!

I understand why he’s cross. He spent a large part of our Christmas holiday outside in the orchard battling the elements to get our bare-rooted fruit trees planted. I was heavily pregnant at the time and therefore only useful in the sense that I could measure and plan and so he’s heavily invested in the success of the orchard. We were so thrilled when earlier this year it became apparent that not one of the orchard fruit trees had died despite the fact that we planted them in accordance with a two minute Monty Don clip we found on YouTube rather than any real expertise. We were even more excited when recently the blossom started to drop and little fruits began to swell. So I felt incredibly cruel when I had to decree that they were to be cut off and thrown away. All of them bar one. I couldn’t bear his disappointment when his random musings on homemade tarte tatin turned to excitement over having home-grown fruit all winter and I had to dash his hopes and explain that the trees should be putting all of their energy into establishing their roots this year, not into fruit.

Our “sunrise” apple tree, liberated of its tiny fruits

I have (with the blessing of the nursery that sold us the trees) decided to leave just one fruit on each tree. I’ve made sure it’ll be on a thick branch close to the trunk rather than the tip of a small branch to avoid anything snapping so that we can taste something from each tree. The fruits below are from our Shropshire Prune. Like the apple tree, you can see that the branches are already groaning with fruit so I’m already excited about next year!

I did notice that pollination hadn’t been a complete success as for every tiny apple I picked, at least two unfertilised blossoms fell off the tree, but I think next year will be better. All of the trees will be bigger and so there will be more blossom around, and we plan to plant wildflowers etc in the orchard to help attract more pollinating insects.

An unpollinated flower and a tiny apple

Pulling off the tiny apples was quite a depressing thing to do really because it puts our first real harvest back by another year, but I know that in the long run we’ll be glad we did. Helping bare-rooted trees establish properly is worth losing out on one harvest. Or so I keep telling myself (and my husband, who has now wandered off again muttering darkly about the strictness of wives and perpetual delays in cider apple supplies). We’ve come to see that this first full year on our smallholding as a year in which to build the structure we’ll use to be self-sufficient in future years but it’s hard to be so disciplined!

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We farm a three acre smallholding in Hampshire, England, having fled London in pursuit of the good life for our little family. We mess about with an assorted menagerie and try to be as self-sufficient as possible in meat and fruit and vegetables whilst enjoying our plot and an outdoors lifestyle with our son. I am the luckiest person that I know.

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