The dark side of Honeycrisp
Honeycrisp apples have outstanding flavor and texture, but the tree has a long list of characteristics that make it challenging, expensive, and frustrating to grow.
Because the variety is extremely prone to bitter pit, growers are applying calcium sprays season long and minimizing nitrogen fertilizer. Jason Matson at Matson Fruit Company, Selah, Washington, said his company applies calcium every ten days.
It is also susceptible to diseases, including mildew, and so requires more fungicide applications than other varieties.
Honeycrisp is not a vigorous tree. In the early years of a planting, growers face the challenge of pushing the trees to grow to fill their space without negatively affecting fruit quality by applying too much fertilizer.
Dale Goldy, assistant general manager of Stemilt Ag Services, Wenatchee, said he thinks in terms of “years to bitter-pit-free production” rather than just “years to production.” It can take three to four years to reach that point.
When growers try to both grow the trees and leave some fruit on, they usually end up with poor quality fruit, he said. One grower’s crop packed out at nine boxes per bin when he did that, and the trees didn’t grow.
Honeycrisp tends to bear biennially, so chemical thinning is important. It takes a long time to get consistent production because heavy fertilization will result in size 48 and 36 fruit that are too difficult to handle and make the bitter pit worse.
At harvest, Honeycrisp needs to be color picked, usually about three times, and the stems are clipped to avoid fruit damage. Because it is prone to compression bruising, most operations only partially fill the bins, which increases the number of bins that need to be hauled.
“On harvest costs, it’s far and away our most expensive variety,” Goldy said. “We clip stems and handle every apple like it’s an egg.”