He and his family liked the results, so they worked with their equipment vendor, which manufactured two rollers that fasten to the sprayer booms, the arms of which fold up and extend to allow them to lay fabric on both sides of the alley at once.
They prefer leaving exposed ground in the middle of the alley to allow access for people and equipment.
The family demonstrated the use of the rollers in July at the International Fruit Tree Association’s Summer Tour.
It’s still a three-person job — one to drive the sprayer, the others to shovel small piles of dirt on the stretched fabric to hold it in place. They consider the rollers a cheap improvement to speed up the job — less than $1,000 for each adapter that holds up to 40-inch rolls on each side.
Reflective material itself, common in Washington state, is pretty new in Michigan, said Phil Schwallier, a Michigan State University extension horticulturist.
Midwest sunlight is typically more diffuse to spread light more evenly, while up until 10 years ago, growers produced primarily apples destined for the processing market, where color doesn’t matter.
These days, the climate has been changing to make color inconsistent, while growers have been converting to high-value fresh varieties like Honeycrisp and SweeTango.
Typically, in Michigan, growers lay strips only under the trees to leave access to the orchard alleys that get muddier than in Washington.
The machine speeds things up, but stretching foil by hand is a relatively easy chore, Schwallier said.
“It’s really not that bad,” he said. Just thread a rope through the roll. One person pulls it and walks backward while two people shovel. That method covers only one row at a time, so the machine doubles the pace of work and eases the stress on workers’ backs.