Imagine yourself at Frog Hollow Farm leisurely strolling through the orchard that is now full of growth and new life. Off in the distance, you hear what sounds like a machine gun going off, but as you approach the noise a magical site unfolds in front of your eyes. Strong, young men with perfect balance are stretched out to the end of the branches on tall aluminum ladders as fruit is raining down upon the aluminum steps. You also spot Farmer Al driving through the orchard on his golf cart as the sound of hard, green fruit crunches under the tires against the even harder clay soil. Then it hits you, the beginning of thinning season is here.
April, at Frog Hollow, is the month of thinning. Fruit is starting to grow and fruit becomes visible on the trees. It has now sized up and is ready to be thinned. Thinning is an ancient cultural and farming practice that is critical to producing fruit that tastes delicious, is a desirable size, and is nice and juicy. Once the fruit reaches around the size of your thumb, the expert thinners at Frog Hollow can determine which fruit is going to grow and become the quality larger fruits that we all love.
Thinning begins with understanding that the leaves of the tree produce energy for the entire plant. Leaves manufacture the carbohydrates, proteins, acids, and everything else that goes into producing the fruit. A tree naturally produces more fruit on its branches than its leaves are capable of producing energy for! For this reason, thinning is critical to provide the fruit with enough energy to produce a marketable, delicious, juicy, and sweet piece of fruit.
Throughout the thinning process, there is a precise ratio that is established for each branch of the tree in regards to leaves per piece of fruit. For example, if there are fifty-five leaves on a branch and you need eight leaves per fruit, then you should have approximately six or seven pieces of fruit per branch. A peach branch is usually the diameter of a pencil and eighteen inches long. Our thinners, then, know to leave approximately three to four fruits on each branch, spacing them out so that they do not bump or damage each other. Perfect spacing also allows the leaves to give equal attention to each piece of fruit.
This process may sound lengthy and time consuming — and you are right! Our thinners at Frog Hollow, however, are experts. They use a thumb-finger pinching technique and pinch off fruit in rapid succession. Farmer Al likened their expertise to watching a harpist, fingers going up and down the strings of the small peach branches plucking away at the fruit. It is grueling work in the hot sun that very few are willing to do! The work requires people who are connected to the earth and who have a cultural tradition that values working with crops and caring for the earth. We truly honor and are deeply thankful for their work. Walking through the orchards, it is easy to gather the value and love our thinners have for what they do. They are the reason that the fruit we cherish is possible!
Our twenty-thousand trees, each with thousands of branches are meticulously thinned of tens-of-thousands of pieces of fruit each season. The green fruit that falls to the ground provides organic matter back into the soil, which in turn brings more nutrients and life to our orchard. Think back to your stroll through the orchard. Take in the beautiful sites and noises of the thinning process, because it means one thing — picking season is just around the corner.