Allowing apples to go biennial?

I am toying with allowing a few of the apple trees go biennial. A browns and a reine de reinnette, which both already have a strong tendency that way.

My reasoning is that nearly all of the crop on the browns, and most of the crop on the RdR go to hard cider. It’s nice to have a large volume of apples when setting up to process cider, and I believe you can get a larger single crop from a bienneil tree (although still smaller than two cumulative crops).

Furthermore, spraying and thinning are becoming larger and larger chores as the older plantings mature and newer stuff comes online. Using organic methods means a lot of spraying to begin with, and half my sprays protect fruit not trees…I can imagine it being nice to take a few larger trees out of the rotation every other season.

Like many of us, I planted like mad for many years when first getting started. I don’t need all those trees to be bearing every year, so why fight it on the trees that want to go that way?

Just an idea I’m kicking around and curious to get any other thoughts.

You might try getting trees of the same variety on an alternate schedule. That way you’d have fruit of each variety every yr. That only works until weather or something else throws things out of schedule.

Not thinning would be sweet! And if you could avoid most sprays some yrs, doubly sweet.

Do biennial get no apples at all on the off years? If they still get a few, could that be a source of PCs and other pests for the trees the following year?

I suspect it’s a spectrum, but the feral trees that I have seen really commit set nearly no fruit on their off year.

I also realize that I would get smaller fruit, many misshapen and poorly colored…but for cider none of that is an issue.

Too much fruit means low brix fruit which probably means poor quality cider.

That’s a good point, I wonder what the threshold is and how closely crop load/leaf surface is tied to Brix?
Do high Brix trees set less fruit or require more thinning to remain high? How much energy is redirected to fruit from vegetative growth and new flower bud development on trees that go biennial?

I know I have pulled some pretty intense apples off of trees literally dripping in fruit, but without a comparison tree or refractometer…

I have done both, oversetting and getting great fruit still and oversetting and losing sugars. Every variety is different in terms of the load it can take and still be great. You would overall clearly get less yield if you did the biennial thing, so it would have to be for the convenience primarily. Given that I have hundreds of apple varieties I don’t really mind the biennial ones at this point myself – less spraying and less of a mass of varieties to keep straight at harvest time.

I have cider trees I don’t thin because most of the apples are as big as they can be and still fit down the throat of the sink grinder on my cider press. If they were any bigger I would have an extra chopping step in the process. They are already too sweet anyhow. I’ve been adding tart apples lately to offset this.

At one point I was thinking about alternating biennials, but then I realized weather issues here would be synchronizing them every few years anyhow. So, I guess it will be feast or famine.

It is common for some English and French apples to be grown in poor soil and as tiny golf balls, as they want a high skin to flesh ratio; apparently it concentrates the sugars too. Worth a try.