You can grow your own food. And we can help!

Growing Organic Apple Trees

Feb 23, 2011
Blog type:

I’m not an expert on growing apples, but I’ve been fortunate to be around apple trees for most of my life. When I was four, my parents built their house in the middle of a small, backyard orchard in southern Maine. The next door neighbor, who sold us the property, showed my father how to spray the remaining Cortland, Macintosh and Red Delicious trees so that the bugs wouldn’t destroy the apples. I clearly remember the day my father made the mistake of spraying while the blossoms were open, killing lots of my neighbor’s honeybees. After that, I always wondered if there was a way to grow apples without spraying.

When I planted my own trees, I selected disease resistant Redfree and Enterprise varieties, hoping I could find a way to grow apples organically. I tried a number of integrated pest management techniques, but didn’t have any success until last year when I covered the apples with footies. If you don’t know what I mean by footies, they are the little disposable socks that department stores give sockless people when they want to try on shoes.

How it works
First, when the apples are dime to nickel-sized, you prune all but the best apple from each cluster. Then you cover the apple with the footy and wrap the excess around the stem and tuck it in. The important thing is to cover them before the bugs get to them. Apple curculio starts pretty early.

One lesson I’ve learned is that in order to cover all the apples, you have to make sure the tree is properly pruned. Otherwise, it’s impossible to reach the interior apples without breaking apple-bearing branches. A properly pruned tree will allow for better air flow, which is important when using footies because the apples stay wet longer than if they were uncovered. Read my post on pruning at Nine Guidelines for Pruning Apple Trees. Farmer Dave has a good Fruit Tree Pruning guide, too.

A box of 144 footies at Store Supply Warehouse costs about $15 (including delivery). You can reuse them year after year.

Some people remove the footies about two weeks before the apples are ripe to let the natural color develop. I leave them on because squirrels, chipmunks and deer are less likely to  take a bit out of the covered apple. I still find a few apples with bites, but the squirrels don’t like the taste of the footy so they don’t return unless they are really hungry.

Here’s a short video of how to put the footies on the apples.

I understand some people use zip lock plastic bags to protect their apples from bugs. Let us know if you have a way to keep your apples clean without pesticides by commenting below.


Hi Bill Thats a great idea that i have never heard of. They are going to be on my trees this year. I guess that used, washed tights would serve the same purpose. Thanks Glenn
Glenn -- That's exactly what I do to shrink the footies back to the original size. I wash and dry them. The shrink back to almost as small as new.
Pears so often get bird-bitten once they are ripening & fragrant. This technique would let them ripen deliciously longer on the tree. I have gotten up by moonlight to go out & pick a pear!
Nothing beats freshed picked. It's so much healthier than getting a midnight snack from the fridge.
Hi Bill, I wonder if you are aware of this additional technique used by the folks of Home Orchard Society (Portland, OR) -- they soak the footies in Surround, which is an organic material normally sprayed on fruit trees for protection from disease & insects. Surround is basically a fine clay (kaolin) that appears like a thin white film when sprayed on the trees. I guess it works really well, though I haven't used it yet. Combining the spray with the footies it's only the fruit that are coated, instead of having a whole orchard of snowy-white trees! Here's their article on the subject:
I wasn't aware of this tactic. Thanks for making a great suggestion. What an interesting idea.
Surroud & footies are new to me - thank you both! Surround sounds similar to the watery clay slip that Frenchman Jean Pain used to dip & coat his vegetable transplants before planting them in extremely hot weather in his shelter-shaded garden. By the time watering washed off the protective, thin clay coating, the transplants were established.
Where do you get a bag full of footies?
This is brilliant. I installed a few apple trees last year, and removed all the fruit so the trees could set good roots. This should be their first season and I wasn't totally sure how I was going to handle this! Ordering some footies now!
Bill: I read about the little footies on here a few months ago and was quite intrigued. I ordered some before apple bloom in the spring, and when the apples (Golden Delicious) were of suitable size, I processed the little apples as suggested, and wrapped nearly a hundred on the tree. As the summer progressed and they grew, it looked like I'd hit on a winner. I'd tried plastic bags previously, and had difficulty with excess moisture being retained in the bag, even though I made small drainage slits. I thought this would resolve that issue. About August some time, when the apples were nearly full sized, I began to notice that something (Coddling Moths?) was boring small holes through the sockie mesh, and the apples were wormy in the usual fashion. As they reached full size, about 2/3 of them had been turned wormy, the very thing I was trying to prevent. In other words, it simply didn't work as expected. Those apples that didn't get infested were nice, however. Now I think I need to try something like the "Surround" on the bags--what do you think? Will that prevent this from happening?
Lovely garden gives the fruit of labor. I am getting to like the idea as well, setting up my garden and plant fruit bearing crops.
I used a square of white tissue paper and a clothes pin to attach it to the stem.

Add comment

Log in or register to post comments



Join our e-list to stay in touch




Praise for KGI:

"A group that can get
things done"

-Mother Nature Network

"One of the web's best sources of gardening info"
-Washington Post 

"The meeting place of the world's gardeners"
-WorldWatch Institute

more here



About us:

KGI is a nonprofit community of over 30,000 people who are growing some of our own food and helping others to do the same.  

Join our mailing list:


Connect with us:

Contact us:

Kitchen Gardeners International
3 Powderhorn Drive,
Scarborough, ME, 04074, USA
(207) 956-0606