When I first got the idea to volunteer for apple harvesting, my heart and mind were already dancing with the apple fairies whom I would meet later. I even played one of ABBA’s songs ‘Me and Bobby and Bobby’s brother’, on loop, just because it had a line ‘climbing the apple tree’!! I had no doubt signed up for apple harvesting, but without asking myself if I would be able to do it! You know that’s typical of me. There’s a saying, “Look before you leap”. More often than not, I do the other way round. I leap, then look and then think!!
Heavily laden branches are supported by poles.
Tickets booked, arrangements made, a few weeks before I was to leave, a friend sent me a picture of a worker, standing high up on an apple tree, plucking apples. That was the first time I realized that I would have to climb on high branches too. Having climbed the only guava tree in my compound in my growing up years and that too, 20 years ago, I was wondering if I’d be able to do it now! Images of me clumsily climbing and even more clumsily falling down from a tree and people giggling away daunted my mind.
Cluster of apples from the same bud.
But there was no need to worry so much, I realized after reaching there. The first day I had to pluck apples, the owner of Sai Orchards, Mr. Shiv Kumar Sharma accompanied me and himself taught me the knack of plucking the fruit the right way. So, apples hang to the bud (the place from where fruiting happens), by a stalk. So care must be taken to pluck the apple with the stalk and not the bud itself. If the bud is plucked along with the stalk, it would mean one less apple or apples the following year, for there would be no fruiting since the bud is absent.
The fruit has to be snapped away from the bud at a slight angle and promptly. In some cases, there are multiple apples growing from the same bud. In this case, while you are snapping away one apple, the other apples must be held on to, to be plucked instantly, or else they will fall to the ground.
Taking a short break from plucking apples.
I joined a group of Nepali women for apple plucking. They were really sweet and taught me how to reach the top most branches and stand confidently on them, by leaning against braches and plucking fruits. They also gave me tips on where to place my feet and which angle to stand in so that I would be comfortable. Climbing trees in itself is no big deal. But when you have a bag around your neck, and you have to pluck apples and fill up the bag and the weight around your neck increases, that’s when you realize it is a work that involves skill. Once the bag around your neck is full of apples, you pass it on to a person standing down who will then empty the bag into a crate and then pass on an empty bag again.
Climbing Apple trees is good exercise.
The workers there are expert climbers and I marveled at the way they climbed on to the slenderest of branches and plucked apples dangling from the very tip of each branch. I had underestimated the apple tree. The branches look pretty slender but were able to take the weight of 2 or 3 people without snapping. The workers climb on to the uppermost branches in the blink of an eye and they were also very deft in plucking. In some places where the first branch to climb on to itself was high, I used an upturned crate to stand on and then climb. I saw, and that was seconded by my new friends, that I steadily improved my climbing skills with each tree.
This tree has more apples than leaves!
I felt so happy up there, perched or standing on one of the branches, surrounded by clusters of apples and green leaves, with the view of the mountains at a distance. It was as if the apple tree fairy was embracing me with her magic.
I wish there was an apple tree in my house. Climbing and plucking apples is a complete form of exercise, I realized. I involves complete stretching, twisting, turning, bending and each muscle gets stretched in the process. I did sustain scratches and insect bites, but the joy of climbing trees made me ignore those.
The hired workers start plucking from 7.30 in the morning until 6.30 in the evening with a one hour lunch break and 10 minute rest periods. I, of course, did not work that long. I worked for 5 hours each day I was there and thought my city bred body would not be able to work more than that.
Some trees were heavily laden, and I was surprised to know that it’s the 3rd round of plucking from those trees. From some trees, we plucked as many as 6 crates full of apples, with each crate containing around 80 apples. So that’s around 480 apples from one tree, in the 3rd round of harvesting!! I was told some bigger trees yield as many as 16 crates. Do the math!! I also saw that younger trees yielded bigger fruit than the older trees. It took approximately half hour to one hour depending on the size of the tree to pluck all the apples. The long bamboos that you see around the tree are for supporting the branches which snap due to the weight of the apples in peak season.
The best part was plucking the best fruit from any tree and digging your teeth into it. I am not exaggerating, but with each bite I took, from most apples that I plucked directly and ate, there was juice squirting all over my face and hands. There were that juicy and crunchy, especially the golden variety.
I took this shot from one of the upper most branches. Shows the other tree tops with the mountains in the backdrop.
I am so glad that I have ticked tree climbing and apple plucking off my long list of many things to experience and enjoy! But then, there are other fruits to pluck and so many more trees to climb!