Trials were conducted in 2009 and 2010 to evaluate the use of a hand-thinning gauge [Equilifruit; Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique (INRA), Montpelier, France] on three cultivars of apple (Malus ×domestica) trees trained to tall spindle. Hand-thinning treatments were applied after June drop to trees with supra-optimal crop loads. Three hand-thinning treatments were applied using the hand-thinning gauge: 1) thinning to ≈6 fruit/cm2 branch cross-sectional area (BCSA) (F value), 2) subtracting the delta value [Δ (an adjustment factor to increase or decrease the number of fruit per BCSA] from the F value (F - Δ), and 3) F - 2Δ. These treatments were compared with a control and a traditional hand-thinning heuristic of spacing a solitary fruit every 7 to 8 inches of branch length. Use of the hand-thinning gauge generally improved fruit weight and maintained whole tree yields when compared with the control. Hand-thinning based upon traditional fruit-spacing heuristics reduced crop density and increased final fruit weight of apple, but significant reductions in yield were observed in two of four studies when compared with the control. We find the hand-thinning gauge a useful tool in adjusting final crop load of apple.
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