CHAZY — The apple trees at Chazy Orchards are sporting a look that has passers-by doing a double take.
Netting to protect them from wind, bird, insect, sun and hail damage covers the treetops of many of them.
Helen Giroux-Taylor, whose family owns the orchard, said years of hail damage had them looking for a solution.
"Hail can happen at any time," she said. "In six years, four of those years we ended up getting hail."
Then they found Drape Net, a company based out of Australia.
"We were hooked up with the gentleman who invented it, and he came over, looked at our orchards, and we decided to give it a try," Giroux-Taylor said.
"We were the first orchard in North America to have it."
Drape Net was invented by third-generation apple and cherry grower Michael Cunial about 15 years ago after he dealt with hail damage of his own.
"Apples are quite delicate during the growing period, and any damage from above can have a range from a small loss to a complete write-off of a crop," Cunial said.
"In extreme cases, the spread of disease throughout the blocks of trees and whole growing areas can result in tree death."
The mesh netting is designed to repel the hail — it bounces off and misses the growing fruit.
Giroux-Taylor said Cunial researched different color netting and played with varying mesh diameters.
Colored netting such as black and green blocks different ultraviolet sun rays, while the mesh diameter can impact sun exposure.
Giroux-Taylor said black netting can prevent sunburn for green-fleshed varieties like Granny Smith's, while white or green netting is useful for red-fleshed varieties like McIntosh.
"In upstate New York, we don’t have to worry about sunburn very much, but as you go farther west across the country, it becomes more of an issue," she said.
"Some years we have a hard time getting color on our fruit, so we don't want to block anything that is going to help that."
THE NICEST FRUIT
Chazy Orchards uses 99 percent white netting, but is experimenting with a few green and black nets this year, Giroux-Taylor said.
"What we ended up with is the best for orchards at this point."
This is year two of using Drape Net at Chazy Orchards.
While no hailstorms assaulted the trees, Giroux-Taylor said, but the netting seemed to be good for the apples.
"The fruit that we packed last year from underneath the nets was some of the nicest fruit that we packed all year," she said.
"The color, finish and size were excellent."
Chazy Orchards netted their trees in the beginning of June this year.
"We have an applicator machine that hooks onto a tractor and the net rolls on and off through that," Giroux-Taylor said.
"We did 50 acres in four days with two machines."
The nets will stay on until just before harvest in the fall.
NORTH AMERICAN DISTRIBUTOR
Other orchards in the region have begun using the netting, too, among them Forrence Orchards and others in Peru.
The Drape Net system is also in use in Western New York, Michigan and Washington State, distributed through Chazy Orchards.
And it is found in Cunial's native Australia, along with New Zealand and South Africa,
Cunial said he chose Chazy Orchards as his North American distributor because they are "proactive and vertically integrated.
"Being a orchardist myself, there is nothing better than the feeling of my peers adapting a system I came up with and them acknowledging how well it has worked for them and, in some cases, saved them."
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