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What are the (easiest) sustainable ways of getting rid of immature (windfallen) apples?

  • Is it OK to put them into a compost?
  • What part of compost can they make?
  • Is it good to crush them before putting them to the compost?
  • Are partially or fully rotten apples good for composting too?
  • What part of compost can the rotten apples make?

I have already read some suggestions (Apples in compost) and it is probably good to mix them in compost with dry leaves, sawdust, paper etc. The problem is that at this time there is a lot of windfallen apples but almost no leaves.

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    What makes you think you can't compost them? It would interest me even more what you would consider compostable. – Earthliŋ Aug 19 '13 at 17:13
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    Another option is cutting them in half and sticking them in a worm farm – going Aug 20 '13 at 2:12
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    @Earthling: Immature apples are often very hard and they look like they will need very long time to decompose. More mature apples can also contain a lot of water which is not probably good for compost. Regarding the rotten apples - I am not sure if the mould could not infect the compost and then the plants on which the compost is being used. – pabouk Aug 20 '13 at 7:33
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    @pabouk, I had the same concern about mould: Are mouldy kitchen scraps okay to compost? – theUg Aug 26 '13 at 5:08
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    Breaking them up will definitely help them compost faster. On farms it's common to run a flail mower over fallen (or dumped) fruit for this reason. That also makes fermentation much less of an issue (birds and animals eat them and get drunk, hurting themselves or others) – Móż Aug 29 '13 at 4:52
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Apples, like practically all other organic waste, are ideal for composting. You can cover the apples with leaves, sawdust, other soil, etc., to prevent them being eaten by birds & insects and carried away from your compost pile. But in principle you need nothing but a little patience and soon your apples, whether windfallen, stormfallen or hand-picked, will turn into compost.

As long as you aren't trying to compost apples only, or a ridiculous quantity of apples (more than 100kg in one spot), there should be no problem. Even hard apples will rot and get soft very soon. Moulds are part of the composting process and most often come from yeasts already present on the skin of the fruit. These moulds might even be "intended" to help break down the apples and provide rich soil for the seeds, which is probably why the apple tree provided the flesh in the first place. Once the composting process has taken its course, these moulds will probably have been decomposed themselves.

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In my experience, windfall apples can turn into serious slime unless you prepare them for composting by adding plenty of drier ingredients to the mix. Crushing them, and then adding dried fall leaves - shredded if possible - in a ratio of 1:3 or 4 would probably make some pretty decent compost, depending on how green they are. If you don't have any dried fall leaves at the moment, you should be able to just rake all the fallen apples to the side into a pile and deal with them once you do. I know most of the windfall apples we've had under our trees lasted several weeks in a more-or-less whole condition unless we did something to them. If the weather there is cooling off, that should help keep them in mostly non-rotted condition until you have all of your "browns" together to make the compost pile.

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  • I have seen farms piling immature apples in shallow pits in well drained areas. Adding some dry dirt and sawdust would help with the excess moisture. – grayQuant Oct 20 '13 at 20:47
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I trench the apples. I make a trench 12 inches deep if the crop I will be planting there has roots that go down that far. I then fill the trench four inches with windfall apples, and top it off with soil. I am not concerned with quick results. It will take two years before the apples get broken down under those conditions. You need to consider this if, for example, you rotate what you plant in that row each year.

You can fill a 12 inch trench halfway or more with apples if you are tight for space, but then you will have a lot of fill dirt to find a place for afterwards, and, as the apples break down, there will be a more noticeable drop in the level of the trench (mature apples are 84% water).

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3

In the fall there does seem to be a lag between having too many "greens" (rotting fruit like windfall apples) and not yet enough "browns" (dead fallen leaves) to make compost. I try mixing in some dry mulch with the apples and layers of cardboard under and over the apples in the compost pile. Mostly try to keep the apples covered and from getting damp. Eventually the leaves will fall and you can add them in your compost. Sometimes you can help your neighbors get a headstart on autumn cleanup by gathering up their leaves and taking them to your compost pile, especially helpful if you have any elderly neighbors with a garden.

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I have a very old, very large cortland apple tree near my garden. Every other year it bombards me with far more apples than I can use. I simply toss them into my garden without any fuss and let the cold New England winter do the rest. They break down on their own and by Spring thaw are completely incorporated into the soil. Loads of happy, fat earthworms keep the soil so aerated I don't even have to till.

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The best solution is for these windfall apples to never exist in the first place. Most apple varieties fall into a biennial bearing pattern. They produce a very heavy fruit set in year N. The burden of bringing this large quantity of fruit to maturity suppresses fruit bud growth (which happens in the fall). In year N+1 there are negligible fruit buds and so little or no fruit is set. This leaves all the tree's resources to create fruit buds in the fall and in year N+2 you again have an extremely heavy fruiting year. Most apple varieties will set such heavy fruit in year N, N+2, etc that they cannot bring it all to maturity. This contributes to windfalls, "june drop", as well as under-mature fruit at the end of the season.

Instead of allowing the tree to fall into this pattern, thin the fruit set before fruitlets reach the size of a US quarter. Note that whatever fruit is set you will have to eventually handle (if you are planning to clean up after the tree). You can handle it when it is small and on the tree or you can clean it up off the ground. If you thin it from the tree, you will have less material to deal with (by composting or otherwise) because you will be taking smaller fruit off the tree before it can grow and fall. Correspondingly, by taking fruitlets off when they are small, you are allowing the tree to direct its resources towards the remaining fruit. This means more fruit will reach maturity and those that do will be larger, healthier, and typically sweeter. You can also be selective in your thinning - take fruitlets that already have insect damage, fungal damage, or are incompletely formed. This further improves your eventual harvest by increasing the number and proportion of well-formed, undamaged fruit the tree eventually brings to maturity. Finally, by thinning to a manageable number of fruit you leave the tree with energy to create fruit buds for the following season, giving you more even production from year to year.

Even if you thin, you will still have some drops. These, along with the thinnings, should be removed from the area. If you compost them, compost them away from the tree. Fungus is a healthy and essential part of the composting process but you do not want to encourage fungus that eats apple biomass to grow beneath your apple trees. If you do, you may find it moves from your drops to the tree itself, damaging fruit you left on the tree for eventual harvest or damaging foliage or even branches of the tree itself. Take your compostable material as far from your apple trees as practical and let the fungus go to work there.

Citation: The Apple Grower: A Guide for the Organic Orchardist. Michael Phillips.

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This may sound strange but what I have tried this year was to collect a load of dry grass from the outside of my house and place a layer of about 3-4 inches around my apple tree. When the hundreds of windfall apples fall and eventually full grown apples fall, it’s going to create a natural compost. As of now the dry grass is slowly decomposing underneath and some windfall apples are decomposing quickly with it. It’s my first year doing compost and have a separate pile but I wanted to try this method and it seems to be doing well.

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