Suggestions to Apple Pickers
by John C. Snyder, Extension Horticulturist
Agricultural Extension Service, State College of Washington, 1943
Written over seventy years ago, this is some of that so so basic info for farmers; we tend to forget there are people out there who just don’t know. SFJ deems it worthy of a look and ponder.
Apples are valuable food. How many people may enjoy them depends upon how you handle them. The thin, tender skin protects them from rot. The crisp, solid flesh though firm, is easily bruised and bruises lead to decay. Be careful.
Picking apples is a specialized operation for which there is a special technique. Inexperienced pickers do not have this technique but can acquire it. How well they do so and how quickly they become smooth pickers depends largely upon how painstakingly the orchardist and foreman teach them in the beginning. To fail here may mean to fail completely.
Although the foreman does not actually pick, if he does his job well he earns much more than picking wages by enabling his crew to pick more than they would without a foreman. He teaches new pickers how to pick, and he helps his entire crew to work smoothly, without unnecessary stops and waste motion.
If he is to do his job well, the crew must not be too large. Ten to 15 inexperienced pickers will keep one foreman busy; as they become accustomed to the work, the crew may be enlarged.
Some pickers work as easily from ladders as they do from the ground. These may be allowed to pick the tops, leaving low fruit for those who cannot work from tall ladders.
All of us work best when we feel well and are comfortable. Orchardists furnishing transportation will do well to protect pickers from exposure as they ride to and from the orchard. Good drinking water and sanitary toilets should be easily accessible.
Suggestions to Foremen
Assure pickers that you welcome questions about operations not clear to them.
Be sure equipment you assign pickers is in good condition.
Always stay within hearing distance of each crew member.
Check number of boxes as each tree is finished.
Instruct pickers as to whether or not fruit is to be picked off the ground. If it is to be picked off the ground, tell them where to put it.
Tell pickers where drinking water and toilet facilities are to be found.
Explain checking system to pickers.
a. How to put on picking bag or bucket.
b. How to adjust ropes of bag.
c. How to empty picking bag.
d. How to carry ladder.
e. How to set ladder.
f. How to take hold of apple and remove it from the tree.
g. How and where to arrange boxes.
h. How full to fill boxes.
i. Where to start picking.
Suggestions to Pickers
Wear clothes of washable, sturdy material; fitted for bending and stooping; snug at neck, ankles and wrists to protect skin and avoid accidents; and with usable pockets. Wear comfortable thick-soled, low-heeled shoes in good repair. Women should wear hat or head scarf to cover hair well; trim finger nails closely to avoid injuring fruit.
Avoid overdoing the first day; give yourself a chance to become hardened without becoming too stiff and sore.
Remove apple by taking hold of it carefully and lifting it to one side, turning hand slightly as you lift. When the stem does not separate readily from the spur, placing the end of the pointing finger or thumb next to the stem helps.
Leave stem on apple; apples with stems torn out are culls.
Leave spurs on trees; they bear next year’s crop.
Pick more than one apple in each hand before emptying hand, if apples are not too large.
Start out with bag ropes drawn clear up so you can place apples in bag without dropping them.
Lay fruit in bag or bucket. Dropping it causes bruises.
Fill bag or bucket level full rather than heaping. If you fill it too full you earn less because time is wasted trying to keep apples from falling off.
Avoid rubbing bag of apples against ladder or branches.
Start up ladder with empty bag.
Keep your eyes on your hands and your hands in front of you. Stretching to reach apples wastes time. Holding branch with one hand and picking with other wastes time.
Avoid straining positions as you pick.
Keep yourself well balanced at all times.
Pick tree clean as you go, unless “color picking.”
Pick low fruit on each set first so that fruit which may drop will not fall through unpicked section of tree and knock off other fruit.
If some apples cannot be reached, leave them on the tree; do not shake them off.
To empty bag, unhook ropes before stooping over box and then allow knees to bend as you stoop over enough to place bottom of bag into bottom of box; gently straighten up slipping bag off the apples as you do so.
Fill bag to same quantity each time. If when finishing at top of ladder, the bag is not full, fill it from bottom fruit of next set.
Empty one bag or bucketful into each of several boxes before filling them; then with a full bag, top several boxes. You will soon learn how many boxes one bag will top and thus save time.
Steps in Handling the Fruit Ladder
The better you know how to handle a fruit ladder, the easier it is. As with other tools and pieces of equipment, there is a right way and a wrong way. The right way not only is easier but enables the operator to accomplish more — he can earn more money and be fresher at the end of the day.
Here are some suggestions. If you are accustomed to working in an orchard, you probably know them already; if not, perhaps they will help you to do your work easier and without danger.
Size up the tree. As you gain experience in using a ladder, you will do this and determine about where you are going to set the ladder before you leave the previous tree. Each time, set it where you can work from it easily and safely. Reaching long distances when on it, slows you down and is unsafe. Reset as often as necessary to keep fruit within easy reach at all times but avoid making any more sets than necessary. Waste motion is tiring and earns you nothing.
When ready to take hold of the ladder, the first step is to find the balance point. (Tripod, single base fruit ladders, commonly used in the state of Washington usually balance when carried on the shoulder with the middle stop against the shoulder blade and the top of the ladder forward.) To find out exactly where it is, take hold of the ladder at the approximate balance point and lift it.
Fig. 1. Ladder with various parts labeled. In describing how to handle the ladder, frequent reference is made to its parts. These are labeled on the accompanying figure to aid those who are not familiar with them.
Fig. 2. Carrying open ladder when making longer moves. Set ladder up and step between back leg and steps with steps at right. With right hand, reach through balance space and grasp right side-leg as high as you can reach conveniently. With the other hand, grasp back leg as high as possible. Walk forward, tipping ladder as you go. Allow left side-leg to come to rest gently on right shoulder.
Fig. 3. Carrying collapsed ladder when making longer moves. Face front of standing ladder. Pull it toward you until back leg rests against step. Make quarter turn to left, steadying ladder with right hand. Place right hand through balance space and behind back leg. Grasp right side-leg as high as you can reach. With other hand, grasp left side-leg as high as possible. Walk forward, tipping ladder forward as you go. Allow ladder to come to rest on right shoulder.
Fig. 4. Carrying ladder when making short moves. With ladder erect and back leg on side of ladder away from you, reach through fourth space from bottom and take hold of third step with right hand. Rest fifth step on right shoulder. With left hand, reach above head, taking hold of step to steady ladder. Slant ladder toward you enough so that back leg will stay in place.
Fig. 5. Stiff arm method of carrying ladder when making short moves. With left hand, reach up and grasp step that can be reached conveniently without arm being completely outstretched. With right hand reach down and grasp second step. Lift ladder and slant it slightly toward you so that back leg stays in place. Most of the weight of ladder is borne by the left arm and shoulder.
Fig. 6. Carrying upright open ladder when making longer moves. Walk under open ladder with sets at right. Place right shoulder under step just below shoulder. Reach up and grasp right side-leg with right hand, and back leg with left hand to steady ladder. Shoulder becomes sore at first. Position may be reversed to relieve it.
Fig. 7. Starting the set. Before picking up the ladder and going from one tree to next, decide approximately where you want to set the ladder. As you approach the tree with the back leg always on the side of the ladder toward the tree, set the base of the ladder at this point.
Fig. 8. Putting the back leg in place. Reach through ladder and push back leg out toward tree, keeping it free from ground as you tip ladder toward tree. Avoid bruising fruit. It may be necessary to walk around ladder and push aside interfering branches to avoid knocking off fruit and to adjust ladder. Press back leg firmly into ground to prevent slipping.
Fig. 9. Making ladder solid. Step first on one end and then the other end of the first step.
Fig. 10. Leveling ladder. Be sure ladder is level and that the back leg is the same distance from each side leg. Ladder must be level and solid to be safe. Climb up middle of ladder placing one foot directly above the other.
Fig. 11. Slanting ladder on slopes. On slopes slant ladder up rather than downhill if possible. Shortening the back leg 8 to 10 inches simplifies handling ladder on slopes.
Fig. 12. Improper setting often leads to accidents. This operator did not follow principles of setting ladder. Don’t take chances. Be sure ladder is set safely.