The cold and wet weather we are experiencing this winter has provided many lessons on being flexible with the tasks you plan to accomplish on any given day. Unexpected low temperatures and soggy soil have made use of heavy equipment(i.e. the tractor) less than ideal, delaying our ability to get beds ready for spring planting. This provided the perfect opportunity to head over to the student orchard and assess the condition of the trees planted there.
Brrr…It was a very cold morning.
The student orchard can be found by following the pathway behind the north parking lot and turning down the earthen path, over a wooden bridge and into the clearing where the orchard sits. Currently, there are 3 apple trees, 3 pear trees, and a smattering of blackberry and blueberry bushes. Our assessment started with looking at apple trees and deciding which branches needed to be pruned to encourage the type of growth we are looking for. The apple tree above has many suckers, new branches coming from just above the ground, from the grafted rootstock, as well as waterspouts, the thinner branches pointing straight towards the sky. These outgrowths are less than ideal, as they represent wasted energy that we wish had been used by the tree to develop larger roots and more growth on the main scaffolds which will support all the delicious apples we want to produce.
The apple and pear trees we pruned, arranged in a row from east to west, they are situated at the top of hill gently sloping to the south.
This just happens to be the perfect time of year for a little tree surgery. The cold temperatures suppress the potential fungal and bacterial infections that these trees are susceptible to when pruned, giving the trees ample time to heal up their wounds before the warm weather brings with it the pests. With a little bit of effort to shape the trees, they should be a good position to grow well this spring and summer. There is a good chance we will get fruit on them this fall*fingers crossed*.
A spirited debate ensues over the merit of anvil shears vs. bypass shears. Farm manager James questions why anvil shears were ever invented in the first place, you certainly won’t find a pair on this farm.
James, our farm manager, demonstrated proper pruning technique, when and when not to use certain tools, and how to keep them in cutting shape. Did you know the 4 – D’s of pruning? – dead, diseased, damaged, and directionally challenged. These are the conditions of any tree material you should consider prior to loping anything off. Thankfully for us and our trees, most of what needed to come off fell into the last category of directionally challenged. This just means new growth that is heading in erroneous directions, that if left to mature could block sunlight to other branches. In a worst-case scenario, these confused shoots could rub up against a neighboring branch potentially causing a wound to form which could lead to infection.
As the weather warms and tasks on the annual vegetable side of the farm rapidly multiply it would be easy to let taking care of these fruit trees get lost in the shuffle. The shaping we were able to do today will set these trees on a good path for a productive spring. Check back on the blog for more updates on the spring planting season ahead!
– Eric Knight
CCCC Student Farmer