Dateline: 3 May 2015
Back in 2013, in Birth of an Orchard, Part 1, I told of my dream to have a small orchard of standard-size apple trees. In Part 2 I showed the land and the process of planting the trees. In Part 3 and Part 4 I wrote about neglect and the struggle to find time to properly tend to my orchard, with the time demands of my Planet Whizbang business.
Yesterday I spent most of the day in my neglected orchard, with the intention of pruning the now-two-year-old trees. The picture above shows one of my trees. Despite my neglect, the trees have done remarkably well. That is a healthy, vigorous tree. It has come a long way from the single, slender, 30" tall whip I planted.
Earlier in this year I blogged about the deer population that suffered from a hard winter. The deer were starving. They were out in the daytime looking for anything to eat. They even came up close to my house looking for food.
I was concerned about my orchard during that time. Deer love to eat young apple trees, starving or not, and the orchard is a distance from my house. When driving down the road, I could look up into the field where my apple trees are and see large numbers of deer around the trees. They even bedded down in the orchard for a few nights.
So, I expected the worst when I hiked over to my orchard yesterday but, to my amazement, I saw no evidence of any deer damage on any trees. Yes, I did have a small circle of wire fencing around each tree, but still... Providence surely played a part in protecting my orchard.
Unfortunately, Providence does not also prune the trees according one of several accepted pruning systems. That part is up to me, and I can tell you that this matter of pruning is a great concern to me.
Proper pruning to shape the young trees is critically important in the early years, especially if you want an orchard that will last and produce for generations (which is my objective). But pruning apple trees is one of the hardest things I've ever tried to understand in the realm of agriculture.
I'm a fairly intelligent person, but none of the apple pruning books and videos I've watched have been sufficiently informative. I understand the process to a point, then I'm confused. I don't like to be confused. I want perfect pruning clarity and understanding. But it eludes me.
This lack on my part stresses me. And to make matters worse, yesterday, May 2nd, is really too late to be pruning apple trees around here. I should have done it a month ago.
Nevertheless, I did my best. I attempted to do the right thing, cutting here and there, while bending and securing selected "scaffold" branches so they are not growing too upright.
I will not show you any pictures of my pruned trees because I don't want to show my ignorance on this subject!
Next year, around February, I absolutely must take a class on apple tree pruning. I'm pretty sure Cornell University has such classes every year. I should have done this before.
A Side Note
On Pruning Apple Trees
I mentioned The Permaculture Orchard Movie at this blog back in March. If you watch that movie you will see an explanation of apple tree pruning that is so simple that even I can fully understand it. But the technique is not suited to standard-size apple trees in a conventional orchard.
The unconventional pruning approach in that movie is better suited to growing trees on dwarfing rootstocks. And the trees are planted fairly close together in rows. This technique is known as "tall spindle apple production." It is an idea with a lot of advantages (simplified pruning being just one) and you can learn more at this link: Tall Spindle Apple
|Tall spindle apple orchard|