Wednesday, February 29, 2012

winter orchard

At seven thirty this morning I walked around the orchard before the blizzard like conditions of today began in earnest.  Right now, as I look outside it's snowing big fluffy snowflakes, the big flakes mean it's on the warmer side of snow weather, around 32 degrees.  Looking back at posts from the end of February of last year, I see we're right on track with winter and the snow.  I wanted to do a February post about fruit tree pruning, but will wait for the next high pressure to bring us a couple of dry days that will be good for pruning  the apple and pear trees, along with the berry bushes.  So in the mean time here are a few pictures of my orchard in the snow.

The large cherry tree was planted 20 years and is surrounded by young apple, pear, and plum trees.  The young trees have to be protected with wire or the deer will eat the leaves and weaken the tree.  We're in the process of fully fencing around the perimeter of our ten acres, and are about two thirds of the way through with it, when it's finished we'll be able to remove the cages.  If you live where there are deer, they will love you for planting young fruit trees just for them to dine on.  Trust me, I know first hand what deer will do if trees are not protected, I had 4 apple trees killed by the deer the first year I planted the upper orchard, they were the ones I didn't protect.  

These pictures are all in our lower orchard by the vegetable garden, inside the fenced vegetable garden is where I have my special apple espallier's made from my own scion wood and rootstock.  I didn't want to risk any deer attack on them, also in the garden are the rootstocks both for pear and apple.  In the orchard I used to have all the fruit tree cages with posts at four corners and they were more permanent looking, but in the summer when you want to weed, mow, and mulch, it's so much easier to just have one post with the wire hooked around, so you can open it easily.   

Pictured above is a honeycrisp apple tree on an M26 rootstock, this is a rootstock that will stay smaller, but still get good sized and produce fruit at a younger age.  It needs a light pruning and I'll be spreading some of the branches this summer.  I planted this tree five years ago, last year we got 4 apples from it, and this year I'm hoping for at least 10 times that by the looks of the buds.  You can see patience is needed with fruit trees.   

The plum trees above were planted in 2007, they are Shiro and Methley plum, only the Shiro produced a few plums last year, this year though they look like they'll both be loaded with fruit.  It's amazing to me the 4 to 5 year old growth on all my fruit trees, that is in terms of years from the point of getting them from Raintree nursery or Burnt Ridge nursery, they were about 2 to 3 years old when I got them.  So that actual year of growth would be 6 to 7 years old.  Plum trees are good to plant because they begin to produce fruit at a younger age than many fruit trees.  Mulching heavily in early summer with grass clippings was a great tip I learned from an experienced teacher.  Both plums and asian pears like to be pruned later in the spring than apple and pear trees, so I'll wait a few weeks and prune them around the end of March.  I've pruned for shape every year, so these won't need any heavy pruning.  Shiro and Methley are Japanese plums, they cross pollinate one another,  and they like to be open centered pruned.  I also have 2 other varieties of Japanese plums, Beauty and Hollywood.  The european plums, like the Italian plum like to be standard pruned or open centered.  Apples and pears I standard prune, that means upright with laterals, kind of like a noble Christmas tree, only with bigger and longer branches. 
The older portion of the orchard has pears and plum trees that are 15 years old, they've been nurtured with love by me since I the day I literally pruned them to little stubby branch nubs by having no idea what I was doing.  The pears in the foreground were pruned to open center in the beginning before I knew they may prefer to be standard pruned.  Fortunately I did get the plums off to a good pruning start, but it took a couple of years to recover from the down to nub pruning I had done.  I thought I was pruning right back in the beginning, when in reality it was totally wrong.  I began to learn and decided this was worth some very serious study.  I began to collect fruit and edibles books and check them out from the library, I volunteered at the Western Washington Fruit Tree Research station, and learned from those with far more experience.  I remember asking them, what does a well pruned apple tree look like?  What is it I'm going for with a pear tree?   They showed me some of the best of the best trees and shapes for fruit production and the right way to prune.  This was by far the most valuable learning experience.   

They're predicting more snow this coming week, and I'm hoping the UPS driver gets through with my birthday present, 3 new fruit trees.  I have an Early Laxton European plum coming, along with an Asian pear I've been wanting for a long time the Chojuro asian pear, plus I got a Graventstein apple because I've been wanting one to add to my cider orchard, which is the upper orchard.  Fruits and edibles and their propagation has turned into a really fun hobby for me that is rewarding.  
Back inside to a warm fire.

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