Rural life has great benefits – clean air, beautiful views, and elbow room for the soul. But it also has its share of hazards: Lions (Mountain), and Tigers (Lillies – toxic to pets) and Pears! (Well, pears are not exactly hazardous, but they can lead to frustration and disappointment.) Here’s the full story:
Earlier this year, we posted a video explaining how to prune fruit trees for better production. After that demo, spring brought excellent results – full, bright blossoms that promised a bounty of apples and pears.
I continued to prune unwanted suckers, spray with organic oil, and generally ensure there were no bugs. I also took the additional precaution of placing mesh bags over the fruit as it started to form – this was mostly to ward off the large wasps that showed up last year at the end of the season.
As the season continued with exceptional weather the trees produced large clusters of fruit that grew and started to ripen. (Unfortunately, I did not take a photo, so you’ll just have to trust me on this.) I was extremely excited that we would have an exceptional variety of fresh, organic fruit this year. I even started researching different recipes for preserving them.
Then that fateful morning, I walked out to the trees and poof!!
Every single fruit was gone!!
To add insult to injury, the nasty marauders left chewed-up bags – the very bags designed to protect the fruit!!
AAARRGGHH! So there I was, like Yosemite Sam, stomping around, shaking my fists, mumbling pseudo-curses “racken fracken, ya dirty varmint, why I’m gonna getcha.” And so forth…
After continuing in that vein, mumbling to myself for quite a while, I eventually settled down. It dawned on me the raiders were the family of deer we often see on the property. And who could blame them? I had carefully prepared an all-you-can-eat buffet, then graciously presented it in an easy-to-reach, help-yourself arrangement. I should know better. When living with wildlife, you have to anticipate such things, and I had (naively) assumed that the small fences I had were sufficient. The lesson is: never leave anything to chance. So, what can I do to prevent this from happening next year?
I immediately set out searching the internet for the best solution. And I was a little shocked at the vast range of options – from dangling soap and hanging noise makers to wolf urine and commercial repellent to (Gasp!) hunting! Yes, one web site actually suggested shooting them for game. But we’re more gatherers than hunters. So after rejecting the options, including repellents (they small like rotten meat) I settled on Occam’s Razor – “the simplest solution is usually the best” – a taller fence. Doh! I already had fences – just add to them!
I guess we’ll see how that works next year. In the meantime, Debb reminds me that the deer are a gift from our “nature as neighbors” surroundings. And if I’m really craving a pear, there are plenty of them at our local Farmers Markets.
Spring is almost here and, if you live in the country, you might be thinking about pruning those fruit trees in your yard. Growing fruit trees is not a passive activity – especially on rural property where you often find lots of them. They actually require year-round attention for optimum health and better fruit production.
Obvious chores include watering and fertilizing during spring and summer. But trees also require attention during the winter, even though they are mostly dormant for that season. In fact, late winter is the ideal time for pruning and spraying – hence the term “dormant” oil for the type of spray used.
Cutting off branches from a healthy tree might seem counterintuitive. But careful pruning removes unproductive branches and shapes the tree to produce healthier fruit. After pruning, we spray a light mineral oil that is compatible with organic gardening – no fungicide or herbicide. The oil coats the branches and seals it from mites and other bugs that might show up during the spring bloom.
For ideal conditions, trees should be dry with no foreseeable precipitation for at least 24 hours. Likewise, ideal temps should be close to freezing. Although in some areas, you may be able to prune as late as April as long as the trees have not sprouted leaf buds.
This past winter was a real challenge because it was so wet. Our continuous days of snow and freezing rain made it nearly impossible to get out and take care of the trees. Finally, with dry weather and temperatures still below 40, we found a perfect day in March.
While pruning is not that hard with the right tools, it helps to know what you want to accomplish with the trimming. A fruit tree continues to grow throughout the year, producing new shoots from its limbs. Unless these shoots have fruit buds, they need to be pruned off. Otherwise, they divert nourishment from the branches that have fruit. Pruning helps direct the nutrients from the tree trunk to branches with fruit.
Likewise, the shape of the tree can determine how productive and healthy the harvest will be. There are several schools of thought about this, but we prefer to prune the center lead (trunk) out. This helps the outer branches spread out and grow into an umbrella shape. The open center allows more air circulation and sunlight into the remaining branches, which helps blooming. This approach also makes it easier to harvest – as the outer branches bear fruit, they tend to bend down, making it easier to reach. Proper pruning can help shape a tree into ideal production.
You will often see a mature fruit trees laden with fruit at the very top branches. This makes the fruit nearly inaccessible when the tree hasn’t been pruned regularly. We had a few mature trees on our property when we moved in four years ago. They were overgrown with misshapen branches that criss-crossed inside the canopy. This not only creates a tangled mess, it also invites bugs and disease. And, of course, the harvest was lacking.
So, two winters ago, we did a dramatic pruning that cut back many of the thick, older branches, and opened up the centers. It is a scary proposition and, again, counterintuitive because it looks like the tree will die from all that major surgery. Plus, trees often appear to “suffer” because they will skip a year in production as they recover. However, after a major pruning, trees usually bounce back, and are healthier for it.
And that was the case with our trees – there were no apples last summer. But spring weather has brought tons of flowering fruit buds, and the trees are thriving. Plus, this summer, as the lower branches fill out, the fruit will be a lot easier to reach. Next winter, we will able to return to light pruning.
So don’t be afraid to trim your trees after you’ve determined how you want them to look. Regular pruning and dormant spray will keep them healthy and producing for years.
If you’d like to hear more about life in the country, with Nature as Neighbors, write or give us a call.
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If you’d like to learn more about our Save The Bees campaign, give us a call. We’d love to hear what you’re doing to help preserve our little earth-friendly friends.