Pruning an Organic Home Orchard

Franklin Penny (as we’ve decided to call her) organised a fantastic workshop that came at just the right time for us. Over the past 12-13 years we’ve planted and pruned fruit trees with varying degrees of success in our garden. Some trees have been persistent problems, others just settled comfortably into their shape and produce fruit year after year. Chris Steenholdt was ‘Expert in Residence’ and Penny’s young fruit trees were the working examples.
Wisdom:

  • Horizontal wood will produce fruit – always good to reinforce this one.
  • Decide what final shape and size you want for the tree and prune accordingly. Chris kept asking Penny – ‘do you want fruit this year?’
  • Remove shoots growing into the middle of the tree. Better ventilation, fewer disease problems, more sunlight on leaves and fruit.
  • Apples, pears and quinces may have fruit buds at the end of shoots – leave these on and the resulting fruit will bend the whippy new growth over.
  • You can tie or weight down young growth to encourage your chosen shape and horizontal (=fruiting) wood. *See note below
  • Mulch, mulch and more mulch. Collar rot is really only an issue with citrus. You can mulch up to the graft union.
  • Spray – Chris sprays his commercial organic orchard with organic approved sprays three times per year. Copper and winter oil sprays are the key for leafy diseases and overwintering bugs. Various dusts (sulphur, lime, pyrethrum) can be used on cherry/pear slug.
  • Careful placement of underplantings, especially in the early years. Not too close to rootzones.
  • Codlin moth can be thwarted through a combination of controls – including planks of wood bound together to create larvae/ cocoon habitat. You do have to remember to remove them and kill the little critters, and then put the traps back.
  • Massively fertile soil will lead to more vegetative growth, and less fruit. Case in point our bottom apricot alongside the old chookshed.
  • stumps from pruning where you get a bit of dead wood before the next shoot should be trimmed off to minimise dieback problems.

We both came away feeling more confident we can rejuvenate some existing trees and take care of planned new plantings this winter.

Reflections on past pruning and training in our garden:

  • Gala Apple we kept short and trained some young growth to be horizontal. It has reliably fruited each year. New growth mainly happens from the middle of the tree and we could perhaps spread some of this out rather than trimming back as we have been doing.
  • Williams Pear has lots and lots of fruiting spurs. It looks crazily congested but we got a mass of fruit from it this year. There is one strong vertical in the middle we could remove which would open the tree a bit.
  • Granny Smith Apple is a bit confusing to look at. It doesn’t have lots of horizontals at waist to eye height, so we might try and encourage that more. Some of the higher growth would be tricky to reach when it fruits.
  • The yellow plum is on notice – Robin admitted he didn’t really like it’s fruit. I admitted we get so little fruit I’m not sure if I like it although I have some faint memories of golden juicy plums. It got a vicious prune last year as it had got away from us a little. The new growth provoked by that looks useful and could do with thinning out.
  • The garage apples both look good overall. The Jonagold is slightly confusing with some good looking growth, which is perhaps just a little too high to be useful.
  • Apricot pruning needs to be done as soon after harvest as possible while the sap is still active. We always have left it too late. We figure it’s best to leave most of the pruning until it flowers and the sap is moving again.
  • Espaliers need to be sturdy and built to last under tension. Not a learning so much from Sunday’s workshop as a note for future reference.
  • We’ve got better over the years in choosing our trees and the dwarf cherries we put in the front yard last year are a great shape, we rotated them so the direction of growth fitted with existing paths and all is looking well for this year. Older and wiser.

Note to self – when you come home and wander around your own fruit trees, don’t try too hard to see how far over the nashi pear can be coaxed. Bits will rip off in your hands.

Fruit Harvesting Doohickey. Not to Scale

Crazy idea #143: Make a fruit harvesting stick – an extendable painters pole with a doohickey at the end for coaxing fruit off. So that you don’t have to keep taking the fruit out of a container at the end of the stick, make a tube of semi-frictiony fabric to slow down the fruit’s journey into a bucket. Last year I made a similar device out of the kitchen broom, a small round plastic container and masking tape. It was very useful for getting at the high white peach by standing on the back stairs and leaning over the railing. Original source of idea – the mango harvesting stick Dad made in Cairns. Saved many a mango from the fruit bats. The idea was refreshed and the tube side of it came from staring at the pears 8 foot up the old pear trees in the public paddock across the road.

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