Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Funguses: Apple Scab

Apple scab is something we all know. The picture to the left is an apple tree in a suburban setting. It is on the border line of the property between two neighbors. One of the neighbors is an apple orchard. The tree is semi ornamental, as it puts on a display of flowers in the spring. It doesn't bear any fruit as the fruit is all so diseased that they fall from the tree. It is also not pruned for apple production. The tree may be anywhere between 75- 25 years old. It is part of a screen and is doing the best job it can in spite of all the obstacles against it growing healthily. This is the curse and the triumph of the apple tree in our suburban Massachusetts.

But here is what has happened to it in relation to fungus.

Monday, January 25, 2010

The orchard had to be rejuvenated. 550 apple trees had not been touched for 5 years. The apple trees were covered with bittersweet, poison ivy, and grape vine. The trees might have a smattering of walnut sized apples growing on the trees. We started pruning back the trees in late summer. So our task was to begin pruning to allow the apple trees to bear apples. This is what we learned.

The goal was to clean up the trees. To remove the bittersweet we cut the vine at the base and than cut it periodically along the vine almost every three feet to be able to pull it out of the trees.
At that point we couldn't always remove all the vines before pruning, so we proceeded with pruning the trees.

There are seven basic rules of pruning which will be listed below. But for our purposes here, we had to remove all dead, diseased and crossed branches. After this we had to think of our eventual goal of having fruit grow on the trees.
Sunlight is the friend of apples. To have your apple tree bear fruit you need to get sunlight in the branches of the trees. New growth also needs to be promoted because this is where the new fruit buds will be developed. Sunlight turns buds into fruit buds. Fruit buds are the fat buds. Pruning should allow sun light to enter the tree. Shade is the enemy, fruit buds will not develop in the shade and neither will apples. Pruning stimulates new shoots which produce fruit buds the following year and bear fruit the next year. So even while you are just trying to clean up the tree by pruning, stimulating new growth is also important.

The Seven Commandments of Pruning Apple Trees: (Complete in this order)

1. Remove 2 or 3 of the largest limbs in the top two thirds of the tree.

2. Use the 2 to 1 rule Remove any limb that is half the diameter or larger than the central leader or trunk of the tree. A branch of this size chokes out the leader not allowing the tree to develop optimal fruiting. Use bevel cuts to remove these limbs (Cut branch at angle, do not make cuts parallel to the sky).

3. Avoid heading cuts-cut the entire branch back at the stem that it comes from.

4. Avoid complex branches in the lower 1/3 of the tree. As branches on the lower part of the tree get older and bigger they develop additional branches. This is what we call a complex branch. Remove them where possible.

5. Remove downward hanging branches. They get too much shade and do touch the ground if they happen to get fruit.

6. Remove most shoots that are growing straight up. Leave some shoots to become the new growth.

7. Leave one shoot as a central leader-do not prune it.

These are the rules that will help sunshine to fall on all your branches, to encourage new growth, which is future apples, and to improve air circulation for fungusy disease protection.

A Bit of Background about Sterling

Today January 25th 2009 is a rainy day and their will be no work on the farm. Looking back on all the work that the orchard requires, my sister and I will continue to work the orchard. The initial idea was to have a nursery to grow perennials and seeds. We did not have any land, so we started to look for land. Oh, and of course we did not have any cash hanging around. Seeing that an acre of land in our area is about $50,000 and up, we were quickly looking at properties with falling down houses that may have a 1/4 acre of land with it. Even those properties were too expensive. So we investigated the prospect of leasing lands. The positive side is that there are no taxes and if you have no money the price is right. There is a wide range of prices that someone will lease land to you for. We found that existing farmers that had acres of unused property were reluctant to tie up their land with two girls saying they wanted to be farmers.
The town of Sterling is a former agricultural town. Up until the 1950's people that lived here grew enough quantity and variety of foods to feed themselves and their neighborhoods. Sterling is knoNew Postwn for its apple orchard, and still has many working orchards. Since that time Sterling has gradually transformed to a bedroom community. There is much undeveloped land. Some of that land is private property discontinued farms that the owners look to selling off part of it for development. Some of this private unfarmed land is put into agricultural preservation, where the development rights of the property are given to the state in exchange to money for the farmer. This type of land can from that point on only be used for agricultural purposes. A larger proportion of privately owned lands have been subdivided and developed as homes with a quarter of an acre to 5 acre plots. The town has retained the look of its agricultural past , but the majority of people commute from their homes to jobs in other cities and communities.
In Sterling now, there are no large supermarkets. To do a shopping, people have to drive to another community. There is no pharmacy, there is one hardware store and one Dunkin Donuts coffee shop. The coffee shop is in a small newer strip mall, along with a dance studio, a hair salon, a coin shop, and a convenience store. There is another small market/convenience store in the center of town. Sterling is a town for commuters.