Wednesday, January 16, 2013

March 2011
Now the spraying begins, well maybe it's a bit early.

Lots of snow in 2011

The weather was not moderating. the snow was deep. The pruning continued. Mid month we entered silver tip which is the point at which the buds break. the movement of the weather is grueling. Lloyd is finishing up the pruning and removing overhanging oak branches that are shading the buds on the apple trees. the average temperature is in the low thirty’s right above freezing. Mid month we started an attempt at IPM monitoring. This monitoring for pests is a mysterious look at the changing life cycle stages of an insect. There are light traps (500$) But there is no electricity at the orchard. Sticky yellow cards, sticky red cards, white cards. which pest is attracted to which colored paper and what they look like when the bug sticks to the trap. Supposedly I am monitoring the over wintering pests in March. When I catch a bug on the sticky paper no one seems to know what they are. These are some of the challenges of monitoring for insects.
winter apple bud

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Feb 2011                                                 

February: The snow is deeper now , but with snow shoes you can walk on top of the snow. For pruning this raises you up and puts you into the upper branches of a semi dwarf apple tree. The snow seemed about 3 feet deep. It's made it easy to prune. With snowshoes on, you don't break through the snow and up in the branches they are in easy reach and the cuttings can be dragged on top of the snow to a pile.
In early spring, Lloyd Wright a twenty five year apple tree expert came on the scene. He asked me why I was removing certain branches. He felt the trees had a large tolerance for oozing black cancor and borer wood damage on the main trunk. He wanted to see shade covering cut branches like bandages. He did pruning like a surgeon and only removed the right branches. My sister and I had hacked back 1/2 of the branches on the tree. And then further proceeded to cut out the fledgling new growth which may have been the apple fruit for the following years. So with Lloyd as our guide, we reduced our pruning to removing the mostly end branches that over laid and shaded the buds beneath them. Prune correctly and watch the miracle. Well maybe.

Please note:  These are notes from the 2011 season. Through the course of the years we hope to learn how to prune fruit trees.

Pruning some Apple Tree Varieties Jan 2013


     Pruning of the 550 apple trees is in progress.   It has been two years since my last post and all that
time has been spent working, wondering if it's just an ego trip to want to be a farmer, my pride wounded by constant setbacks,  and trying to figure out how to make a living at such an occupation.  Well so far no income, but lots of expenses. But I'm still at it and so are the trees and all the bugs and other pests that get involved in the process.
    The first three years were spent renovating the trees, which had been overgrown with bittersweet, bind weed and poison ivy.  The branches were all twisted and tied up in vines.   So extensive over
pruning took place.   And the trees which are about 20 years old and had been trained in an open
vase shape (to accommodate pick your owners) now have central leaders or central leaders in training.   But quite frankly pruning seems like trying to tame earthworms.   Well whatever.
   So the trees last year bore no fruit.   It was possibly due to the late winter, early spring, spring drought, insect infestation or maybe pruning.  So this year the pruning has been handled with a
new approach.  After reading a famous Frenchman (   )  training plan for fruit trees we will try his
methods.   He recommends letting the tree develop naturally according to its genetic growth habit.
Some apple trees grow all their branches upright other apple varieties tend to have a more weeping habit, or some are wide spreading (like the Gravenstein's  I know). Use very little cutting, bend branches to a horizontal position and do not cut any tips off of any branches seems to be some of his
main pruning techniques.   Now pruning is an art and you cannot learn it in a year or two or in a month.  But just to describe some of the varieties of trees that I ran into today and what their growth habits are is what will follow.
    The first tree was a Gravenstein.   It seems like a huge tree 20 ft wide by 15 ft tall.   The older branches seem to want to lean on the ground and hang very low.  Apple wood is very flexible so
during the apple season the apples bend the branches with their weight.   But from previous over
pruning the apple tree has sent up many new upright branches (suckers).   So with the new technique
these branches were bent underneath other branches.  A few were cut.  These were totally upright with no fattened fruit buds on them.   The  other cut branches were just to thick of a branch growing
on too small of a branch.    But the beautiful gravenstein with many central leaders looked almost the
same after training as before, as it is a massive tree with many branches and the vigourous ability to grow many more.
    The Cortland is a different shape with thin branchlets at the end of branches.  The branchlets weep after having borne apples the previous year all around their trips.   There are mummies all over the trees.  These are shriveled up tiny apples that never grew and never fell off the tree.   Why the Cortlands want to hold on to the mummies is inexplexible as the mummies are full of black spot fungus and spread it to the new growth in the following years.   Winter Banana apples also have this tendancy.   The bark is smooth on a Cortland and is one way to identify this variety of apple tree.  The tree sends up a small amount of new suckers and seems to need very little pruning.
      Well that's it for this day as I can only prune for 3 hours before needing to go home and take a nap.

Jan 2011: 

It was a snowy year. The snow covered the ground by 1 foot by early January. The pruning was started. It was bitter cold and the snow had formed a crust. There really isn't much to see in an orchard in the winter except branches. Although the place is covered with bugs. The plum curculio over winters in surrounding hedges and stone walls. There are scale, cocoons, and eggs over wintering on the trunk, under the bark and on the smallest branches. The temperature was always in the twenty's or thereabouts. The crisp cool air combined with the blue sky and white snow is open air space to breathe in.

Just some background about the orchard. It is owned by the state and leased to Bird of the Hand farm. There are 550 trees in the orchard. The orchard is about twenty years old. The trees are various ages. One man, Roland Morin was living his dream and cleared 7 acres of forest trees from a n oak and pine woodlot that abutted a commercial orchard of about 300 acres, the Blanchard Orchard. That Blanchard orchard was well know for it's high quality New England variety apples that were shipped all over the county. Over the last twenty years a lot has happened. The Blanchard Orchard is now out of business and totally overgrown for at least 15 years as of this writing. This is a shame as Mr Blanchard had a specialized root stock specifically for the McIntosh apple. And he grew some of the best. But back to Roland, he gave up tending his 4 acres of apple trees and sold the land to the state as the land is in the watershed area of the Boston water supply. So here we have two abandoned orchard properties. The economics of orcharding are not sustainable in Massachusetts at the moment.
Roland devoted all his life's energy into cutting down every tree and clearing this land. Unless some are familiar with the process the removal of the giant weeds, ietrees, in our lush temperate rainforest is one onerous task. Roland with his used tractor made his orchard. The varieties are mainly McIntosh, Cortland, and Red Delicious. These varieties were inter planted to allow the best pollination of the flowers. There are another 15 varieties of apples and pears interspersed throughout the orchard. Due to economic issues Roland sold the orchard to the state. When we came upon the orchard it had been abandoned for about 7 years. In that small amount of time the orchard had been totally overgrown with bittersweet, pine trees, poison ivy, and barberry. The growth of these weeds was amazing. The limbs of the apple trees were bent and twisted according to the vines growth habits. But the apple trees are extremely resilient. The trees want to put out apples even after the vines were cut off and the trees restoratively pruned. Just to point out the vitality of an apple tree. We had to learn how to light a fire to burn the prunings. So much life (water) was held in the aged pruning debris, that it was impossible to light a fire and burn them.
This was in 2008 , enter my sister and I. Armed with uber optimism and the idyllic view of nature we undertook to show the world that organic apple growing is possible in New England. With a background in traditional and organic landscaping and plant propagation it just seemed like there must be a chemically cleaner way to raise apples. The pruning of the trees was our first dose of reality. What started as an idyllic dream is an experience of total devotion and awe at the strength and complexity of nature.
Now armed with a tempered view of apple growing, is it possible to grow organic apples? It is possible to grow organic apples in New England? Is it possible to grow organic in our ecologically damaged world? Well that is what we are about to find out.

Please note this information from two years ago, but with being a busy farmer/landscaper but not a good computer operator, these files had been lost for the two years.   So here's to a New Year's resolution to be more organized on the computer and I hope to update the blog more frequently.   Thanks for taking the time to read this.