Of pruning and migrations

Today was dormant orchard pruning day at Rurikia. With over 20 trees it is usually better approached as an off and on activity a tree or two at a time over a few weeks as winter winds down, with each section of activity interrupted with leisurely breaks for tea and shear sharpening, but schedules were such that today was to be my only opportunity.

Foxwhelp was the first tree of the day. Fairly straightforward as it had been well pruned the last few years, so there were only a few snips to be made here or there to trim crossing branches, remove last year’s less-then-optimally placed new growth, etc..

Next came Duchess of Oldenburg and Golden Delicious. Both trees have good structure and had been more or less left alone the past couple of seasons, so while there was no major pruning to be done both needed the odd branch removed as well as general trimming to keep a good air and light balance in the canopy. And so it continued, some trees needing more attention, some less, until reaching Betsy Deaton.

My experience has been that Betsy Deaton is a very slow growing tree and has tended to develop new shoots rathar than extending old ones; as a result this was the first pruning since removing the deer cage installed at planting (which, while having the advantage of keeping the small tree from being eaten by the local deer, also generally precludes much in the way of maintenance). What awaited me was a twisted tangle of tree. At a foot above the ground, there were 4 distinct shoots with some branching rising to between 4 and 6 feet tall with a few smaller shoots present. Below that level there was all manner of convoluted growth connecting those shoots with a single root, and it became a riddle just what to do with the mess.

In the midst of contemplation, I was startled to hear a ruckus of bird calls. Looking up, I was able to make out a small V of sandhill cranes heading north. As I continued to watch, the V degenerated into a few smaller groupings which began to spiral around each other, sunlight glinting in white and gold off the wings as the birds continued to circle. Shortly after another V arrived and joined in, then another, and after a few minutes the entire circling pillar of birds formed up into one large V and resumed their northward course. From that point on the soundtrack of the day was backed by the calls of sandhill cranes overhead, though those following the initial group simply passed steadily on.

I would like to say that watching the cranes inspired me to a solution on Betsy Deaton, but there was no such luck. In the end I took what looked to be the best 2 combinations of tops and bottoms, trimmed away the rest, and hope that in the coming years I selected well.

Next on the row was Pomme Gris the younger. This tree had developed two trunks about 3 feet up, and by the time I fully noticed that it was not simply 2 shoots the tree had developed too far to just lop one off. Instead I have been progressively reducing the smaller of the two, and this year it was time to take it fully off. On completion of the initial cut I found I had a perfect base to start a cleft graft, so I headed over to the troubled Golden Russet, took a couple of watersprouts, and gave it a try. Since I had enough space I also tried a few other grafting techniques which came to mind. If they take I’ll be happy to have a dual variety tree, if not I only lost a few minutes of my time…

Aside from taking some watersprouts for grafting I generally left Golden Russet alone. I figure at this point the best way forward for a tree which has gone through root washout, severe drought, broken limbs from excessive fruit load followed by falling over due to the imbalance, then pulled back up by a rope tied to a truck and held in a somewhat vertical state by posts and strapping is to let the tree do what it wants to for the next few years until it has healed and stands up on it’s own. In terms of watersprouts, however, I spent hours trying to clear them from Porter’s Perfection, Claygate Pearmain, and Winter Banana.

Porter’s came by it’s watersprouts naturally. Following a >5 bushel year in 2013 which saw several branches break off despite props, and the trunk developing a notable lean, pruning was rathar severe in 2014 to try and limit cropping and re-establish a balanced tree. The result, as anticipated, was a sizable crop of watersprouts this year. I have previously experienced on this tree that when I dormant prune watersprouts more come in to take their place, so I intentionally only took about a third of them this time and plan on further reductions in the summer. Claygate accumulated it’s collection thanks to fairly heavy growing season pruning associated with a heavy bout of Fireblight, and I’m unsure why Winter Banana had so many; perhaps it is in someway related to the occurrence of brown rot that befell it’s apples (and oddly only it’s apples) last year.

Looking at the orchard at the end of the day I seemed noting had been done; luckily the brush pile told a very different story.

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