Our crew of 4 guys has been busily pruning since November. Every tree gets pruned every year, a process that takes five to six months, depending on how many staff we have during the winter. While it doesn’t take that long to prune an individual tree, pruning 35,000 individual trees takes all winter, one tree at a time, row by row.
Pruning is the start of another cycle of fruit production on the farm since it is through pruning that we work to have the trees capture as much sunlight as possible and to have fruit throughout the tree. We can also use pruning to adjust the crop load so that the trees don’t overproduce fruit.
Just like the differences in kids from the same family, every variety of apples, pears, peaches and cherries are similar but different. They all have slightly different growth habits, fruiting types and personalities. Stocky, lanky, big, small, quick and slow growing, wanting to fruit or not, and some are just downright stubborn. A good pruner has a big goal in mind as they approach the tree, but then adjusts what gets pruned to the idiosyncrasies of that variety or even that tree. So, much of the work is repetitious, but each tree needs to be thought about individually in order to do a good job.
The quiet days in the orchard are punctuated by the engine noise of the tractor, the din of the compressor and the “pffff” of the pneumatic pruning shears throughout the rows of fruit. Some of the smaller trees—short with small diameter wood will be pruned with hand shears, but all other trees will be pruned with the air shears. This process is more efficient and allows for much of the pruning to be completed from the ground. Ladders are still used with the air shears, but with a pruning shear that reaches five to six feet high, much of the ladder use is left for the very top of the trees.
Currently, we are pruning the apples, after starting with pears last fall. By spring, our crew will finish with plums, cherries and peaches. After four months of snipping branches, and 35,000 trees later, they are usually quite ready to put down the shears and move onto other work! Of course, the next job in a good year is thinning – nearly every tree. 1, 2, 3…35,000.