Pruning~ February 7th, 2013

By February 7, 2013 Farm News

Pruning has begun.  In truth, pruning began in November, about when the last apple was picked. We have about 35,000 trees on the farm and every tree has to be pruned every year. I believe there is a notion out there that fruit farmers have”down time” in the winter.  Compared with the barely managed chaos of harvest, winter does seem a little like “down time”.  However, pruning 35,000 trees takes time–and not much of that time can be “down” if we want to get our trees pruned before bloom time begins in the spring.

We have a crew of four guys this year who march out into the orchard no matter sun, rain, or snow, and prune for 8 hours a day.  I think of pruning as great training for lifting heavy boxes of fruit as most pruning is done above one’s head. I’m not sure our guys see it that way…

The goal of pruning is to maximize the amount of sun intercepted by the tree. Trees are handy in that they can convert sunlight into energy and then use that energy to produce fruit.  We think of our fruit trees as great solar collectors.  We prune to maximize the sunlight hitting all parts of the tree and also to balance the amount of fruit with the ability of the tree to hold all that fruit up.  We need young vigorous wood to grow fruit and old mature wood to hold up the tree.  Too much old wood and you create shade without enough fruiting area.  Too much young wood and the tree falls over.

Put another way, trees are kind of like people.  I think of young, new wood as Kindergartners;  they’re a little bit short and unfocused and have lots of energy.  They can be hard to manage, but without that wood in the tree, there is no youth that can later grow up.  As these branches get another year older, they become the young strapping kids that are strong and energetic and willing to take on the world.  Those are the limbs we want to grow fruit on.  Later, those strapping kids slow down (they also tend to get larger around the middle) and get aches and pains and don’t want to work so hard.  Now, this may be hard to hear for all us middle agers out there, but in a tree, those limbs get cut out so that new Kindergartners can regrow.  Take heart, however, we keep a few middle agers because they have the wisdom to support the rest of the tree.  Too much wisdom and there aren’t any young kids.  Too many young kids and there is just chaos.  Balance is always a good thing.

Just like people, every fruit and even every variety has their own personality.  Some trees are naturally tall and gangly, others short and compact and everything in between.  Trees have been pruned for thousands of years, but put any two growers together with a pair of shears and you will come up with two different opinions about how to raise those kids.  We all know the science, but raising kids is also an art where you respond to each different personality – that includes the character of the tree as well as the character of the grower!  We prune pears first, then apples, then we wrap up with cherries, plums and peaches.  By the time the end of pruning season, the weather will warm and spring bloom will be in our sights. Then it will be on to frost season~a time when all bets are off.  So the next time you’re walking into your office, or apartment or wherever you may be, just think…this could be you…and you’d have really strong shoulders…

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