After a very tough winter, Spring Has Finally Arrived in my part of New England. I’m sure many of you who live in the northern portion of our country thought as I did, that winter weather was never going to end. Even though the calendar said it was spring, the cold temperatures and snow stayed around way too long. Heavy spring rains have finally melted the snow and a lone crocus has popped up in the middle of our front yard.
Because of the frigid temperatures and deep snow lasting so long this winter, our fruit trees became a food source for the deer that live in our area. I felt bad as I often watched deer, struggling in the frozen snow almost up to their stomachs, searching for something to eat in the midst of our many snowstorms.
Our orchard is usually pruned in the winter months while the apple and pears trees are dormant. With between two and three feet of snow on the ground during February and March, pruning was delayed this year. It has only been recently that the snow has melted and that I have been able to get out in our orchard to inspect the apple and pear trees.
Once I was able to walk through the orchard, I found that almost every one of the three hundred fruit trees had the ends of their branches nibbled off or worse yet, barked stripped from their lower branches. I find it enjoyable to watch things grow over the seasons but as a gardener or farmer, it is always a challenge when you have to deal with wild animals and see all the damage that they can cause.
Each year, an alternating part of our orchard is pruned to remove dead wood and any damage caused by animals and weather. This year there will definitely be more pruning than normal. Pruning is also done to maintain the size of the trees in the orchard and to maximize the amount of sun and air that gets into the trees because not all growth is a good when it comes to fruit trees.
Water sprouts are an example of new growth that crowds an apple tree with unwanted vertical branches that, when leafed out, will reduce sunlight and take energy away from the production of apples. If left in the tree, the end result could be that the tree produces a crop of small apples. By opening the canopy of the trees, leaves will be able to dry quickly which helps prevent fungal diseases and aids in the ripening of the forming fruit.
You have to be on a ladder to prune anything other than the lowest branches of a tree. My ladder, specially designed for working in an orchard, is tall and stable enough for me to reach safely into the tops of most of the trees in our front orchard where I am working now. Having said that, it can be a little daunting to be on the upper portion of the ladder with a large pair of bypass loppers or saw in my hands.
With that in mind, I leave the pruning of the tallest trees to helpers. Not only are they taller than my five foot height and can reach much further up into the large trees, they are also stronger for when a large chainsaw or pole saw is required to prune one of the apple trees. Even though I might know how to prune a tree better, I try to tell anyone helping me what a good job they are doing or I will be left to do it all myself.
At the end of a day of pruning, I may be scraped, sore, and tired as I head into the house to prepare dinner but there is always a great sense of accomplishment that I have readied some of the trees for another apple crop.
As I head back out the door to prune more trees, I’ll leave you with a photo of what I have to look forward to in the near future. Let’s see, I think it there are still about 275 more trees that could use a good pruning.
In a matter of weeks, the orchard will be filled with the sound of buzzing bees pollinating the beautiful apple and pear blossoms. That’s when I will definitely know that spring has finally arrived.