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Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Pruning Season

Spring must be on the way as the tempo of farm life is beginning to pick up after a long winter's rest.

Eugene has been pruning the apple trees. It does not appear that these trees have been properly pruned in decades, if ever. Nature has done some pruning on her own via high winds and periodic cicadas but nature tends to leave the detached limbs in the trees which is counter productive. we have 2 huge old trees that need pruning and it looks like Eugene will get about 50% of the work done this season that needs to be done to these trees. He would do all the work this year but one is not supposed to cut out more than 50% of the tree (and 1/3 is a much better figure) ever and these trees need about 75% of their branches removed to be healthy trees that let in enough air and light for the developing pommes.

Now I don't see the use of doing anything to these trees as long as there are mature eastern red cedars within 10' of the trees. Apples and Cedars do not get along at all. Cedars pass a disease call cedar apple rust to apple trees making the apple trees sick enough to not grow fruit and in extreme cases drop all their leaves by July. There is also the fact that we have no idea what kind of apples these trees produce (red of some sort for one and I don't remember what the other had on it last fall). for commercial purposes it would be nice to know what we are growing and selling.

The plan is to get disease resistant trees for our future tiny orchard (we plan on getting 7 to 10 trees total) so we do not have to resort to incredibly toxic sprays in order to get a decent looking crop (since people tend to buy with their eyes). our own trees will also have the advantage of not being neglected for decades and thus will be super simple to prune and care for compared to the trees already here.

We have already been through the experience where we had to rehab someone else's apple trees. It was a good learning experience and one of the things we learned is in order to make any money on apples (and there is a thin margin with this crop because a full orchard takes a lot of time grooming the trees-pruning, spraying, etc., and a lot of money for all the sprays used on conventional apples) one needs trees that do not need a lot of spraying and pruning. But if you take over neglected trees that is exactly what you will get into for years and years. After 11 years at the old farm we got the apple trees into really good healthy shape and did not have to do much to them in the spring as far as pruning went but in the early years it took weeks and weeks to get 8 trees pruned because they needed so much work and than just to get any apples we had to spray the trees (with organic sprays) weekly for a couple of years. After figuring out that apples did not make us much money for all the work involved we stopped spraying the trees more than a couple of times a years and found they apples were about the same and we made more money from them when we did less work. I mean one year we grossed about $300 from the apples but we probably put 250 hours in to the care of the apples so we ended up making well under a buck an hour when the inputs costs were subtracted from the gross.

So Eugene prunes the old apple trees and improves them. And this will mean we get some heirloom apples of unknown types while the new trees (which have yet to be selected or bought) grow to maturity over the next 3 to 5 years. They are some really nice old trees with a swell canopy of branches set behind the barns along an old fence line and towering over the possible chert outcropping. they have created a nice work space and possibly the place where the packing shed will be.

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