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Wednesday, February 25, 2009

It's Pruning Time

Things are heating up here at the farm. The snow is gone and, at least today, the weather is warm and that means we are getting busy pruning trees and raspberries. Pruning is amazingly important, without proper pruning trees and brambles cannot produce as well as they do when pruned. Pruning gets rid of dead and diseased material as well as branches that cross each other and opens up the plants to sunlight and air. After we are done pruning than we will spray dormant oil on everything to kill scale, aphids, mealybugs and other pests. Than lime sulfur is sprayed on the trees to control various fungi. After that we quit spraying and wait for the trees to flower and the bees to come and pollinate the flowers. Than we hang sticky traps which we make from orange plastic sleeves our in which daily newspaper is delivered covered with this waterproof sticky stuff called Tangle Foot. These sticky traps catch coddling moths, curculios and other fruit pests (we also use them for keeping arugula and eggplant free of flea beetles). they also will catch beneficial insects such as bees which is why we wait until after the flowers are gone to hang them. We even will bag some of the fruit (Martha Stewart had a segment on bagging fruit). It is the most effective organic way to keep everything off of the apples but it is also amazingly labor intensive so we never do more than about 5%. We simply do not have the time to bag several thousand pommes and pears and plant 3 acres in produce in the spring. And since apples are not our main crop, by any means, we get a bit slack with the bagging.

Eugene does most of the tree pruning. I have a fear of heights so will not climb way up into the trees (and we have 2 old apples that are 30'+ tall) and because i am not a man and do not have the upper body strength of one I cannot use the saw and cutters on the long extension for more than 10 minutes at a time. Nor can I control the extension well so it takes me several minutes to make a single cut. in that same time Eugene will make about 10 cuts.

So I get bramble duty. I started in on the red raspberries today and got about 30% done before my hand got too sore and stiff to use the pruners. I have applied arnica and heat and by Friday I should be able to continue my task. I would continue tomorrow except we have a big vet appointment in the morning that should take a few hours (3 dogs and a cat all going to the vet) and it is supposed to rain all day on top of that. I think I will need the time to heal my hand.

We grow two kinds of red raspberries, Latham, a summer bearing plant and Heritage, an everbearing type that we make into a fall bearing crop by cutting down all the canes in late winter. The Latham are a bit more complex to prune but by no means rocket science. What I am doing with the Latham berries is first going in and taking out all the dead canes and any live canes that have crept too far out of their bed. If I leave these in they will by summer grow into the aisle way making raspberry harvest difficult as well as making it difficult to deal with the crop in the beds immediately to the east of the raspberries (4 of them). I cut the canes as close to flush with the ground as I can with a pair of anvil pruners (I do not like the offset kind as much). After I get the dead stuff out, I look at the canes and remove any that are not straight and any that are crossing other canes. The goal is to leave 5 to 7 canes per foot. The cut canes are removed from the area and either will be composted or burned. We are leaning towards burning now that we have found mealy bugs and some sort of white scale on some of the canes.

Once the raspberry canes have been cleaned out we will go back and take out any small, misshapened or crossing canes we missed before and also cut about 10% off of the top of the canes (between 4" and 7" depending on the size of the cane) as this allows the plants to make larger fruit. After that they will be sprayed with dormant oil and mulched with cedar chips (these are acidic and raspberries like an acid soil) and either straw (expensive) or grass clippings (free). than we wait for the canes to leaf out, bloom and than make berries. Last year we had an incredible bumper crop and were when the season was over for the Latham we had harvested over 26 gallons, one 1/2 pint at a time. I really doubt we will have such a great crop this year, but you never know.

So for the next couple of weeks we will be pruning trees and brambles. Than it will be about time to start transplanting onions and leeks which is pretty much like planting several thousand blades of grass one blade at a time. It's a pretty Zen job if you have your head in the right place.

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