While you might think winter is a slow time on the farm - you'd be surprised. Winter is full of projects we don't have time to do during the busy fruiting season. One of the biggest tasks during the fall and winter is pruning. This essential chore helps ensure that our trees are happy and healthy for the season ahead.
Driving by the farm you will see our tree crew making their way through the last blocks of stone fruit trees that need pruning before the upcoming budding season.
One of the key tools for pruning fruit trees are orchard ladders. Like a normal ladder they have steps you can climb up on one side but on the opposite side, there is a single pole for support.This pole can be placed close to the tree's trunk so a person can reach the top and interior parts of the tree without disturbing the branches, leaves or fruit. Since orchard ladders only have three points of contact on the ground, instead of four like a normal ladder, they are a little tricky to use - especially while holding a sharp pair of pruning shears. It definitely takes a lot of skill and strength to use one safely and efficiently.
Once up in the tree the pruning fun begins! There are lots of reasons for pruning and many techniques that vary from farm to farm and tree to tree. Three important reasons to prune are:
- Remove Dead Wood - Broken or old branches will die off every year as they age or get damaged. This dead wood can act as an entrance point for insects and disease so pruning helps keep trees healthy and disease-free.
- Ventilation & Light - Trees love fresh air and sunshine as much as we do! Pruning branches that might block airflow once they have new leaves help make sure little spores from nasty pathogens like Rust Fungus and Brown Rot don't get the moist, still and dark environment they need to thrive.
- Focus the Tree's Energy - Each year an individual tree will have a finite amount of time and nutrients to grow bigger and ripen fruit. By moderately pruning some branches we can help trees concentrate the tree's energy and nutrients to make better fruit. Like most things, it comes down to quality over quantity. By growing less fruit the tree can make that fruit bigger and better. Part of pruning well is striking a balance between having enough leaves, which create energy from the sun, to support healthy growth while not stretching nutrients and water too thin.
Pruning is important and we're so thankful for the skilled crew that is getting it done now so we can enjoy more wonderful fruit this summer! But don't worry, all of the hard work that went into growing those branches is not wasted. Trimmings head to our compost pile to help enrich the orchard's soil again the next season.