On Sunday I attended a fruit tree pruning workshop at Frey Vineyards in Redwood Valley, Ca. This was following a quarterly meeting of the Biodynamic association. Frey vineyards is an organic and biodynamic vineyard. Biodynamic farming is one of the philosophies of Rudolf Steiner an amazingly aware visionary. He was able to see energy and biodynamic gardening is all about respecting the “live-ness” of the soil and the growing environment. So much of our current gardening efforts are in dead soil. Even organic gardening might not be replenishing the natural organisms in the soil. This is why it’s so very important to compost your soil. Also to use animals with your farming efforts for their manures and other benefits.They also believe in innoculating your growing areas and compost with live culture.
Anyway this wonderful establishment hosted Hugh William from New York State an accomplished apple farmer. I read about this and the next two workshops on the Greenhorn Blog . This was really helpful since the South Coast of Mendocino seems to be somewhat removed from these farming happenings. Everyone should attend the next one Saturday January 15 2011 starting at The Apple Farm, Then Filigree Farms, 9:30am-4:30, lunch is optional and an extra, reasonable fee.
Hugh calls his method of pruning ” modified central leader pruning with renewal “. I’ve always been curious about how to central leader prune , being a open center pruner for 25 years. Hugh had a way to prune so fast and effectively, working with the natural growing habit of the trees. Once you see it, it seems so obviously a more intelligent way. Basically it leaves the central leader and initially three other structural branches filling the four quadrants around the tree. These do not get “headed back” but instead only a few oversized and very vertical shoots are “thinned”. The weight of fruit brings those branches, the structural branches and the thin fruiting branches down into a beautiful arched shape.Then in the ” renewal” part you have to see that the small branches coming off the central trunk, will eventually take over the other structural branches as they age. Hugh recommends replacing old fruiting spurs. That spurs produce well for about three years then a newer healthy branch will take over production and the older branch removed. This is the renewal concept. There are no higher ” tiers” in his system if a branch is shading a branch below it, it needs to be considered for removal.Maybe not this year, trying to only cut the essentials out not opening the tree up too quickly to light. Instead always keeping in mind light shade on all branches.
Thinning the fruit is very , very important. Twenty days after full bloom to thirty days is the optimum time period for this thinning. Thin down to ONE !!! Reducing the amount of potential fruit about 80-90%. This makes healthy large fruit and the tree is not working as hard to support a huge family of baby apples. The tree is then more likely to produce fruit yearly not every other year.