Sunday, 29 January 2012

january work in the orchard

No orchard's the worse for the wintriest storm;
But one thing about it, it mustn't get warm.
"How often already you've had to be told,
Keep cold, young orchard. Good-bye and keep cold.

Dread fifty above more than fifty below."

From Good-Bye, and Keep Cold by Robert Frost

This has been a warm winter so far. Not good for apple trees who want a good cold spell at this time of year. Pruning trees today, some buds were already swelling.

But the mild weather has helped orchard owners this weekend.

We’ve moved ten cordoned apples and pears from the allotment and you can see the first six apple trees in their new homes. The cordons will form a boundary between the orchard and the vegetable garden.
Our thin soil has been enriched with well-rotted manure, compost and wood ash. I hope to give each little tree a topcoat of well-rotted manure as a final mulch.

Next week I hope to move four cordoned apples from Rogers garden, buy more posts and establish a second line of eight cordons set back to provide a hidden, staggered entrance to the orchard.

In the orchard, we’ve given the apple trees the first pruning they have had in years. Being submerged by bramble and blackthorn has not helped these neglected trees and our annual pruning will take at least three years to achieve the results we want. No more than 25% of the branches on each tree should be removed in any year. If a greater proportion is removed, the tree will produce masses of ‘water shoots’ that are unhelpful and leggy twigs.

The perfect apple tree has an open goblet of branches allowing air and light into the centre of the plant. Folklore says that you should be able to throw a hat through the branches of the well-pruned tree.

We also wanted to reduce the height of our trees. Apples are no use if they are too high to be picked!

The mountain of pruned branches was dragged away, but we harvested many twigs (or scions) that we intend to keep cool until we graft them onto new root stocks.

We hope to keep two good old trees from the orchard we have taken over, but we intend to remove the other, less healthy specimens and replace them with more manageable dwarf trees that only grow to head height.

The trees we remove will live on in dwarf form. Their twigs (the scions) will be grafted onto the stems of dwarf root stock trees just as they are about to awake. With luck, these scions will grow to produce vigorous new fruit trees in around three to five years.

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