4 August 2012

Growing great fruit trees

We have quite a lot of fruit trees growing on our small section. Sixteen, to be exact. Four of them were here when we moved in, and we planted the rest. So today I attended a fruit pruning workshop at a local garden, Locavore. I was keen to learn how to get more and better quality fruit from our trees.

One of Locavore's market garden plots. The chickens are kept out of the garden in a separate area to the rear, which you can see if you click on the photo.
With just five of us at the workshop, there was plenty of time to ask questions. We did some hands-on pruning, and learnt a lot, especially:
- pruning can stimulate a lot more fruit production. It makes the tree think something's eating it and it might be about to go through its last season, so it had better hurry up and reproduce as much as possible.
- keep the centre of the tree clear, and look for about 4 strong branches to grow outwards to make a vase shape. A crowded tree has less airflow, which makes it more susceptible to disease.
- trim off anything that looks diseased. I've read this many times, but when diseased and even dead bits were actually pointed out to me, I realised that I see those quite often on our trees and ignore them!
- if there are crossed-over branches, delete one of them. The fruit will rub.
- branches growing straight up in the air don't fruit as well as those leaning on a 45o angle (something to do with the hormone distribution I think). It's preferable to keep branches with a slight angle, because once they get leaves on them they will be slightly heavier and may lean over a bit further. Keep the straight bits you prune off as stakes for peas etc.
- be reasonably gentle to the tree by trying to only prune 1/3 of it at a time.
- rub pruning paste onto big cuts (they used this one from local company Earthwise Organics - at least I think it was but it looked different).

The workshop was run by Alison and Burton, who run Locavore, and we were entertained by their two little girls, who just scampered about us causing no problems whatsoever.

Although it's only early August, some blossom was starting to break on the plum trees, and there was a hen with chicks! Mother hens are so, well, motherly, and comforting to watch. With a hen and chicks about, life is good, I think.

Deirdre ushering her babies around the orchard.

One last great tip: Alison is a plum enthusiast and she said her favourite plum in New Zealand is Angelina Burdette. I have to have one. One of the best things I got out of today was how it is sensible to prune your trees so they stay small enough for you to pick all the fruit from ground level. Yay - that means I can fit in even more!

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