Thursday, March 23, 2017

Heritage Apples: A Day on the Farm

This weekend we focused on the orchard.  I am not quite done pruning but decided to go ahead and spray the orchard with dormant oil.  All the trees are in such a hurry to bloom, I needed to get the spray on.  It was already too late for apricots and plums.  I will eventually finish up the pruning.

My hubby getting the spray ready.

Planting Some Heritage Apple Trees

Every year while pruning I regret having so many trees, but I quickly forget when catalogs come.  I ordered 3 more heritage apples to add to the orchard.  So I have 25 total fruit trees.  I will say you need to be committed to produce good fruit. These trees require a lot of care and attention.

I like purchasing bare root trees rather than potted.

I love the history behind heritage apple trees. I already have a Black Arkansas and Ashamed Kernel.   The Black Arkansas originated in 1870.  Ashamed Kernel is at the top of the list of the apple connoisseur for best tasting apple.  It has a drab russeted appearance and is from England around 1720.

I planted 3 new trees:  Spitzenberg, Yellow Newton Pippin, and a Belle de Boskoop (Don't you just love that name!).  I am so excited to add them to the orchard.

Known to be one of two of Thomas Jefferson's favorite apples.  He planted 32 of these at Monticello.

Yellow Newton Pippin.  A pippin was Jefferson's other favorite apple.  It originated in 1700 and was also George Washington's favorite dessert apple. I'm prepared to entertain the Founder's who were also avid gardeners.

When planting fruit trees, dig a hole big enough to accommodate the roots. Do not amend the soil.  Spread out the roots and cover.  Do not bury the graft union.  Fruit trees (scions) are grafted onto root stock and you can see the were they were grafted.  Water that is all that needs to be done the first year.  If you plant dwarf trees they will need to be staked in windy areas.

With all the work that needs to be done in early spring, don't forget to enjoy the beauty of the season.  Below is a Nanking Cherry I pruned as a small tree.  I have 3 of them and they are so gorgeous!  They are early spring bloomers and produce in June small tart cherries I juice for jellies and syrups.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Applying Dormant Oil

We are having a warm spell.  Perfect time to get work done in the orchard and yard and enjoy the sunshine.  Right now you should be focusing on two things:

1.   Pruning peaches, apricots, and sweet cherry (if needed). It is OK to prune them up to pre-bloom.  You have a little more time with apples and pears but they should be pruned also.
2.  Apply horticultural oil and/or copper now, or in the next few weeks to all woody plants including perennials, ornamentals, berries, shade and fruit trees.
Horticulture oil is the proper term for the oil.  It can be used as a dormant oil or a light summer oil.

Despite the fact that we call it “dormant oil”, the timing of a horticultural oil spray is not when trees are still dormant.  A better term would be a “delayed-dormant” because the oil should be applied after bud swell which results from the sap beginning to flow.  This just happens to coincide with the increased activity of the overwintering insect, such as aphid eggs, scale nymphs, and peach twig borer larvae.  The oil smoothers insect eggs and larvae.  It is effective against aphids leafhopper nymphs, mealybugs, mites, plant bug nymphs, psyllids, sawfly larvae, scale, thrips and the early stages of caterpillars.
 A young apple tree pruned and ready to spray.  This is a heritage variety:  Ashamed Kernel a cooking apple.

In my zone, some trees like plum and apricot have already bloomed but it is still ok to apply the oil to peaches, cherries, apples, and pears. 

When to Spray

There are a few factors  to consider when determining the right time to spray: the bud stages of your fruit trees and temperature.
Peach blossoms at pink tip stage.

Bud Stages

The window for application extends from bud swell to when leaves just start emerging. The last point at which you can safely apply oil is:
  • apple: half-inch green (ideally, application is made at green tip stage)
  • pear: cluster bud
  • apricot:  up to first bloom
  • cherry: white bud
  • peach/nectarine: pre-bloom (when the pink shows through the bud)
(Information from USU Extension)

Here is a link to pictures of the bud stages to help you identify what stage your buds are in.  It also includes information on critical temperatures for frost damage.

Plum tree blossoms already opening do not spray when flowers are blooming.


When using horticulture oil, the air temperature is important.  Horticultural oil should on be applied when the night time temperature will not be dropping below 45 degrees F.  This gives a 24 hours period of appropriate temperatures.

After pruning these blackberries,
I will spray them with dormant oil.

Types of Horticulture Oil

The active ingredient in organic dormant spray or horticulture oil is cotton seed oil. When the oil is dry it does not harm beneficial insects. 

 Non organic sprays may be petroluem based. 

This is a nanking cherry I pruned as a small tree.
Beautiful in full bloom.

Summary of Horticultural Oil Application

  • Trees need to be in the proper bud stages before spraying.  This is when the sap begins to flow and buds swell.

  • The temperature will stay above 45F for 24 hours

  •  Horticulture oil can be used as a light summer spray directly on foliage or as a dormant oil on the bark of ornamentals, berries, shade, and fruit trees.  The application rate is different for each use so follow manufactures instructions.

  • When spraying apple trees, if fire blight is a problem you can add copper
  • Make sure you thoroughly cover all cracks and crevices.  These harbor insects. This oil works by smothering insects and eggs so there must be direct contact with the spray.
Apricots are always to impatient to bloom and usually freeze.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Pruning Apples and Pears

Proper pruning increase the harvest.  The white powder is Kaolin clay an organic insect deterrant.

The goal of pruning is to improve the health, fruit yield, and appearance of the tree. 
When to prune:  Before the buds swell.  This is when the tree is dormant.  Late winter or early spring is ideal.

Three easy steps to pruning:

1.  Health and Healing
Prune out all diseased, dead, and damaged branches.  Prune out any branches that cross or rub.
No dead or diseased but lots of crossing and rubbing branches.

2.  Heading cuts:  
Purpose:  Heading cuts are designed to control the height of the tree and encourage branching off the main limbs. 
Procedure:  With a heading cut, part of a shoot is  removed by cutting 1/4 inch above a lateral bud leaving behind a stub. Heading cuts stimulate growth of buds or branching below the cut because apical dominance has be en removed.
 Another variation of the heading cut is to cut back to a lateral shoot instead of just a bud.  Choose a lateral branch that is directed outward and upward with a good angel and make cut just above that branch.  Less growth is stimulated by this type of cut. (Pruning Fruit Trees by Mark S Burnell)
This is a standard tree.  The canopy will be headed back by 10-20% to control the height.  I don't have a fence around my orchard so I don't want my trees too short or the deer get the harvest not me.

3.  Thinning Cuts

Purpose:  Thinning is necessary because fruit trees produce too much new growth which shades lower wood and will reduces flower bud formation and fruit development.  The goal of thinning is to reduce crowding, increase air circulation, and sunlight penetration to lower parts of the tree. Thinning cuts are also used to establish the main scaffold branches by removing unwanted lateral branches when the tree is young and being trained.
(Pruning Fruit Trees by Mark S Burnell)

Procedure:  Thinning cuts remove entire shoots, leaving no stub behind.
  When thinning branches, the angle of the branch will be the factor that determines whether to remove the branch or leave the branch.  The ideal branch angle is between 45 and 60 degrees.  Branches with this angle will develop into very strong branches that can bear the weight of the fruit.  Branches with a narrow angle, less than 45 degrees, can be bent down to the proper angle when they are young and flexible, using toothpicks, sticks, clothespins, or by tying them down.  Branches at a narrow angle that have hardened and can’t be bent are probably best removed.
(Pruning Fruit Trees by Mark S Burnell)

Thinning cuts are also used to thin out crowded spur systems. They should be 4-6 inches apart.

Too many vigorous shoots thinning needed.  The spurs on underside of  the branch can also be removed because they will be shaded.

Still a little unsure?  Here is a step by step process suggested by the Royal Horticulture Society:

To start with

  • Always use sharp bypass pruners, loppers and a pruning saw
  • Start by removing crossing, rubbing, weak, dead, diseased, damaged and dying branches


  • Shorten the previous year’s growth on each main branch  by about one third to a bud facing in the required direction. This will encourage the development of new branches and spurs and maintain a good shape 

  • Leave young laterals (side-shoots) unpruned so they can develop fruit buds in the second year 

  • Only remove the young laterals if they are crossing or if the growth is too crowded, i.e. growing closer 4-6 inches at the base 

  • Remove strong shoots 6in  growing towards the center of the tree 

  • On older trees, remove/thin out any spur systems that have become congested. Where thinning or removal is required, remove spurs on the underside of the branches, where the developing fruit will not receive enough light, and produces inferior fruit (Royal Horticulture Society)

This apple variety Sungold seems to have a very upright growth habit.  It's best to spread limbs when the tree is young.  I did not do that, but suggest that training trees the first few years makes pruning easier and is less complicated and discouraging than correcting a mature tree. 



As sections of the branch framework are removed the pruned tree is likely to produce watershoots - which are tall, upright branches, that produce no flowers or fruit. By only remove 10-20% of the canopy per year fewer watershoots will be produced.

If watershoots arise, there is no need to remove all of them but they will need thinning out;
  • Consider if any strong, well placed watershoots may be used for as replacement branches in the future and tip prune them by about a quarter to an outward facing bud to encourage branching 

  • If well placed and not causing congestion of the crown, leave some of the weaker (thinner and less upright) watershoots unpruned. They may produce fruit buds and act as secondary branches 

  • Remove any remaining water shoots 9 inches or more in length at the point of origin
  • If you spot new watershoots, rub them off during the growing season as they appear

Avoid giving your trees a "hair cut"

 I cringe when I see tree topped off.  It looks like you took a chain saw to the tree and cut off the top.  When this is done you will have a thicket of young growth shot up from each cut.  It will be non fruiting wood that will have to be removed each year.  Not a healthy practice for the tree or the pruner. 

Pruning is one area that I did not take the time to learn properly when I planted my orchard.  I did not train my trees when they where young because I didn't understand the purpose of pruning and how essential it is to having  larger yields and well sized fruit.  Also with apples lack of pruning will result in biennial fruit bearing and very small fruit.  So take the time to read and learn from experienced people in your area, the extension office, and other resources.  Managing an orchard is a lot of work but the harvests are worth it! 

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Spring Chores

I love this time of year!  Spring bulbs are the first assurance that there is hope after a bleak winter.  This is also a busy time of year.  I've included a to do list for the month of March.  It may seem overwhelming but it feels so good to work outside, and what a sense of satisfaction when the orchard, yard, and garden are pruned, cleaned, and ready for the season.

  March Gardening Check List

Start New Garden Beds:
  • Make the beds 4x8 and at least 10” deep.  Fill with a sandy loam soil, add compost (Nutrimulch is very good), peat moss, and an organic dry fertilizer.  Use a shovel to incorporate the compost into the soil. You can  till the ground under the box put do not cover the bottom of the box with anything.  Remove all weeds and rocks under the box
  • You can make your own mix of organic dry fertilizer.  I mix it in a 5 gallon bucket. 
  • One part blood meal, two parts bone meal, and a couple handfuls of greensand or azomite. 
  •  Organic fertilizers feed the microbes and the microbes then provide nutrients to your plants. This blend can be used on everything in your yard: flowers, berries, trees, fruit trees, vegetables, perennials, and shrubs.

Prepare Existing beds:
  • Add at least one or two bags of compost to your existing beds
  • Broadcast the dry organic fertilizer over the top then add the compost
  • You can use a shovel to work it a new bed. It does not need to be worked into an existing bed that you have been gardening in regularly if you are satisfied with you soil.
  • Water your bed good and you are ready to plant
What to plant Now!
  • Plant peas 2 “ apart.  It’s best to have a trellis of some kind.  You can soak the seeds the night before for faster germination. You can also inoculate them.
  • Plant spinach, kale, swiss chard, beets, kohlrabi, mustards, pac choi.  Remember to plant the seeds no deeper than 3x the width of the seed
  • Plant lettuce.  Lettuce needs light to germinate so sprinkle seeds on surface and lightly brush the surface.  I prefer to start them indoors and transplant outside.
  •  Plant carrots at the end of the month. Carrots do not germinate if the seed dries out or is planted too deep.  I cover both lettuce and carrot seeds beds with a clear panel. It warms the soil and keeps it from drying out.  You can use landscape cloth or burlap.  Be sure to remove it when the seeds begin to germinate.
  • I recommend planting broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage from transplants.  Wait to put them out until April unless you have protection.
  • All these plants are cool season crops and do not mind cold nights and light frosts.  If planted in the right season they taste better and are pest free. Plant when soil temperatures are 55-70

Raspberries pruned and tied to a trellis

Clean up the landscape:
  • Cut perennials down to the ground
  • Prune roses and flowering shrubs.
  • Weed, weed, weed....weeds wake up early
  • Broadcast dry fertilizer around and add a layer of compost throughout your landscape
  • Spring bulbs of tulips, daffodils, crocus,  and hycithias should be up and on the way to blooming.  Enjoy them!
  • Prune out to the ground canes that bore fruit last year in raspberries and blackberries. (burn or take prunings to the dump)
  • If it is an ever-bearing raspberry you can prune just below where it bore fruit and it will bear below that
  • Thin out the new canes so you have 12-14 per square foot in raspberries
  • Tie the raspberry canes to a trellis
  • Cut blackberry canes to about 5 or 6 ft high and tie to trellis
  • Trim back lateral canes to 12 to 18 “ or 12 buds
  • Spread dry fertilizer around
  • Add compost

Fruit Trees
  • You should be pruning and spray a dormant spray
  • .Weed and clean out water wells
  • Broadcast fertilizer if needed.  Based on last year’s growth.
  • Add at least 2” or 3” or compost Keep compost away from trunk
  • Now is the time to apply a fertilizer with a pre-emergent in it.  I use WOW Supreme from Garden's Alive.  It is organic so my clippings can be used in the compost pile.

  • Turn compost piles and rewet them 

  • This is kidding season have your kidding pens cleaned and ready

Pruning, Planting, & Prepping: A Day On The Farm

Busy weekend pruning, planting, and prepping gardens.  Sunday of course is always a day of rest. Thankful for that.  ( This is last weekend I posted it late.)

I love rhubarb!  An early spring treat!  So I am planting more.  Rhubarb is a perennial.  When you purchase rhizomes, which are dormant,  be sure to open them immediately.  If they are mushy they are no good otherwise keep them moist and in the refrigerator until you are ready to plant.  Rhubarb is known as the pie plant and makes delicious desserts, lemonade, jams, and syrups.

Next project of the day was cleaning out the garden.  Below is sorrel which is a perennial green.  Great in omelets and mixed salads.  

The picture below is Mache.  I let it go to seed last year and it is coming up.  Cant' wait for my first salad.

Next I removed some row crops over  cabbage I was trying to overwinter.  I planted these cabbage last fall and just covered them with a medium weight row cover.
Ruby Perfection

Savoy Cabbage

I'm liking the look of my soil.
Each year I experiment with a few grains.  This year I am trying spelt and Red Fife wheat.


I also overwintered some fall planted lettuce.  It frozen down but has come back and looks great.

Merlot my favorite red loose leaf lettuce

Bronze Arrowhead a beautiful oak leaf variety

Fall planted garlic

To finish off garden chores, I planted some spinach and peas.  

The rest of the time was spent in the orchard pruning, pruning, and pruning.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Where Does the Fruit Grow? Identifying Apple and Pear Buds


Flowers of Apples and Pears

Early spring means pruning season. Pruning is probably one of the least understood aspects of maintaining a home orchard and the most difficult to learn. I decided to start with apples and pears because they should be the first fruit trees you prune and they have similar flower and bud development.
Recognizing where the flowers and fruit develop on the different fruit trees is important. The location of buds and bud developments will determine how that tree is pruned.

There are two types of buds on fruit trees- terminal and lateral. Apples and and pears flower and fruit for the most part on terminal buds. A terminal bud is located on the tips of a shoot and is also called the apical bud. A lateral bud develops at the base of a leaf along the shoot.
Buds in apples and pears can develop on the ends of terminal shoots longer than 4 inches or on shorter shoots less than 4 inches which are called spurs. Spurs only grow a very small amount each year. They are slow to develop taking two years. Fruiting the second year. 

In the first year the bud is formed as either a lateral or terminal bud. If the bud is terminal, it may or may not flower . Lateral buds formed the first year may produce a flower, but the fruit that develops is usually small. Normally, the lateral bud thickens and grow only a small amount. It is on its way to developing as a spur. Those spurs then produce buds and fruit the second and third year.
Spur and terminal buds of both kinds can have both flower and vegetative parts with the bud. What that means is that the bud produces both flowers and leaves. Buds can produces any where from 5-8 flowers and a similar number of leaves.
Pruning will affect the amount and type of buds that form on fruit trees. The goal of pruning is to encourage the tree to produce fruiting wood. Trees can be over vigorous due to improper pruning or over fertilizing both of which will result in fewer flower bud developing and less fruit.

How to Identify Apple and Pear Fruit Buds

Being able to identify buds will enable you to prune to achieve an optimal harvest. It will also enable you to determine how that particular cultivar can be trained, espalier etc.
Fruit trees produce two types of buds: 

Fruit buds contain flowers that when pollinated become fruit.
Wood or growth buds develop into new shoots and leaves but no flowers. Growth buds finish developing after the developing fruit.

Being able to identify fruiting buds will ensure you do not prune off the fruiting wood and thus have no harvests.

Fruit buds

By November a plump, round bud will have formed which contains the flowers that will appear the following April and May. The bud scales on fruit buds are soft and fuzzy on apples, pears, peaches and nectarines. In summer, fruit buds are often surrounded by a cluster of leaves.

Wood or growth buds

Wood or growth buds which carry leaves but no flowers are slender, pointed buds found in a leaf axil. These buds are usually much smaller and more less noticeable than fruit buds.

This is a good picture of the king bud on an apple tree.  All the flowers have the potential to become fruit.  If undamaged the center king bloom is usually the fruit left on the tree after thinning because of its potential to develop the largest fruit.

Tip Bearers versus Spur Bearers

Apple and pear cultivars fall into three categories according to where the fruit bud is produced. They can be spur-bearers, tip-bearers, and partial tips bearers. The majority of pears are spur bearers. Apples can be tip or spur bearers.

    • Spur-bearers produce fruit buds on two-year-old wood, and as spurs (short, branched shoots) on the older wood. 

    • Tip-bearers produce very few spurs. Fruit buds are found at the tips of long shoots produced the previous year.
    • Many apple cultivars are partial tip-bearers, producing fruit on the tips of the previous year's shoots and also on some spurs. 

     So head out to your orchard and look at each apple and pear tree.  Identify the fruit buds and growth buds.  Identify the spur bearers and tip bearers.  If you are able to do this you are ready to prune.