Monday, January 19, 2009

The pruning begins...

Loganberries - as they looked last summer just prior to being fully ripe.

We have about 20 different fruit trees, two types of berries (both thornless!), and about 4 different varieties of grapes on our property. We are also going to be adding blueberries as well.

While we got more apples, pears, berries and grapes than we knew what to do with this past year, there were some things that could use massive improvement. First of all, many of the grapes didn't mature well and they were extremely difficult to pick. The same could be said of the blackberries and and our loganberries had a lousy harvest. The apples were plentiful, but many were smaller than they should have been. We saw a small plum harvest, but no cherries at all. To improve all of the above, we need to prune (and spray...but that's a different entry!).

Pruning is best done in the winter with the trees are basically dormant. This is true for the fruit trees, the berry brambles and the grape vines. The previous owners used to take really good care of their garden, but in the year before we bought the place, they had some illness in the family and ended up neglecting things in the yard. They also had the house on the market for over a year, so they were probably trying to keep things 'picture perfect' and pruning can be messy. All of this led to some very overgrown things and this winter, we are working to remedy that...

Anyway, this weekend I worked on the berry brambles while my H tackled the grape vines. For the grapes, he first cut a path behind the last trellis and in front of the buffalo fence. You can actually walk back there now (previously an impossibility). He had to cut massive amounts of wild blackberry canes coming over the buffalo fence. Then he had to tame the out of control grape vines working their way back over the fence from our yard. The two were so intertwined that it was hard to tell where one finished and the other began, particularly in the summer! Then he started on one of the trellises (we have three). He straightened it, added and removed wire, and secured it. Then he started pruning so that we can better train the grape vines. We figure that it'll take a few years before we get them in order, so we felt justified in really cutting back some of them. It's such a huge job that he was only able to finish one row (besides cutting the path). The other two rows will have to wait for the next rain-free weekend.

Berry brambles - "before". The left are predominantly blackberries and the right are the loganberries.

For the berry brambles, we have two rows spaced about 4 ft apart. They are oddly assorted in terms of variety. One row is half logan berries and half some other un-identified plant (we need to wait for it to bloom to figure it out). The second row is predominantly thornless blackberries with one logan berry plant on one end. The photo above is how it all looked when I started. There were at least three years worth of canes on the blackberries as it was not pruned last year at all. In the middle of the summer, my H dug into it and tried to cut out all the thorned blackberry canes he could (these are wild and grow everywhere around here). Wild blackberries are actually considered a nuisance weed here and we do our best to keep them under control. Anyway, thanks to his hard work last summer, I only had a few of the painful variety to dig out of the mess.

I basically started by cutting out all thorny branches and anything thornless that had given us fruit last year. All the branches that had leaves but no fruit yet are the branches that will give us fruit this coming year (they give fruit on their second year). I also had to cut away a lot of dead grass and a few other types of plants that had flourished under the protection of the blackberries. Then I set about restringing all the wire. I did three rows of wire between each t-post (and I had to reposition a few posts, too) and pulled them as tight as I could. Then I carefully worked each remaining cane into the trellis taking care not to break them. I tried to spread them out as best I could. This will allow the sun to better reach all the berries and make them all much easier to pick. I think this might also make them much more visible and accessable to the birds, so we do have bird netting set aside should that be needed next summer. All in all, it was a LOT of work, but I feel really good about having it done. All I have left to do is to spread some compost at the base and then mulch on top of it to keep the grass at bay.

Berry brambles - "after"... Hard to see in this photo since so many canes have no leaves, but they are woven around the wire trellis. I still need to add compost and mulch.

Next opportunity we have, we'll finish up the grapes and get the trees done (apples, pears, cherry & plum). The trees will be a team job. I should also mention that we took a few clippings from our neighbors who have this apple tree that produces absolutely delicious apples (for both eating and baking). We are going to graft those branches on to one of our red delicious trees (we have two). We figure we'll do it on those particular trees for a number of reasons. 1) we have way more red delicious apples than we'll ever need and they aren't good for anything but eating and drying 2) those trees did really well last year, so they are clearly nice strong healthy trees and 3) the red delicious apples are the most distinctive apple (throughout it's life cycle), so it'll be really easy to tell the new variety from the old red delicious apples. Neither of us have grafted fruit trees before, so wish us luck! I'll definitely report back on our progress...

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