Fruit Tree Pruning

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It’s February now, and in some parts of the country probably still an acceptable time to prune fruit trees. Here in the Pacific Northwest however it is a little late for pruning. I did all our fruit trees in the first week of January. You want to try to time heavy pruning with tree’s dormancy. This way it will not effect their health or growth near as much. I was looking out side at my pruned trees, now covered in lovely buds which will this year be new growth, and it made me think a little. I had a father who was very good about explaining fruit tree pruning, and every year I was helping him outside in the bitter cold, getting first hand experience when i was growing up. I realized,however, probably not everybody grew up on a farm like i did, and probably did not have all those wonderful years of experience. How can other people learn if people like us never tell them? So, I thought I would write a blog for every one that has ever wondered how to prune fruit trees. 

    This will be like a tree pruning 101. There are so many factors, goals, desires, tricks, and different ways of doing things for pruning that really it mostly depends on a balance of what you know and what you are wanting out of your tree.

    The basic first step in tree pruning is shape. How do you want your tree shaped? Most trees you will want a kind of umbrella shape, for easily obtainable sunlight for the fruit, and also for easier harvesting. If you are starting with a fairly young tree, then you can decide how tall it will be by cutting out the top at the desired height, where new growth will grow a for next year. Determine the height you desire, and the general shape, and general size (circumference), and keep that vision in your head while you prune.

 Next, grab your cutting tools. (shears, loppers, a pruning saw maybe) and start thinning out unwanted growth. If a branch is totally undesirable then cut it off as close to the trees trunk as you can. If most of the branch is ok, or you want to start a new growth into a branch, then you prune the branch into how you want it to grow. Keep the part you want, and cut off the extra. Now here is where it gets kind of tricky. anything unwanted gets totally cut off and removed, but if the branch lets say has potential, but no small fruit bearing areas or “spurs”, then save desired new growth from last year, cut if off about 1/2 to 3/4 inch past a bud. Picking the right bud is the trick. The key is, which ever direction a bud is pointing, that is the direction the new growth will grow this year. For example: a bud on the left of a branch pointing out, will grow to the left and out, a bud pointing up will grow up, a bud pointing down will grow downward, and so on. So just remember when you are shaping a tree, those buds that you leave for the new growth MUST be pointed in the direction that your vision of the tree requires.

    And as i said before, for best results and sun collection I shape my fruit trees like an umbrella. Other trees that are for shade, lumber, etc. are generally shaped in more of a triangle, where a fruit tree is more of an upside down triangle. Remember you are not wanting to grow a 50′ tall apple tree, the fruit would be 30′ above your head and serve you no good.

 

 

Summer Vegitables

canned

So you are all probably thinking “Uh huh, he said he would update once a week, yeah right.” LOL. Well, I try, but am only getting time about every other week. Last weekend we had our Annual Helmig Farms BBQ competiton so we were a bit busy.  Every year we host a large event (about 60 people this year here at our farm, where locals get together and compete in BBQ’ing in four catagories :Chicken, brisket, ribs, and pork.  Medals and trophies are awarded,  food and drink provided for every one, and a great time had by all. Alot of visitors seemed to gravitate towards the vegitable garden and asking different questions. As for our summer garden update, we took our last picking of green beans and wax beans on Tuesday night. I still need to pull up the plants as they are all done just have not had the time.  We were able to can 27 pints of green beans out of the deal, so that will be nice this winter. When canning, the wife did her batches just plain beans and some homemade bacon that I butchered and cured last fall. The batches i did i added the same homemade bacon, but also through in some homegrown chopped up white onion.  The peas are also all done, we ended up with 4 gallons of peas frozen.  They take up alot of room in the garden but are sure yummy, and for pea lovers they are a wonderful treat in the wintertime in casseroles, on salads, etc.  The pea plants are already all ripped up. Later this weekend my Dutch Flat Head cabbage is ready, so i will need to shred it and ferment it for sour Krout. Recipes are on the internet as for recipes, it takes about a week or maybe a little more depending on volume, temp, etc. Also i notice my onions have fallen over.  Stalks have not turned yellow yet, but will today or tomorrow I am assuming. So i will need to pull them as well, bunch them, and hang them. Hang onions in a cold dry place for maximum keep time. Depending on the species you can keep for example yellow onions almost into next planting season. My white onions for example, or red onions, or walla walla’s will not keep near that long due to their sugar content. You can still hang them, but they will spoil fairly quick. Debating trying some shredding and freezing methods this year for longer keep time on the white onions.  Tomatoes are doing wonderful, growing like weeds, and fruiting, but are not yet ripe. Zucchinnis have had one massive picking already. We canned 18 jars of Zuch-relish, and I gave about a dozen Zuch’s away to my mother as she likes making Zuchinni sweet pickles. She wanted to trade me a few jars in trade for the produce, but I don’t much care for sweet pickles, so politely refused. There are about another 50 lbs of Zuchinni that are still growing but not yet ready for harvest. My garlic never did all that great, as they were from 2 year old cloves, but i will take the ones I can and hang for drying to use for re-planting stock next year. Carrots are also all ready for harvest, and are very large. I added some sand into the carrot area before I tilled it this year, and they grew a world better! Much larger in diameter and length. Will probably get 10 pints or so out of the carrots.  Peppers are also doing well, jalepenos and bells, and have been being used through out the summer for cooking. I didn’t plant a whole bunch of peppers this year as i still have loads of them in the freezer from years before.  On a side note “Sammy” our Yorkshire pig is fattening up nice also, and loving the canning season! Sammy gets all the scraps from canning, and plants i yank up, etc on top of her feed ration. So she is a happy camper, and will be more than ready to butcher in fall. Butcher time is strictly dependent upon pigs weight, and cool weather. I wait till the weather is cold so i can hang the pig and age it for a few days, but not totally cold enough to freeze, as frozen animals are a PAIN to cut up and process. usually October is prime butchering season. 

Early Summer garden Status

So sorry it has been so long since I have written any blogs guys! We have been super busy at work, and been working 12 hour days 6 days a week, then throw in all the farm work when i get home, and just haven’t really had the time. however, today I thought I would make time, specially for you readers. So today I wanted to touch on the garden aspect of the farm. I had planted several rows of peas, and we have already taken 3 large pickings from them, with another picking due this weekend. Now any one that has never grown peas and interested in them let me go over a few quick pea basics. The plants get very large, and DO take up alot of room in a garden. You get several “pickings” though, as not all the peas are all ready at the same time. Another little farmer trick, is when you plant them you plant one row one day, then a week or two later plant another row, and another in a week or two and so forth. This will ensure constant pea picking rotations instead of 3 weeks of peas and they are all done and ready to rip them out. Every picking we get about a large colander full. This may sound like alot of peas! But remember that shells are the bulk of the size and weight. Once the peas are shelled one colander equals about enough peas for one dinner for a family of four. (2 cups or so would be my guess). It is about 1/3 or a quart ziplock bag full. Kinda depressing going through all that growing and all that work for so little produce, but fresh peas are my absolute favorite! So for any one thinking of growing peas, just keep those things in mind. as for species, I have had excellent luck the last several years with “Wando” peas.

Now on to peppers. This is the first week of 90 degree and hotter weather so I know the peppers will finally take off now. Until now though, they have just kinda hung out and have not done much, and only had minimal growth. Personally I grow peppers from seed, as do i with my tomatoes as well. seeds are either bought for specific kinds, or basic Jalepenos and bell peppers i grow from seeds I saved the year before from harvested peppers. When i do this i plant them in small little containers and sprout them in the window sill, they are ready to plant about late march, however, the weather here in late march is usually pretty cold and still chances of frost. So what i do is save large apple juice containers, milk jugs, large gatorade bottles, etc and I remove the cap and leave it off for moisture access and ventilation. I them cut out the bottom. I plant the pepper and place the container on top, mounding a little soil around the base to ensure good insulation and also to keep the wind from blowing them away. Basically it is like a little “free” greenhouse for them until the sun really comes out. I am pretty confident they will really go gang busters this week!

My tomatoes are doing extremely well. they too were all planted from seed, sprouted in the window sill, kept to grow out in a small green house I have on the south side of the house, and planted about late march. For tomatoes i use the same greenhouse effect as the peppers due to late frosts. (My father did not greenhouse effect his, and in late march he planted them as did I, it frosted, he lost them all and had to go buy new plants). What I do a little different for tomatoes is I have wooden rack I have built. Basically 2ftx2ftx3ft high. the racks are kind of ladder shaped on the sides with wooden slats for tomatoes to grow, and lean/rest/climb on’ in the 3ft high rack, there are 3 horizontal slats. Any ways, early in the year i buy a roll of plastic sheeting. I plant the tomato, place the rack over it, wrap in up in plastic, and stable the plastic in place. The size of the plastic allows me to fold it a little over the top. Not sealing off the top as it needs to be open some for ventilation and water access, but enough to act as a green house during late frosts. They are all getting very tall and bushy, and are all doing well. Its almost July now, I took the plastic off the racks about a month ago. 

Beans are all growing great. a little early to be producing yet, but the plants are very healthy. Beans also add/give back a little Nitrogen into the soil. So not only do i grow them to eat, but I use them as a rotation crop. meaning i will grow them in one spot one year, and the next year i will place them a few rows over where my tomatoes were the year before, or what ever. I not only fertilize with manure every year, but rotating the beans helps add a little more nitrogen to the soil, and in a constant and even rotation. 

Onions are doing great as is the lettuce and we have been eating the heck out of both! Carroes are growing well and very healthy but not a whole lot of produce in them quite yet. I think the warm weather will help them along nicely. Zuchinni plants are growing massive, but not “Zukes” on them yet. they will come a little later. Squash is growing well, and starting to fruit, as are the cucumbers. Cabbage is doing marvelous and with hot weather here and to continue i will probably have to pick them this weekend and make the years sour kraut. Cabbages prefer colder weather, hot weather will some times turn them and spoil them. 

Raspberries and blue berries are all doing fantastic. for mothers day i bought the wife 2 more blueberry plants and 4 more raspeberry plants, so our berry orchard is growing quite fast. blue berry plants are loaded with berries, but are still green however. 

Garlic is about the only crop we had that did not do so well. I had some cdloves left from 2 years ago, they were still hanging up, but were starting to shrivel and get a bit soft. I planted them any ways as I thought it was better than buying garlic to plant (kinda defeats the purpose of being self sufficient), but as a result only about half of them came up. 

where fruit trees are concerned most are doing wonderful! I did however totally lose a cherry tree. Not sure what happened. Looks like he got sprayed, but I didnt have any spray any where near him this year. Not sure, any ways he died. but all the apples, peach, plum, and various other production trees are all doing great. We noticed 4 deer coming around lately, and i was excited. Deer kinda left the area due to some neighbors that are pretty heavy into poaching! So i was excited to see them coming back. However, i quickly noticed my trees were not so happy to see them! They had begun to eat my fruit trees. So now they are all netted and tubed and the deer can’t get to them any more. Problem solved. The heard garden it doing very well also. Cilantro/corriander is doing amazing! chives are also thriving as is the mint. the other herbs are growing, but they were plants from seed, and may take a little while to grow and establish.

Summer on the farm is great so far. everything is growing wonderfully as anticipated. We have a TON of canning coming up in our near future! take care every one, and thanks for reading. I will make sure I start taking more time to write more prepper farming blogs. i am going to try for at least one a week! take care and god bless every one!

Mulching and Wood Chip Day

As Spring continues here in the Pacific Northwest grass and weeds are starting to grow. I am seeing grass and weeds sprouting in our gravel driveway, and many other places around the farm that I will definately have to start spraying soon. I was thinking of this yesterday evening as i rolled myself a smoke, sat on the porch looking up the drive seeing all the scotchbroom turning dark green and healthy again. Darn stuff. I have about a 3 acre piece that is not fenced in yet, and goats and stock can’t be kept in there to keep the brush mowed down. So this particular piece of land, until i get it fenced, i have been keeping brush down by hand with herbicide, weed eaters, machette, and hand shears. Not very fun. And of coarse it has to be the brushiest, rockiest, most uneven piece of ground on the whole place where I can’t even take a mower into. Oh well. Any ways, was sitting on the porch last night, thinking about some fruit trees i have, some flower beds, and other things of that nature, and decided that with weather permitting I will make today mulch day. During the fall I save two large 100lbs feed bags (the white woven plastic strand kind). In one I pick up dead and fallen maple leaves and stuff it full. In the other I put wood shavings. The savings i get from cutting wood all year round. Sometimes when i have a big burly hunk of wood with knots every where I will just lay it on it’s side and use the chainsaw to split it into desired pieces. Yeah its more of a use of gas, but it saves having to beat and beat and beat on the darned thing, but also it gives me nice long wood shavings, which I use in around the place in lew of Bark Dust. Just a side note for folks, if you stand the block of wood upright and saw through it, the wood chips will be very fine, and powder like, if you lay it on its side and cut with the grain you will get those long strands I am talking about. Just a note.

Any ways, alot of fruit trees and flower beds (the ones that are planted already and sprouting up) will get a layer of crushed and crumbled broken up leaf bits (1/2 inch thick or so, maybe an inch) fallowed by an inch or more of wood shavings. Mulching helps retain moisture in the hot summer months, but it also help prevent grass and weeds poking up through. No it doesn’t totally stop them, but it does slow and impeede them. My only advice for others doing this, is I also take a soil ph tester with me as I do this. The wood shavings has potential of making the soil more acidic over time. each  year I test around the trees and beds, and ajust accordingly to what each species likes and needs. Happy gardening folks