pruning the orchard

I grew up on the east coast (Massachusetts), but after graduating from college I moved to northern California, and spent the next ten years living in that incredible landscape before moving back to New York in 2002. My last stop in California was the little town of Willits—in the coast range 150 miles north of San Francisco—where I first learned how to prune and graft fruit trees (thank you Richard Jeske). Even though I had yet to find land to settle on, I was hooked, so decided to start my orchard anyway—in pots. I bought a bundle of apple and pear rootstocks at $2 each, attended a local scion exchange where I gathered dormant wood from dozens of heirloom varieties, and grafted some 3 dozen trees. Well, at this point I had yet to accept the fact that California real estate (at least the type of homestead acreage I was looking for) was far beyond my means, and hadn’t considered the ramifications of moving far away for my young but vigorous trees. What to do? Rent an even bigger U-Haul truck, of course. Rather foolhardy in retrospect, as the additional costs in rental fees and fuel would probably have bought me some hundreds of rootstocks to start over with, but at the time I was simply unable to part with these fruit-bearing beings that I had surgically assembled with my own hands. So the orchard moved east too. Of those original 36 or so trees, a grand total of FOUR have survived to this day (the saga leading to the demise of the rest will have to wait for another post). So today I am heading out to perform the annual ritual of pruning the orchard (about 50 trees total), and will be manicuring a Golden Delicious apple, a Fuji apple, a Seckel pear, and a Warren pear (all excellent varieties) that traveled over 3000 miles to end up rooted in the Middlebury silt loam of Willseyville, New York. The photo below shows my good friend (and fellow tree lover) Akiva Silver in the act of pruning one of my young trees and collecting scion wood to use in topworking some neglected trees on his property.

orchard pruning

pruned apple tree

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