Every year beginning in mid-December or when the leaves drop from all our deciduous fruit trees, pruning season begins here at Terra Firma. We start off with peaches, which are the first to flower, and then move on to apricots, asian pears, persimmons, and finally grapes.
Pruning is a critical job. Cut too much and you lose part of next year’s crop. Cut too little and you end up with more fruit than the tree can bear. Make the wrong cuts, and you can end up with both problems on the same tree.
The best pruners are highly skilled people who have spent years in orchards watching the trees grow and harvesting them. They make cuts quickly, without even having to think about it. Ideally, you would have the same people year after year, seeing how the different varieties grow and make fruit, and understand how the trees will respond to the cuts they are making. For this reason we try to have people pruning who were harvesting the fruit during the summer before.
We also have young trees that haven’t started producing yet — apricots and peaches — and pruning them is just as important. One to three year old trees need to be shaped and guided as they grow so that they will produce well and thrive. It’s extremely difficult to “fix” a tree that was pruned incorrectly when it was young.
Winter is also planting season for new trees. We just received a shipment of peach trees that will replace an old orchard that we removed two years ago. Usually tree planting is a wet, muddy job done in a rush between rainstorms. This year the biggest concern will be making sure to soak the ground completely after planting; dry soil pulls the moisture from young tree roots and kills them.
The warm sunny weather we’ve been having this month is confusing to fruit trees, whose sap is starting to run as if it were March. We have three varieties of peaches that have begun to push blossoms that are vulnerable to both frost and rain — either or both of which are highly likely to occur in the 7 weeks of winter that remain.
While we really need rain and will be happy to see it if it does arrive, the later it comes in the year the more problems it will cause. A dry winter and a wet spring is the opposite of what we — and just about every other farm in California — want to see. We’re hoping for plenty of rain in February and then a normal spring, and the storm moving in over us today gives us hope.
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