Planting Begins!

April 21, 2015.

We are extremely busy at the farm now.  We all worked hard to plant 2 acres of peaches at Lisa and Ward’s place just a half mile south of our apple farm late last week.  Soil conditions were good and the weather was perfect.  We continue to plant apples as well in the blocks that will allow it.  We do not like to plant in overly wet soils.  This is not good for the long term health of the trees.   In the next month we will plant our raspberries.  It is best to wait till mid-May to plant these.

Peach Planting

Peach Planting

This is a critical week to prevent scab infections in the apples.  Weather conditions are ideal for disease development and we are having difficulties finding decent spray windows-too wet and too much wind.   Unless you have disease resistant varieties, the foliage must be protected now with fungicides.

We applied our dormant oil in the apples and pears last week.  This helps with mites, scale insects, aphids and pear psylla.  It is not too late to do this but it has to be timed to a frost free, dry and calm period (not this week).

We will look at pruning the plums and cherries in the next week or so (when we have a nice dry period).  This helps to avoid the spreading of diseases and allows for assessment of the flower density.  Peach pruning will follow at the pink flower stage and it appears that we have plenty of viable flowers.  We certainly were concerned because of the severe winter.

Strawberries are now uncovered and look okay.  Raspberries are all caned out and brush is cleaned up.  Lisa and Ward have been fixing their trellis wires in their summer raspberries.  Next will be fertilizing in all the raspberries with nitrogen only.  Blueberry fertilizer (21-0-0) will go on during the next several weeks.

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Girdled Trees

March 30, 2015.

I have received numerous inquiries the past several weeks regarding fruit trees that have been girdled by mice and/or rabbits.  Unfortunately, this has been the worst case winter for these pests.  Plentiful rainfall last growing season allowed lush grass and weed growth under trees which led to high mouse (vole) populations and the snow covered the ground for over three months straight.  Most folks installed tree guards to prevent feeding but the snow was above the guards for a long time which allowed the mice or rabbits easy access to the bark.  Also, it seemed that we experienced an “on” year for rabbit populations in most areas this winter.

Well, if you experienced extensive damage what can you do now?  In some cases, the damage is too extensive and you should just plan to re-plant.  If there was a pole next to the tree (as shown in the above photo) which prevented the critters from eating all the way around the trunk, then the trees will recover.  Do not give up on these trees with even a half inch or more of bark remaining in a strip.  I have seen them make it.  Make sure, however, not to crop these trees this year and water these trees in the summer if it gets dry.

Not totally girdled.  Bark on trunk nearest the stake is still intact.

Not totally girdled. Bark on trunk nearest the stake is still intact.

If the tree is damaged above the graft union, they will probably produce new shoots above the graft by early summer, which can be trained to be a new tree. This is much easier to do than the bridge grafting described below.

For those girdled all the way around, you can give up and plant a new tree or try to bridge graft across the damage.  If you have rootstock suckers under the tree long enough to bridge across the damage, use them.  If no suckers, collect some shoots from another fruit tree of the same type and bridge graft these on either side of the damage.  You must collect these shoots (scion wood) in the next few days because it must be kept dormant until you actually graft the trees in late-April.  Keep the shoots in a plastic bag in the refrigerator until you do the grafting.  Do not store this wood with apples.  The apples give off ethylene gas which can kill plant materials.  Follow the directions for making the grafts off the internet.  Seal up the grafted areas very thoroughly.

To help prevent troubles next year: keep the grass and weeds very short near the trees all summer and going in to winter.  Put on tree guards for the winter.  Paint the trunks up to 3 feet with half white latex paint and water.  Also, it is helpful to prune some of your trees just after real winter sets in to provide the rabbits with something to feed on other than the trunks of your trees.

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Think Spring!

March 18, 2015.

Many orchard tasks are in limbo because the weather is so cold – a few good days but just enough to tease us.  Most of our time has been devoted to pushing snow and preparing for the maple season.  Several good runs this past week with decent sugar content in the sap.  Doing maple is like going fishing, it is lots of fun when the fish are biting.  When the sap sugar content is high, the syrup comes quick and everyone is smiling.

Tapping Trees

Tapping Trees

We are back to pruning the apples and we should be mostly done by the weekend.  Preparations for our annual pruning workshop, to be held this coming Saturday, are in high gear.

Lots of Snow to walk through to get to the trees.

Lots of Snow to walk through to get to the trees.

Here is a partial list of the must do’s when the weather breaks:  Finish pruning the apples, pears, sour cherries, blueberries and currants.  Cane-out the summer bearing raspberries.  Mow the fall bearing raspberries to the ground. Grind all the pruning brush to make way for the tractors and sprayers.  Remove mulch from the strawberries and get ready for frost control with row covers.  Cover the Josephine fall raspberries with mulch to promote an earlier crop for this heat loving variety.  Prepare equipment for ground preparations in the new peach orchard and new apple plantings.  We have nearly 3 acres to plant and we like to be ready.  Lisa and family are planting the peaches and more summer raspberries.  We are planting 500 more apples and some fall raspberries.   Mulch blueberries with either sawdust or wood chips.  Check deer fences for problems when the snow is gone.

We figure when the weather improves, maple will move real fast and all the stuff listed above will be accomplished quickly because we have no choice.  Then we can make a new list.

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Will it ever warm up?

February 24, 2014.

The cold just will not quit.  We are kind of hunkered down here, going to meetings, doing planning and paperwork and making jams and jellies.

Now, it is just about the cold and its effects on the trees and the fruits.  The coldest we have recorded so far at the sales barn is minus 11.6 and I am sure it was several degrees colder in some parts of the orchards.  The apple and pear trees should take this no problem and powdery mildew should be reduced this summer because of the cold weather this winter. I would expect that our temperatures so far should not have affected the European plums and sour cherries.  The damage to the Japanese plums and sweet cherries will depend on the variety but I expect significant damage in those.  The peach deal is still to be determined but I am sure we will have lots of dead flower buds.  The question is, will any buds come through on peaches?  I think we will see some fruit.

The peach crop last year was reduced about 70%, however, the conditions were much different at that time.  We had warm temperatures and then a major plunge below zero in just a few days and no snow cover.  This year it has been a slow but steady cold period and lots of snow.

To check buds, we used to cut branches, place them in water in the house and wait for the buds to either push out and bloom or give it up.  This is rather painful to watch especially if the news is bad.  Therefore, we just take it as it comes and just see what happens in the spring.  Plants are programmed to reproduce (make fruit and seeds) and they always seem to surprise me.  We shall see.

Meantime, we will be back at pruning when the weather breaks and setting up for maple syrup.

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February 11, 2014.

Cold but clear today.  We are enjoying the extended snow cover with long daily walks and planning for the new growing season.  We pruned over 9 acres of apples in late December and early January.  We stopped just before the real cold set in.  It is bad for the trees to prune within several days of plunging temperatures.  We always begin with our mature trees because they are a bit tougher.

Vegetative Buds

Vegetative Buds

Last year was a down year for apple production due to the big crop in 2013.  Flower clusters (spurs) produce fruit every other year only.  This is important to know because if nearly every spur has an apple, (as was the case in 2013) then there are few potential flower buds available the next year.  This winter we have an opportunity to break this biennial bearing cycle.  Pruning rigorously this winter will go a long way to accomplishing this.  We looked at our trees and noticed that a large proportion of the buds on the trees are fruit buds and not vegetative buds.  Dwarf trees that can normally mature about 200 apples/ tree have nearly 500 fruit buds on them.  Multiplying the 500 budsX5 flowers/bud you get a potential crop of nearly 2500 apples/tree.   This is almost 10 times what the tree can handle this year.  Heavy pruning will help us to remove nearly half of this excess.  The rest can be handled at thinning time in May and June.  If we do not do this, we will be right back to a huge crop this year and hardly anything in 2016.

Every variety is different so you must look at them individually.  For instance, our Honey Crisp have lots of fruit buds except for one block and they are very light in terms of fruit buds.  We pruned these much lighter than normal because of this.  We need every fruit bud we can get on these.

Fruit Buds

Fruit Buds

When the weather warms up a bit and the snow goes down, we will complete our pruning on the apples and pears (we will wait on the plums till bud swell and the peaches till pink stage).

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Approaching Pink Stage in Apples

May 06, 2014.

We have decided to hold off on peach pruning again because we have begun to see live flower buds developing on some of the varieties.  This is great but we want to be sure of the viability of these buds before we make any pruning decisions.  Early Japanese plums are beginning to bloom.  The incoming warm, moist air is very conducive to brown rot infections; therefore, we will apply a fungicide for this prior to the rains.  As things warm up insect activity will be a concern for us in the stone fruits because we always seem to have tarnished plant bugs to deal with just prior to flowering.

Apple and pear scab potential will be very high with the approaching moist, warm weather.  We will apply preventive fungicides for today and tomorrow.  Powdery mildew becomes another issue at this time as well.  As we approach the pink stage in apples, insects can become a concern.  We look at tarnished plant bug and rosy apple aphids  in particular to see if potential problems warrant any control measures.  Most years we do not have insect problems at pink but every year is different so it is worth looking at the trees to determine whether a problem exists.

We want to get oil sprays on at this time also to control mites in the stone fruits and apples but we cannot apply oil within 24-48 hours of a frost which is likely tomorrow morning apparently.  When oil is applied near frost, leaf damage and fruit russeting can result.

We will try to get our new raspberries planted today.  Should be decent soil conditions to plant.


brown rot (

mites (

tarnished plant bugs (

Powdery mildew (

rosy apple aphids (

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Cold and wet in the orchard.

April 30, 2014.

Yesterday, we removed mummified plums left over from last year’s harvest. These harbor spores for diseases such as black knot. This disease is spread primarily from black knots left over from previous years. We found only one of these to remove. The knots and mummies must be disposed of or burned. Remove the mummies and knots only during a dry time. This is the critical time to spray for this disease. Captan works well.

Black Knot & Mummified Plums

Black Knot & Mummified Plums

This is a very serious time for apple scab. The developing leaves must be protected from over wintered scab spores. The rains are washing away any spray residues from our sprays applied last weekend, so we will have to re-apply fungicides as soon as conditions allow. Next week we should be in to tight cluster stage and this is the time to focus on powdery mildew control as well as scab.
This past Monday we planted our new plum trees. Soil conditions were pretty good. Next up are the raspberries which we hope to plant next week. Best not to push it and plant in mud- that is not good.
We have elected not to prune our plums this year due to fairly low counts of flower buds. We are trying to hang on to as many plums as possible. It appears that the peaches will be light in terms of the crop. For trees with nothing on them, we will prune heavily so that we get good re-growth for fruit buds for next year and this heavy pruning allows us to keep the trees down. For trees that do have a small crop, we will wait to prune till the flowers are obvious and we will prune to keep every flower. This can be time consuming because typically the flowers that survive are in the tree tops.
It is time to install the trellis strings and irrigation lines in the fall raspberries before the new growth gets going.

We fertilized the apples, raspberries and blueberries this past week. The blueberries and raspberries will get a second application if needed in 3 weeks.

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