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On a recent spring-like day, I pruned my apple trees and fed them an organic, slow release granular food. It was so warm my honeybees were buzzing around the trees, seeking a bit of pollen. I occasionally read Mike McGrath’s blog (You Bet Your Garden, on NPR) and he suggested that by waiting until later in the dormancy period to prune, that the pruning wounds would heal faster, preventing fewer pests from entering the cutting sites. That made sense to me, so I waited as long as I dared but I might’ve waited too long, because the buds were a bit swollen along the branches. We didn’t get any apples last year, but that seems to be how apples are: every other year you get a big crop, so I’m hopeful this will be the ‘good’ year. McGrath also said to thin 80% of the fruits when they are marble sized, leaving the other 20% to ripen and grow large. That seems extreme to me, so I’ll try eliminating about 50% this year to see how the harvest goes. Apple growing isn’t for the faint of heart, and growing them organically seems almost impossible in our temperate zone, but I keep trying.
For example: I went to a class last weekend on Organic Gardening and the presenter said to try hanging a dead bird in the trees to prevent other birds from pecking the fruit. I can see the logic there. Sort of. Problem is, I don’t have any dead birds lying around waiting to be tied up. But speaking of tying…I use slip-on ‘footies’ -the nylon socks that women use to try on shoes- to tie around the tiny developing fruits. Research shows that they are 100% effective against apple maggots, a real problem for organic orchardists. I have noticed that tying nylon footies on 300 tiny apples is a real problem for this organic orchardist! I also use a product called ‘Surround’ as a preventative barrier against major apple insect pests. It’s made of powdered kaolin clay and requires not only precise timing, but also requires repeated applications, depending on rain fall. Then there’s the problem of the fine clay particles clogging the spray applicator tip, but hey! the stuff really works.
Sticky maggot traps hung in the tree’s branches also help with insect damage, as do wire cages around the tree trunks, which act as barriers against rabbits, mice and voles. Evidently apple tree bark is yummy stuff! My little orchard area is on a slope (actually, what ISN’T on a slope here in NE TN?) and all this pruning, tying and spraying requires the use of a ladder. On a slope. The neighbors have been known to actually turn off their tv sets and bring out the lawn chairs when they see me working on the trees. And because I live on TOP of the ridge, that’s where the water supply is located. So, I have to haul water in 5 gallon buckets in the back of the old pickup down to the trees during times of drought. Which is usually June through September. But then the short days of October arrive and those moon-washed apples of wonder fill our bins and baskets and make the root cellar smell so heavenly that I believe, once again, that it was worth it all.
The “Hungry for Change” discussion group that finished up our 7 week course just last Monday has discussed planting a small fruit orchard OUTSIDE the fence at the Carver Community Peace Gardens this spring, to further the spirit of ‘community’ gardening and to put into practice some of the ideas that were presented in the course we shared. Should I warn them about apple growing? Nah. We’ll just hunt for some dead birds. They seem to have some in nearby Greeneville:
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