Training a Pear Tree to Modified Central Leader with Notching and Dis-Budding, Watch Before You Chop Off Your New Fruit Tree

I have two more videos on training fruit trees before I move on to other things. I’d like to do a couple more, but at this point, I have to give up on geeky independent research type of content because it doesn’t get enough views to get by on. More below on that. But this year I wanted to take advantage of this nice long pear whip to demonstrate notching and disbudding again, as it is ideally carried out, because I think it is important that if we are to move toward better trained trees by modified central and delayed open center, that we have tools to get there that actually work.

The crux of the problem is that, while the strong and sensical modified central leader and delayed open center tree forms have become more and more commonly recommended, they are rarely achieved, because the methods used to train fruit trees are best for the open center vase form and not much else. In the 1920’s a long study was done that first asked orchardists what tree forms they thought were best, and then looked at what caused premature death of trees. They aimed to determine how failures and successes were caused by early tree training. Those failures and successes were both in the success at attaining the desired form and tree lifespan, short or long. In this preliminary work they discovered some interesting things. One discovery was that most orchardists expressed a preference for central leader trees, but often ended up with open or vase forms instead, because they were heading back the tree to a short single stem on planting. What is perhaps most interesting is that while the training methods were clearly failing to achieve stated goals, they continued to be recommended and used almost universally. This bit tells us something important about human nature and conservatism in these sorts of things. They also were able to associate the failure of older trees by the mechanisms of rot and branch breakage, to early training mistakes. Next they organized and carried out fairly large scale experiments on a few varieties of apple trees to come up with a new training system. It is a brilliant, pragmatic and contextual study, but as far as I can tell, it did little good. In their review of existing literature going far into the past, they found that the same recommendations to head back leaders and scaffolds at planting had existed for a very long time, and it continues to be the main practice today. The fruit of the entire study was to recommend against that practice and offer more effective alternatives.

I favor the modified central leader and delayed open center for good reasons. Most trees can be trained to them successfully, though some may require more maintenance to keep them there than others. But regardless of the form you’re after, notching and disbudding are powerful tools to shape trees and should be in much wider use. I just heard from the brilliant experimental orchardist Eliza Greenman, that she has become a convert to disbudding, and is planning to write about it on her blog soon. We are going to chat about it and see what we come up with for potentially moving these ideas forward. I hope to influence other people to start trying this stuff as either a full on system of steps to achieve specific forms, or applied randomly as needed. Ultimately my goal is full reform of fruit tree training for homescale growers and reform to industry where it is applicable, though exactly what those methods and implementation look like is not at all clear at this point. I would like to do a full on lecture and articles outlining where I think we are at with fruit tree training and what needs to be done to move forward with updating the stone age methods currently favored. This would involve a lot of writing, some research and communication and one or two lecture videos. I would do that this month if possible because I’m fired up about it, but it is a week, if not weeks, of focused effort. The next logical step after that is a large plot of different species and varieties of fruit trees grown just to test out methods and systems to determine success rates. Such a preliminary experiment would probably cover 1/4 to a full acre over 5 to 10 years, and would no doubt illuminate follow up studies related at least to how nurseries and growers, either individually, or combined, could actually implement progressive methods. If I can’t ever do that myself, I would like to outline what experiments and research I feel need to be done so that someone else might pick it up and do it, either a private individual or an organization with adequate funding, such as a university. The other possibility is to lead a dispersed, semi-organized, private citizen research project where amateur breeders, amateur orchardists and small scale commercial orchardists who are puttiong in new plots, test some of these ideas out and report back to a central hub.

Unfortunately, since starting this blog and my youtube channel I’ve ended up in debt to friends and family and have to rethink my approach and content to favor income over edification. I’m not getting nearly enough views to put a sizeable dent in just basic monthly needs, let alone extra for any larger projects requiring time, labor and materials. Use of my amazon links is down (you can always find them here! :) , and patreon income is about half of what it once was, largely due to an exodus of users over a recent political controversy. Youtube views are up as well as subs, but not enough to amount to much. As much as I’d like to do what I do best as an independent privately funded researcher, it just isn’t working out. My plan for now is to prioritize more mass consumable videos (not bad, just not as geeky ha ha) and work on marketing for as long as it takes to get back in the green and actually generate enough of a surplus to be able to afford to work on influencer and thought leader projects that may generate a lot of social change by influencing some of the right people, but will probably never get enough public attention to generate much income. I can see my influence on some subclutures already, which is the prime directive, but not enough is coming back to make financially viable the kind of content that I think is most important, or will ultimately have the largest ripple effect. In the meantime, I've been selling stuff off on ebay to deal with the most urgent debts and to get by until the strategies I hope to implement start bringing in more income. The good news is my energy budget has increased a little bit lately and I’m hopeful that trend with continue. I’ve proably said that 100 times in the last 20 years, but I still hope it’s true this time.

The next video will be a tour of some of my trees to look at what went right or wrong in training and how early training is critical to the continuing life and health of trees.