Posts tagged #pruning fruit trees

Lessons from Established Fruit and Nut Trees, Training Mistakes and Remedies

This video is a walk around to look at the lessons that can be learned from some of my fruit and nut trees that have been growing for a while. Between careful and not so careful training, lack of training, regular maintenance or neglect, we can see how things go right or wrong and how important early shaping and training are to avoid future problems. I also taste some Lady Williams Apples off the tree, still good in March! These apples, while especially late this year, demonstrate I think that it will be possible to eventually have apple varieties that routinely hang on through winter and ripen in spring. Two new terms I’ve coined are Winter Hanging Apples and now Spring Hanging Apples, because these are classifications we need, beyond winter apples or storage apples. Next steps in that direction are finding more winter hangers and spring hangers if possible and making intentional crosses between them for new seedlings. Another step is simply promoting the idea and phenomenon in general, which will be easier as more of them are discovered or created. Also important is to test more of these apples in various climates to see how cold they can go, or how other climate factors affect them.

The long reach pruner I’m using in this video is a pretty neat tool. It is not cheap, but it can nearly obviate a ladder if trees are pruned yearly and are under 15 feet tall. That is pretty a major boon, especially if trees are spread out like they are here on myu homestead. I rarely use a ladder to prune anymore. They are also still cheaper than a good orchard ladder, even an 8 foot one. They can cut green wood up to about 3/4 inch if cut at an angle. For older people (or those that will be older soon lol) it could save a lot of clumsy ladder moving and setting up and ultimately could prevent a fall and the complications that often come with broken bones past 70. We got my mom one and I’m going to try to convince my 82 year old friend to get one. He is still climbing rickety old step ladders in the backyard. There is a short review on my amazon store page and full video review coming soon.

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.

Smart Fruit Tree Training, Toward Better Methods and Clearer Goals

Hello friends.  I've been out of it lately, forgetting to post stuff, but  I'm back with something paradigm shifting.  If you don't already expect to see next level, envelope pushing content from me on a semi-regular basis, you can start any time lol.  Here are 3 videos that are a first installment on the subject of training up fruit trees. 

You can also keep up with the Smart Tree Training Playlist for this subject on youtube here.  All videos related to training trees will be added there in the future.

People of my personality type think that everything can be improved.  We can seem contrary by nature, sometimes to a fault, but that is just an immature expression of our nature to question and experiment.  Now that geeks and freaks are more and more influential via technology and the information age, the new paradigm is open source.  It's not just a practice, it's a way of thinking.  It's my way of thinking and it's about time it started gaining some traction!  This new paradigm can come about because we now get less of our information through dogmatic, institutional channels which act as filters and tend toward conservatism.  Also, people that have knowledge and ideas to offer can much more easily get those ideas out.  Information can not only proliferate quickly and easily now, but we have forums to hash out ideas and share experience and experiments, which creates a crucible for testing information and ideas.  In spite of the huge preponderance of weak and incorrect information proliferating on the internet, this more positive side of the information age is having a profound effect on human knowledge and progress.  It is my hope that we will continue to mature in our thinking, and in our vetting and processing of information.

We can't think about and become experts on everything, but we also don't have to buy everything that is handed to us as if someone has figured it all out.  We should be skeptical and critical in a constructive way.  In the case for fruit tree training methods, the same basic rudimentary approach has been in use for a very long time, with minor variations and minimal dissidence in spite often achieving poor to mediocre results over an unnecessarily long span of time.  I used those methods for years and found them unsatisfactory, so I began to tinker with other possibilities.  Then I found a brilliant study that was done from around 1925 to 1930 that completely changed everything.  To quote the authors of that study, A Study of the Framework of the Apple Tree and it's Relation to Longevity, 1932:

“That improvement in methods of heading fruit trees is desirable is evident from even a casual study of bearing apple orchards, where a certain proportion of the trees will be found breaking down from causes that can be traced directly to the way the young tree was trained.”
“The central leader type of tree has been the expressed preference of Illinois growers.  Nevertheless, most of the heads in Illinois commercial orchards are vase shaped.”

The authors found that while growers expressed a definite preference for one type of tree, the practice of cutting back on planting, known as a heading cut, was producing an entirely different type of tree.  In spite of the practice having a high failure rate, the orchardists continued the practice anyway, and it is still the main technique in use today.  Adopting their recommendations and tweaking them improved my results and the time from new tree to framework radically, so I am very enthused about continuing to experiment and add to those methods.

I had already been experimenting with notching buds and shoots to encourage them to grow, but these guys took an altogether more divergent approach to training that bucked one of the fundamental dogmas of tree planting and training, namely, that the tree must be cut back on planting.  This is the most sacred dogma of tree training.  Cutting back is said to balance the root and top, create a more stocky tree with a thick enough stem, and stimulate branching below the cut.  No doubt it can do all of those things, but are they actually necessary?  They put that question to the test rather than accepting it and found that it was not necessary to cut the trees back, which I have so far confirmed.  The authors surveyed the available literature both current and historical, interviewed orchardists and examined orchards to see what was actually happening all the way from initial training, through to failure of the trees.  After those important initial stems which helped define the problem, they designed experiments to test alternative tree training techniques, and ultimately developed a set of recommendations for improvements in tree training that avoided the common tree failures caused in early training.  They were able to achieve the desired tree forms more assuredly, resulting in a well formed, well balanced, long lived tree in a short space of time.  Bravo!

While the study gave specific recommendations on what to do in training apple trees and some suggestions regarding the training of different varieties, it is far from the final word on the subject.  I've already improved it, just by adding notching and transferring the same and similar principals to further establishing specific goals for the secondary scaffolds.  I've also already thought up lists of potential trials and experiments to answer a growing number of questions about variations on their methods, alternative techniques and how different fruit tree species respond to various interventions.  The authors would have thought this was the thing to do, you advance the work.  I've used notching quite a lot on various different species of fruit, but the original study was on apples and that has also been my main experience so far.  More experimental trials are needed to assess these and other techniques on other species.

I'm super stoked if I can help my blog readers and youtube viewers train their trees better, but I have my sights set on much bigger game, the mastodon of  common training recommendations, which I refer to as "clip and pray".  It honestly would be hard to do worse than these common recommendations and even the simple training used to set the trees up in these first videos could go a long way toward improving outcomes.  My main goal would be to evolve informed, but simple and accessible "systems" of sorts for mass consumption with a 3 to 4 year plan using a small number of easy to understand tools and goals.  On the back end, I'd like to see a continuing evolution of understanding about how different fruit tree species grow and respond to various interventions.  Maybe more importantly though, I want to see a paradigm shift in thinking about what we are doing in fruit tree training, and why.  The essence of that philosophic understanding is still evolving, but here are my basic thoughts now.  I've been thinking of the process as guiding a finite amount of resources or growth energy of the tree to achieve very specific goals.  The tree can only grow so much in a year.  Where are you going to encourage that growth to go and what techniques can be use to convince the tree to favor growth in those areas.  Another important concept is creating some kind of balance in growth between parts of the tree.  This balance can vary in form and degree, but we all know drastic imbalance when we see it.  Training is often approached somewhat haphazardly.  By having specific goals in mind and reasons for having those goals, we can then apply the tools we have available to make that tree form happen.

There is much to say and I hope to keep producing videos and essays or lectures on this subject.

The full fruit tree framework study is available to download on the free stuff page

In the meantime, the simple recommendations and information given in these first few videos could go a long way toward improving fruit tree training for home orchardists.  Results will absolutely vary by species and variety, and no doubt by environmental conditions as well.  The tools presented are not new and they were not new in 1925 either.  But the obvious is not always so obvious and for whatever reasons, I've never seen anything like this presented anywhere.  I'm calling it Smart Tree Training and hopefully that name will stick.  It is a great name I think for a non-specific collaborative project that aims to take an informed and goal oriented approach to the problem of fruit tree training.  I feel confident in saying that you can help me improve the practice and outcome of fruit tree training by sharing this information as it comes out, through appropriate channels where it will be put to use.