Late Winter/Early Spring 2009

The New Season

As the frost leaves the ground and the sunís rays grow ever stronger, new life comes to the orchard. After the welcome quiet of January, late February saw the resumption of major activity in the orchard on the hill. Alan Haigh of The Home Orchard Company once again did a magnificent job carefully pruning each of the more than 500 trees in the orchard. It seems that each year Alan arrives at the coldest moment! This year was no exception as for eight consecutive days working from 8 to 5 Alan and his assistant, Richie, worked through the coldest period of a consistently cold winter. Most days the temperature didnít go above 20. Alan even worked through a six-inch wind-driven snow storm. Now thatís sticking to a schedule!

Pruning is crucial to growing good apples. Over the last four years Alan has managed to take a rather unruly group of teenage trees and trained them to become well-groomed young adults. Without going into great detail, the idea is to remove enough branches to allow sunlight to penetrate to all the foliage and to get rid of excess wood and keep the best fruit-bearing wood while encouraging productive new growth to keep coming along. This results in better and bigger fruit. Fruit trees are constantly changing and annually they put out surprising amounts of new growth, so the pruning task never really ends, it just resumes the next year. With the pruning completed we chip the trimmings that litter the orchard floor and apply a dormant oil spray before the trees open their buds.

Based on early observations, it would appear that 2009 will be a good year in terms of crop size. Of course, there are numerous variations in weather and other factors that can affect the growing season but we are off to a good start.

In terms of blossoming, the last week of April and first week of May tend to be when the trees flower in our area. The timing can, however, vary considerably depending on the weather. If it gets very warm early, the blossoms may open earlier. The danger in that is that if there is a frost while the trees are in flower, the flowers are killed resulting in a seriously diminished crop. This happened in the Hudson Valley about eight years ago when the temperatures went well into the 80s in March and the trees blossomed and then there was a heavy frost. The crop in the entire region was reduced by two-thirds. Whenever it occurs, blossom time is fleeting moment of great beauty.

Looking ahead to the fall, I expect that we will open for the season on Saturday September 19. Hopefully the weather in the growing season will be cooperative so that the crop that begins with such promise in the spring lives up to that promise in the fall.


Geoff Thompson

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