Pruning Neglected Fruit Trees (and a Fiskars PowerGear2 Pruner Giveaway!)
The past two months have been bitter-sweet. It’s been great having our farm dreams fulfilled, but at the same time, I’m sad to leave my established garden beds and berry plants behind. This was how I expressed it on my Facebook page a few weeks ago, when we broke ground for the very first time on our new garden space:
This feels kind of like a new marriage. I know my previous garden well, but our new farm feels like a new partner, and not just because the terrain is flat instead of hillside. New kind of soil (lots of sand and big rocks), new weeds (this was pasture previously), and completely different sun. Soon I’m sure we’ll both find our rhythm, but right now breaking ground feels like a very awkward first dance.
Our new farm has fantastic potential, but even though it’s an older farm as farms go around here, it’s like starting from scratch on many levels. Don’t get me wrong — this isn’t to fault the previous owners, who had different dreams than us for the property, and simply could no longer take care of the farm’s needs any longer due to their age.
Let’s start with the soil (because everything starts there, right?). Whereas my previous garden’s soil was a well-balanced clay-loam, this new ground is predominantly sand, devoid of hardly any organic matter or nutrients (with the exception of a high level of potassium), and acidic (a pH of 6). In case you don’t speak garden-ese, this means it is going to be a whole lot of WORK to bring it up to snuff.
And rocks! Not just little rocks, but huge slabs of sandstone that we had to bust up with a sledgehammer and remove.
So we hired a farming friend, who brought his big tractor out to till up the market garden for us (we have no plans on buying a tractor, as I’ve found that once my garden beds are established, I rarely need to break up the soil beyond a broadfork or power harrow).
And before anyone berates me for plowing and tilling our field… yes, I am aware of the Back to Eden* film, and have myself advocated for minimal tillage to preserve soil structure and biology.
But I can tell you, this soil had as much structure as an hourglass of sand.
And the soil life? In the many hours I’ve spent digging, hauling out rocks, following the tractor, planting cover crops, etc, I’ve seen ONE earthworm. One. Oh, and a few grubs and spiders.
Did I mention this soil needed a lot of help?
Lots of compost is in order, but in the immediate term, a majority of the garden has been planted in summer cover crops, like cowpeas and buckwheat. The cowpeas will be flail mowed in a few months and incorporated into the soil, adding much-needed nitrogen in addition to organic matter. I’ve divided the garden into 10 blocks, each 50 ft wide with beds running 40 ft long. In any given season, no fewer than 50% of the beds will be in cover crop… always adding more to the soil than I take away. An added bonus of the block system? I know what will be growing in every block, every season, for the next 10 years (and thereafter, since the pattern will cycle)! More on that later.
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Restoring Native Habitats
As if the soil isn’t going to be a large enough job, a number of invasive plants have gotten a sizable toehold on the property — rambling plants like honeysuckle, multiflora rose, and (gasp!) kudzu. We’ve been cutting out as much as we can as time has allowed, but we’ve purchased some new partners to help us in that task… goats! Right now, our four Tennessee Fainting Goats are just toddlers and kept secure within electric fence netting from predators, but they’ll soon be rotated through the wood edges and hedge rows to clean things up for us. From what I’ve seen so far, they’ll be fantastic; they barely nibble on pasture all day long, but as soon as we take cuttings of multiflora rose or other brush, they chow down enthusiastically.
New Farm Bonus: Fruit Trees!
Even though we’ll be starting over with new plantings of blueberries, raspberries, and strawberries, at least there are a few established fruit trees available to us. I was excited to find that we have an old-time variety of apple called a Horse Apple on our property — these are a tart apple that is believed to have originated in North Carolina in the 1700s, and you simply don’t find them around much anymore (save in old Southern gardens and central Appalachia). Unfortunately, a large wild grapevine was allowed to grow over it, and pulled it down to the ground, but I hope to take cuttings for grafting to start over.
Our other fruit trees are a mix of more modern varieties, like Golden Delicious apples (which I don’t particularly care for, and is very susceptible to diseases), and some unknown varieties of pear. All of these have likely not been pruned in many years (again, not faulting anyone… I don’t think I’d be wanting to climb a ladder at 89 years of age, either).
So, it will soon be decision time. I’ve decided that some of them, like the Golden Delicious, aren’t ideal varieties for me anyway (since I grow using organic methods), and they’ll be replaced.
The remainder of the trees will be successively pruned over the next few years to restore them to proper shape for good fruit production. I’ve found a number of excellent publications on restoring neglected fruit trees, and learned that summer is actually a better time for this task than waiting for winter dormancy (hurray!). I’m optimistic that in a few years time, these old trees will be restored back to their former glory. Here they are for your reference:
“Growing Together” Giveaway!
Just prior to all of this cutting and pruning, the good folks at Fiskars approached me about trying out some of their incredible PowerGear2 gear. Those of you that have been here a while know that I’m not one for doing product reviews for just anyone, but I happily agreed because I’ve been very pleased with other Fiskars products in the past (including their Cuts+more Scissors* that I use for harvesting micro greens for restaurant sales, and my mother is a big fan of the Uproot Weed and Root Remover* that I got her for Mother’s Day). My experience has always been that Fiskars’ products are built to last (they have a lifetime warranty in the odd chance that they don’t), and they have a long-standing, outstanding reputation (for a company to turn 365 years old this year, it must be doing something right).
Fiskars generously mailed me three tools from their PowerGear2 line: a pruner, a bypass lopper, and hedge shears.
I put the PowerGear2 bypass lopper to work right away, working on a tangled mess of wild grapevines that were smothering the Horse Apple tree. I was impressed with how effortlessly the loppers sliced through the vines, most of which were 2″ in diameter (the upper limit at which these loppers should be used). The loppers are also clearly designed for comfort; loppers I’ve used in the past are heavy and unwieldy for my small frame, and tax my upper body strength to use. I’ve also had problems in the past with lopper handles meeting too closely during a cut, resulting in smashed thumbs and a lot of yelling. With the Fiskars’ loppers, the only yelling is coming from our goats — they get excited when they see me with loppers in hand, because they know a tasty snack of grapevines or brambles is soon to come.
The PowerGear2 pruner exceeded my expectations as well, easily cutting water sprouts from the trunks of our apple trees, and old woody rose bushes. Clearly, a LOT of thought has gone into the design of these pruners — not just for cutting, but for comfort. The pruner handle actually rolls inward with each cut, preventing any rubbing that might lead to blisters. And they are just so EASY to use; I alternated using the PowerGear2 pruners with an old set of pruners that I have (which are also Fiskars, I should add), and the difference was significant. If you have a loved one with arthritis or a motor disability in their hands, this would be a great set of pruners for them.
The PowerGear2 hedge shears look and feel equally fabulous, though I’ve yet to give them a serious workout around the property like the other two tools. We have a number of well-manicured shrubs surrounding our house, and I’m sure they won’t disappoint me when it’s time to put them in action.
Would you like to have a PowerGear2 pruner of your own? Fiskars has generously agreed to sponsor a giveaway and send pruners to FIVE Mother of a Hubbard readers. To enter, simply leave a comment below indicating how you would use the pruners in your garden or landscape. If you’ve got a mailing address in the United States or Canada, you’re eligible. Good luck! Contest ends at midnight on Friday.
The contest is closed. Congratulations to Fern, Jess, Lisa, Susan, and Sheri… enjoy your new pruners from Fiskars!