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Re: Limb Positioning

Posted: Mon May 14, 2012 7:55 am
by Chuck Rhode
Well, it's warmer, and my trees are in flower. It's finally dry enough to barge around in the backyard and do some limb positioning. I use heavy jute twine (I think green works best. Growers who can find it prefer paper twine.) and plastic tent pegs. If you have limb spreader sticks, now is the time to dust them off. ... and toothpicks. Don't forget toothpicks. Right now I'm eager to spread branches that need it away from the trunk. Many don't. I look at the number of blossoms and imagine the fruit load, which will pull the branches down. Later on I'll be tying those up.
The best time to position younger branches is in June or when they are 3 – 6-inches long. Positioning older branches is less time dependent. Most growers position branches when they dormant prune, others position limbs in late spring to early summer. Limbs positioned toward horizontal in spring to very early summer will initiate flower buds for the following year, not the current year. Weak branches that are hanging from the weight of fruit should be tied up as early as possible.

Roper, Teryl R. Training and Pruning Apple Trees. Madison: University of Wisconsin, Cooperative Extension Service, 1997. A1959. <>.
Here's received wisdom: The perfect angle is 60° off vertical. Picture one corner of an equilateral triangle. This is the best compromise between flowering and vegetative growth -- more, tending to horizontal, means more flowering, less vegetative growth -- less, tending to vertical, means less flowering, more vegetative growth. You need growth; you want flowering. Limbs that are too short may be raised. Branches that are too long may be lowered.
If all limbs within a tree were trained to the same angle, those at the top of the tree would have more vigor and overgrow those at the bottom. If a great deal of limb positioning is done within a tree, care must be taken to avoid reducing the vigor of the bottom of the tree more than the top, so in general, angles from vertical should be greater at the top of the tree than at the bottom.

Autio, Wesley R., and Duane W. Greene. Limb Positioning. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Extension, [1993.] F-114. < ... bposit.pdf>.
The tips of branches of some varieties tend to split into three at very close angles. You can force them apart by wedging toothpicks between them.

This would be a good time to check the ties holding the trunks to stakes. Be sure they're loose enough now to contain this summer's growth without cutting the bark.

The next job is to sharpen your shears for pruning. I see some winter kill on my Golden Russet, but I'm giving it plenty of time to rejuvenate. My main concern going forward is for trees that didn't bloom: Honeycrisp, Honey Gold, Fameuse, Northern Spy. These are young trees that bore last year. In my greed for a crop I probably let them overdo it, so this year they are going to get some growth instead. I can be very selective about which branches to keep and which to prune because the trees are going to be rambunctious. A lot of good growth in the right directions will mean a better crop for years to come -- I hope.

53° — Wind SW 5 mph

Re: Irrigation

Posted: Sat May 19, 2012 9:02 am
by Chuck Rhode
My backyard hobby orchard is in town on a sandy bluff by Lake Michigan. The house was built in the late 19th century, so cultivation of the sand has been going on for 120+ years. Maybe three inches of organic matter on top is all there is. It's not ideal land for apples. I'm raising them hydroponically as a practical matter, so I have to irrigate. Fortunately water is cheap. I just did my first irrigation session this season.

I run garden hose out over the ground in a pattern that passes the trunk of every tree and leave it until freezing weather. Then I wind it up and cart it to the basement. I use quick connect adapters to fasten it to the hydrant. It stays attached most of the time. Between the hydrant and the adapter is a vacuum break. After the adapter is a pressure reducer and a timer and another adapter.

When I first laid out the cheap plastic hose, I punched holes for two five-gallon-per-hour emitters near each tree. I extend each of these with about a foot of low-pressure tubing and a bug excluder so that I can pick up and reposition the drip point and examine the flow rate, not that I ever actually do that, of course.

I adapted a cheap Chinese brass shutoff valve to the hose, so I can fill a bucket at the far end of the yard if I want to.

I shut off the hydrant when I'm not running water. When I do, I turn it on for an hour. My water bill is fabulous.

Because we do get rain in Sheboygan, I don't always have to run water. In hot, dry, windy weather, I have to run water every other day. I don't have to guess when, though. I have a couple of these tensiometers:

... specifically the Model "LT," one 18" long and one 36" long, which I place side by side under the drip line of one average tree in the middle of the patch. I drive a section of 1/2" black-iron pipe to the corresponding depth, pull it up, and insert the tensiometer in the hole it leaves.

Tensiometers work by measuring the so-called vacuum above a column of water in a tube above a porous ceramic tip buried in the soil. It is a mechanical root. The vacuum is proportional to the work that living plants expend to draw water out of the soil. When the soil is moist, the vacuum is low, and it rises as the soil dries out. Irrometer tensiometers are calibrated, but in practice I don't watch or record the actual measurements any more. I can see a good, heavy rain lowering the vacuum -- first in the short tensiometer -- then in the long one. When that moisture begins to be used up and the vacuum starts to rise in the deep tube, I begin to keep an eye on the weather forecast. If it's going to be hot, dry, and windy, I turn on the water in the morning. I don't wait for the vacuum to get high and for my trees to start showing signs of stress.

65° — Wind Calm

Re: Book of Ours

Posted: Sun Sep 02, 2012 10:24 pm
by Chuck Rhode
Well, it's been a long, hot, dry summer, and I didn't have to spray Captan more than once. However, the maggots got ahead of my deploying Maggot Barriers, and I've had major fruit loss from them. I had one apple from a branch graft of Summer Treat a couple of weeks ago and four or five from Ellison's Orange and a couple from Atlas last week. I didn't salvage anything from a branch graft of Pink Pearl or from Wolf River. Fruit set was a bust altogether on Honey Crisp, Fameuse, and Honey Gold, which bore well last year and on Northern Spy, which bore lightly. I'm not blaming pollinators, I'm blaming biennial bearing and a prolonged warm spell last February in that order. I'm giving up on mason bees, though, because too many abscond.

66° — Wind NNE 3 mph

Re: Season Summary

Posted: Fri Dec 21, 2012 9:05 pm
by Chuck Rhode
I finished my root cellar this summer and have stored a few Firesides, Golden Russets, and Idareds down there at about 45° and 50% humidity. I used the Golden Russets and Idareds early -- the ones that were not worm-eaten, and they were good. I had more of the Firesides. I brought them all in at once. As usual they were not all ripe, but birds were damaging all of them, anyway. They're getting a little mealy now. Ideally they should be stored above but as close to freezing as possible and at 100% humidity. Most of them grew to exceptional size because I had thinned the crop aggressively early on, but, though texture was OK at first and they're perfectly sweet now, their flavor never really developed. I think it was just a crumby, hot, dry season.

Commercial growers around here had very limited supplies of oddball varieties because a February warm spell allowed bud break and most blossoms were killed by subsequent typically cold weather. Their staple varieties did not set an economical crop, and orchardists did not waste time and money applying any spray. There is a carry-over effect of any insect-control program even though there should be no carry-over effect of any pesticide. That is, a good program not only interferes with insect reproduction success in the current season but also depresses insect populations at the beginning of the next. There is a carry-over effect of the absence of insect-control, too. Thus, I predict that next season will be a banner year for insects, and I plan to apply insecticide early and often.

24° — Wind NW 14 mph