Winter in the orchard is a time for growers to review our returns from the past season and make some tough decisions. These will guide us in deciding which blocks of trees need to come out, how hard to prune the balance of our orchard and in general how we are going to manage the orchard in an effort to be profitable in today’s global market place.
Tree removals start right after harvest if we have made the decision they have to come out, or may be delayed until the spring. Pruning starts in November and runs right through until April – and always takes longer than we hope for! On our orchard we prune all winter, but the dead of winter can be cold, windy and dark so we usually work shorter days – just 6 hours per day. By mid-February the days have gotten longer so we shift to 8-hour days, and by Friday we are very ready for a weekend off. If we’re still not done pruning in early April, then we’ll need to work weekends too to get things done before bloom.
Other than the hard work, pruning is a great time to look at the trees, the flower/ fruit buds and check that things are going okay in each block. Each variety + rootstock combination has to be pruned differently, and each pruner has his or her own style and preferences depending on the growing site and a block’s particular history. During our Tuesday get-togethers with other local growers, pruning style is a common topic all winter long. The other day I counted cuts in a vigorous Gala block; we were making 60-70 cuts per tree, with 1,800 trees per acre, that’s about 125,000 cuts per acre! This leads to an acre taking 10 person-days to prune … a big expense!
It doesn’t matter if we are pruning cherries, apples or other fruit trees, at the end of the day the work has to get done well and the costs have to be managed or no one will make money in the upcoming season.