The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Fireblight and topworking

Phoebe and fireblight

My topworked pear trees were a spectacular failure.  The trees came down with fireblight, and I stuck my head in the sand so long they managed to pass the bacteria on to the apple trees.

I started out blaming the scionwood source since we'd never had fireblight on our farm previously.  However, some research made me rethink that and start pointing the finger back at myself.  It turns out that extremely heavy pruning makes it far more likely you'll get fireblight in your trees, and my topworking involved some very heavy pruning.  (I'm surprised the information I read on topworking pears didn't include that warning, but I guess the websites were geared at commercial orchards who spray antibiotics.)

Fireblight on applesMeanwhile, something about the spring weather also seems to have promoted fireblight.  My sister called me to say that her pear trees 90 miles away are so badly fireblighted, she might have to cut them down.  Like me, she'd never seen fireblight on her farm before, and she didn't do any crazy topworking.  So it's possible that the disease would have struck whether I pruned heavily or not.

Better late than never, I pruned out all of the damaged branches.  But I still might have to cut my pear trees down too since the trunks have lesions all the way to the ground.  I'd just assumed one of our cats was using the trunk as a scratching post, but closer examination suggests the wounds are more likely to be another symptom of fireblight.

The good news is that the phoebe pictured at the beginning of this post seems to be taking a major dent out of our Japanese beetle population this year.  A pair of the insect-eating birds is nesting in the barn, right next door to our grapes (also known as "Japanese beetle mecca").  In previous years, I've picked huge numbers of beetles off the row of grapes, but this year there only seem to be a few beetles...and lots of bird droppings.  If only the phoebes would head over to the raspberries and continue their good work!

Our chicken waterer makes it easy to leave town without worrying about your flock.

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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How disappointing. Is the only remedy to prune off the affected branches? Is there a way to somehow seal future pruning wounds so that the tree is not as susceptible?
Comment by mitsy Tue Jun 19 13:43:08 2012

Mitsy --- With fireblight, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Picking resistant varieties (which we did) is a good start, then making sure the tree doesn't have too much excess energy going into new shoots. The pruning cuts aren't what makes the tree susceptible to fireblight, but the excess energy stored in the roots if you take too much off the top. You get the same effect if you feed the tree too much.

There are some chemical treatments, but once the bacteria hits, I believe pruning is the only solution.

Comment by anna Tue Jun 19 16:44:35 2012
I was just going through youtube today on the issue of fireblight. (I plan on planting many fruit trees come spring) In the comments for one video on fireblight by LDSPrepper- someone mentioned a solution of one part vinegar to five parts water sprayed on the pruned areas to prevent spreading. The next year they used it as a preventative spray in the spring(along with proper cleaning of tools and disposal of infected bits) and had no further issues. Maybe worth a try? I believe the person is Gloria Logan on Youtube.
Comment by MamaHomesteader Tue Jun 19 22:31:48 2012
MamaHomesteader --- Holistic Orcharding has some tips on preventative sprays for fireblight as well. I hope this year was a fluke, though, and we don't have to deal with it again! The previous five years, we didn't see a single problem twig, and maybe if I hit any "burnt" areas immediately in later years, we won't get such an infestation.
Comment by anna Wed Jun 20 14:42:15 2012

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