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

Highs and lows of pruning day

Training peach

I saved our medium-sized peach trees to train and prune when Kayla could get across the creek since she had some of her own in need of attention.  I could tell she was a bit afraid of hurting the tree by doing it wrong, which made me realize how far I've come in the last few years.  It hasn't been all that long since I pruned with book in hand and agonized over each cut, but after a few years of pruning and seeing the results, I'm quite comfortable pruning our peaches.

Book learning

I haven't reached that point with all of our fruit plants yet, though.  I did a lot of this --- reading over the relevant section in Lee Reich's The Pruning Book and Grow Fruit Naturally and then worrying over each cut.  I was especially leery of harming our hardy kiwis since I'd sent some cuttings to a reader a few weeks ago, and he reported that when they started leafing out, he saw bloom buds!  In other words, if I don't see flowers off the hardy kiwis this year it's my own fault for cutting the bloom buds off.  Having Kayla present for moral support was very helpful in this case, even though she knew less than I did --- it made me remember that cutting usually works out alright.

Girdled apple tree

And then there's the huge problem that I saw last week and have been trying to block out ever since.  All three of our just-ready-to-fruit apple trees in the forest garden have been girdled just below the soil line and will probably perish.  (The Virginia Beauty, strangely Scionwoodenough, is fine, even though it's no more than fifty feet away.)  I've never protected the bases of our fruit trees because I'd never seen vole damage, but I guess I'll have to cross that bridge now.  And I'll also need to consider whether growing sweet potatoes in the forest garden was such a great idea --- it definitely produced an awesome living mulch and lots of biomass, but I suspect the tasty tubers might be the reason for the vole population explosion.  Or maybe they just ate my trees because of this winter's weird weather?

No matter what the cause is, I don't want to lose the two apple varieties that aren't represented elsewhere on our farm, so I took some scionwood and will graft them onto the rootstock that's coming in the mail in March.  I guess it's lucky that the nursery turned out to only sell roostock in larger quantities, meaning that I was forced to order more rootstock than I thought I needed at that time.  The photo to the left shows two good pieces of apple scionwood, plus a sad section of pear scionwood from the tree I planted outside our core homestead.  I'll be grafting the pear onto a new rootstock this spring as well.

Propagating a hazel

Hazel cuttingOn a more pleasant note, the pruning afternoon turned into a bit of a propagation spree as well.  Our little hybrid hazel had sent up a sucker that was far enough away from the parent plant that I could clip it off and tease out some roots to go with it, and a gooseberry bush also yielded up several kids.  Kayla even found a rooted shoot at the base of one of our hardy kiwis.  I sent all of the babies home with Kayla to hedge my bets --- if her plants thrive and mine fail, I can always get cuttings from her to spruce back up our planting.  That seems like the permaculture way to create backups.

Unless I've forgotten someone, every bush and tree in our homestead is now pruned.  Time to move on to the next project on my list!

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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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Anna, there was an article in my local paper that briefly mentioned "bridge grafts": "...gather prunings for use later as bark Band-Aids-- bridge grafts-- to repair the damage..." for vole damage. I had not heard of this before.

Comment by Michael Tue Feb 25 07:57:07 2014
I like Michael's comment about grafting bark. Sounds like there's potential there, if not now, then in the future. Sorry that the voles are out en masse. But how lucky that you happened to have rootstock on the way! Better to have your fruit later than never.
Comment by jen g Tue Feb 25 11:46:44 2014

It would be difficult to bridge graft with the tree being girdled that low.

You may want to consider inarch grafting. Below is the only youtube video I could find with a quick search.

Below is a description that I found from a link you posted previously on your blog:

Comment by Brian Tue Feb 25 13:47:35 2014
Brian and Michael ---- I've been pondering both of those techniques (although had forgotten the name of inarch grafting --- thanks for reminding me!). Since the trees are pretty big, though, I'd need quite a few rootstock for inarch, and I have a tendency to think Brian might be right that bridge grafting would be very tough since I'd have to dig around to find some ungirdled roots to attach to. I might try the bridge graft, though --- no reason not to....
Comment by anna Tue Feb 25 16:08:16 2014

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