Sunday, March 31, 2013

Pruning and Renewal At Apple Trace

When I was a youngster, my Dad had a set of electric hair clippers.   At a designated hour every month, my brothers and I would line up by a tall stool in the basement, and one by one, Dad would zip off our hair, clippers buzzing furiously. 

As a barber, Dad had a sure-handed and confident technique, and we’d emerge from the basement with perfectly trimmed buzz cuts.   Our closely cropped dos would be the envy of any young military recruit.  

I am far less confident of the outcome as I approach Apple Trace at Restoration Farm on one of the last days of winter, preparing to prune the line of young apple trees for the very first time.   The eight heritage apple trees were planted in memory of my father James M. Barritt, Jr. in the spring of 2012.  
Restoration Farm’s resident fruit tree expert, Glenn Aldridge tells me the window for late winter pruning is once a year, and it is just about closed.   The tree is dormant, and energy is stored in the root, so the pruning promotes new growth in the spring.  Even at an early age, pruning is important to influence the future growth and shape of a tree.   The goal of pruning is to expose the strongest branches of the tree to as much sun and air as possible.  
I am skeptical.  The trees look so fragile.  They are barely twigs, so how will they withstand a pruning?   
I’m not quite ready to make the first cut, so I stroll down a secluded path adjacent to the historic village to visit the old Hewlett Apple Orchard and see how the trees there have progressed.  Exactly a year ago, we began pruning those long neglected trees, and Glenn has been working the orchard throughout the winter.  Along the way, I am trailed by a small flock of Billy goats who follow me into the orchard.  
At the Hewlett Apple Orchard, the trees appear to be thriving.   None are the worse for the rigorous pruning we gave them last year.    They look strong, healthy, well-shaped and ready for spring.  
So, perhaps the fledgling trees of Apple Trace would hold up to a little pruning.  After all, I survived the once-monthly trauma of a buzz cut.   I return to Apple Trace with renewed determination.  

In discussing “intuitive pruning,” orchardist Michael Phillips says, “Approach each tree with an introductory intake of the breath.  This meditative pause is when you take in the tree’s framework and overall shape.  How does it fit within the row?  Are some branches too low?  Is the leader beyond reach?”  
I take a deep breath.  I walk around each little tree and examine it carefully.  Where are the odd, outlier branches?  Where do the branches grow together in a pleasing conical shape?   At last, I am ready to take the clippers in hand.  I’ve convinced myself that pruning will be beneficial, and a path to renewal for these beloved trees.   
As I examine each tree, and clip one branch at a time, I start to see the results.   The trees look cleaner, streamlined and shapelier.  Each is a different variety, and each has its own shape and character.  
As I clip each branch, I collect the twigs.   I’ll put them in a vase on the Easter dinner table as a reminder of Dad and his apple trees taking root at Restoration Farm.   Someday, should the pruning pay off, perhaps I’ll make an apple tart with the fruit from Apple Trace.  
As I bundle up the cuttings and prepare to leave, I notice a family of robins who have alighted on Chapel Field – a sure sign of the promise of the season ahead. 
Happy Easter!  Happy Spring!   

©2013 T.W. Barritt All Rights Reserved


Lydia (The Perfect Pantry) said...

We pruned our pear trees last weekend, and I always remember the fear with which we approached that task for the first time 12 years ago. The trees had been poorly maintained, and needed severe pruning. Over three years, we reduced the height and reshaped those trees with what I thought at the time were drastic cuts. Now, though, the trees are thriving: leaner and meaner, maybe. And we get pears every September.

Zany said...

What a beautiful post! I hope you get to enjoy the "fruits" of your labor sooner rather than later!

Kat said...

Happy Easter to you too! I can feel your love of your father every time you post about him. I can't wait til you harvest your first apples. Pruning is very necessary, I am told.

Gloria Baker said...

I love this T.W. I always care my pears and roses, love it!

Happy Easter to you and a wonderful spring!!

Sam Hoffer / My Carolina Kitchen said...

When I was a Master Gardener, I found one of the most intimidating things we learned was pruning. Actually I think I never understood it, so I didn't get the hang of it.

Happy Easter T.W. and here's to springtime.

Unknown said...

Lovely post! Happy Easter to you and yours, T.W!

Karen (Back Road Journal) said...

You look at a tree after it is pruned and you know you did the right thing. It is nice to have brought the twigs home...they will eventually bloom. It is a wonderful way to remember your father.

Mary Bergfeld said...

What a perfect way to celebrate Easter and new life. I know your trees will bear fruits. This is such a lovely way to honor your father's memory. I hope you had a joyous Ester. Blessings...Mary

Deana Sidney said...

The act of trimming a tree is fraught with danger, if you ask me. Suckers, uprights, the warning if you do it wrong you have ruined growth for a year. Yikes. Also, trees that young are not in most manuals and it's hard to figure the right way to go about "opening up" a tree that is growing pretty straight. I bet there's a video about that now with all the tricks. Lovely story about the haircuts... I bet you did a great job.

tasteofbeirut said...

Pruning is something I have always been scared to try; I saw this Egyptian gardener prune and prune all these bushes in our garden and orchard and thought he was crazy; good thing I said nothing now the bushes and trees are at least twice as prolific. buds and blossoms are everywhere here and the apple trees are all with pretty pink buds and flowers; your dad sounds like quite a disciplined fellow.

Laura Luciano said...

That was a lovely tribute to your Father. I bet he would be proud on your "trim job" :)