Sunday, March 20, 2011

Getting Ready for Spring

The nights are still cool, but it is pleasant during the day.  The first signs of Spring are showing: the Navaho Globe Willows are leafing out; sprouts of green grass here and there; the robins are back. Time to prune the peach trees!

Our peach trees, each in its own stepped irrigation pan.

After falling behind in our maintenance last summer due to my bout with cancer, we are trying to stay on schedule this year.  You can see in the overview shot that we have pruned the peach trees and are picking up all the debris.

Valorie, with our dog, Uno, standing behind one of the freshly pruned peach trees.  The objective in pruning our peach trees is to achieve an inverted umbrella shape.  There are many advantages to this pruning style.  The first is that all the fruit is born between the 3 foot and 7 foot height to facilitate picking the crop.  No ladders required! The second is an open pattern like this increases the air circulation in the "crown" of the tree and thereby reduces the incidence of disease.  The third is that the open structure allows more sunlight in to the peaches themselves, heightening their color and enhancing their flavor.  Peach trees need to be pruned back about 40% every year to keep them bearing consistently.  Last year's new growth, the red twigs in the picture, will bear this year's fruit.  Deadwood and water sprouts need to be pruned out.  Additionally, the overall balance of the tree needs to be maintained, with a slight bias on the heavy side for the south facing side of the tree to shade the trunk from sun scald.

It is hard to achieve this upside down umbrella shape unless you get the right start.  We are fortunate that our barefoot supplier, L. E. Cooke Company out of Visalia, California has a selection of fruit trees that they call E-Z PICK.  You can see that when the trees were young, they were lopped of at the 18 inch level, forcing many side branches.  The trees were then grown on by L. E. Cooke for an additional year.  We received barefoot trees that were1 to 1 & 1/4 inch caliper and already 3 to 5 feet tall.

Next to come for the peach trees is a dormant season spaying with an OMRI approved lime sulfur compound.  The irrigation pan berms need to be repaired.  After the first irrigation, we will rototill the pans to prepare a seedbed for an understory planting of grasses and a legume.  At present we are leaning toward a mixture of Elka Perennial Ryegrass, Creeping Red Fescue and White New Zealand Clover.  All three of these plants are low growing and in combination should help choke out the weeds.  Mowing just once or twice a year should maintain a healthy stand.

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