We have 5 major—labor intensive–operations on a stonefruit farm over the course of the year and since there are always new people, it’s probably good to get folks up to speed once in a while; sounds better than repeating myself because I’m old anyhow.
During dormancy, we winter prune; which is a very technical, variety specific operation we’ll talk more about come winter.
Next is thinning which is the hand removal and spacing of excess fruit, a mid-March through April proposition.
A couple weeks prior to harvest, we like to sucker, which is a comparatively inexpensive task of removing light robbing water shoots or suckers to get sunlight on the fruit and improve its color while also improving next year’s fruitfulness..
Then comes harvest which is an every other day proposition in each variety early, and as far apart as 5 days on the late varieties.
Finally comes what we’re doing right now which is called “summer pruning.” Unlike winter pruning which precisely reduces each tree to a specific branch count and thus an optimal crop load, summer pruning is more artistic expression and less accountancy.
A given bud decides whether it will make a blossom next year around mid-July. The fancy term for this decision is called “fruit bud differentiation.” (Oh yeah, you’re going to amaze all your friends at the next block party when you start throwin around $100 phrases like that!)
How’s it do that Uncle Vern? Well, for a blossom to make a fruit, it has to be pollinated, and to be pollinated, it needs to be on the exterior of the tree where bees and wind can get the pollen to it, so the way it’s designed is that only the buds that get direct sunlight (the ones on the exterior of the tree) in July will make a blossom next February. So that preharvest suckering we did, also helps next year’s crop by getting sunlight to next year’s fruit buds.
So if the buds have already decided which ones will flower and which ones won’t why are you guys pruning now? Three reasons: first, the biggest fruit grows on the strongest branches closest to the main limbs. Second, fruiting branches store carbohydrates collected from sunlit leaves in their wood for next spring’s push, and finally, even though a bud has decided to be a flower next year, it can still die if it doesn’t get adequate sunlight. So what we’re doing now is artistically opening up by cutting back. You’ll know you’re getting it right when you can see filtered sunlight on the orchard floor. A better way to say it might be that we’re choosing our team for next year and making sure they have what they need to be successful.
At the end of the day, what all farmers (except maybe mushroom guys) do is harvest sunlight, add water and nutrients and produce food. Our permanent stonefruit crops just take a lot more care to assure that light is being captured by the branches with the greatest potential to utilize that light to maximum results.
It’s the same with us really. We each produce fruit to the extent we utilize the light we’re given.