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Royalty…Deposed

Apple buds are bursting into bloom as they seem almost eager to respond to recent warm temperatures.  In a typical year, each bud will yield a cluster of 6 flowers.  The one in the middle, the King, opens first soon to be followed by 5 surrounding flowers that open a day or so later.  Well, this is not a normal year.

As flower buds have been opening I have noticed something missing this year...the King is absent.  Well, you can see the remnant of what would have been King, but it seems the King has been overthrown.

A cluster of McIntosh flowers...notice that the King flower in the middle never developed.

A cluster of McIntosh flowers…notice that the King flower in the middle never developed. Photo: W. Lord

Where did the King blossoms go?  Weather usually tells the tale so I spent some time looking at records from last summer and the winter that finally seems to have died.  While I cannot say that I have found the absolute cause, I suspect strongly that a combination of a very warm last half of November and the onset of real winter in early December is the culprit.

King blossoms have special value as they tend to produce fruits that are slightly larger than the lateral flowers that surround them.  However, despite their loss, a good crop is still in the offing come autumn.

Defying the odds, masses of sweet cherry blossoms promise a nice crop of these taste treats.  Photo: W. Lord

Defying the odds, masses of sweet cherry blossoms promise a nice crop of these taste treats. Photo: W. Lord

Sweet cherries seem to have a heavier than normal bloom this year.  As one grower I visited this week remarked, “Isn’t it odd that the not-so-hardy sweet cherry trees are full of bloom and he hardier-than-nails apple trees are showing signs it was a long winter.”

Bill Lord, May 14, 2014

The Calendar Says Spring

Well, the calendar says spring even if the deep snow cover in most orchards is mocking us.  Most of us are eager for warmer weather; but the snow is not all bad.  It is great summer drought insurance and has insulated the ground well.  It has, however, made pruning a more difficult chore and has made the orchards of New Hampshire prime targets for hungry deer.

Deer are not neat pruners.  This tattered end should be pruned back to a bud.
Deer are not neat pruners. This tattered end should be pruned back to a bud.

This is one of those winters that proves that the only thing that works to keep deer out is a good woven wire fence.  Repellents like soap and rotten egg product sprays, coyote urine, and the like simply are no match when hunger is strong.  And deer pour through 10,000+ volt electric fences without even flinching.

What works? An 8 foot high, woven wire fence works best.  It has to be installed correctly – no gaps near the ground as deer will eagerly push it up and crawl under.  Adding a single strand or perhaps two of barbed wire at 10 inch intervals above the fence will help when snow is deep.

Fruit spurs, set to flower come May, are under attack by deer now.  Once hit, they never produce fruit again.
Fruit spurs, set to flower come May, are under attack by deer now. Once hit, they never produce fruit again.

What about the home orchard of just a couple trees or so?  Again, 8 foot woven wire, at least for the winter months is the best choice.  Use 3 or 4 stakes to support the fencing as you encircle each tree.

Do deer eat all fruit trees? Unfortunately, the answer is yes.  Apples and sweet cherries may be their favorites, but when food is scarce, anything goes.

When deer pressure is low, soap helps; but with pressure high, it has little effect on hungry deer.
When deer pressure is low, soap helps; but with pressure high, it has little effect on hungry deer.

As the snow recedes, I expect to see vole damage to young trees especially.  Deep snow cover has provided voles protection from predators like coyotes and allowed voles access to tree bark above vole guards.

Voles took advantage of a missing wire vole guard and deep snows to doom this young apple tree.
Voles took advantage of a missing wire vole guard and deep snows to doom this young apple tree.

Bill Lord, March 21, 2014

Badge of Courage?

Well, we are starting to get an idea of just how much damage the early heat and subsequent cold has done to the apple crop.  Oh, there is a crop, but it is thinner than we like.  Good sites, those with great elevation relative to the surrounding area, did well.  Cold air is heavier than warm air and like water tends to flow down hill to lower terrain.

Some apples will be bearing striking reminders of this past spring come fall (see photo).  Russet rings and blazes are already quite visible and will only become larger as fruit grow.  Affected fruits will likely be somewhat misshapen come fall…but they will still taste great!

A russet scar, the product of a post-bloom frost, will remind us of a spring that was come harvest this fall.  Photo: W. Lord
A russet scar, the product of a post-bloom frost, will remind us what a spring it was come harvest this fall. Photo: W. Lord

Bill Lord, May 30, 2012

A Sleepless Weekend

Three straight nights of worry.  A hard frost/freeze was predicted overnight for this past Friday, Saturday, and Sunday…all of which means growers have had three sleepless nights, up turning on overhead irrigation to protect strawberries and wind machines to protect apples and hoping…

The calls have been coming in from all quarters this morning – 24 in low spots in Hollis, 27 for Londonderry, 26 in the Upper Valley, and oddly a balmy 34 in Conway.  There is some damage…but there is also a lot of bud survival.   The next ten days (or should I say nights) look much less ominous.  It appears we dodged a major crop loss this past weekend.

I ventured outside at 5:30 or so this morning to sense the cold…the thermometer was reading just 32 but already rising.  It was quiet as the sun worked its way up – well, quiet except for the drone of bumble bees seemingly unaffected by the cool morning and eager to work.

A honey bee works a bramble flower on a day much warmer than we have seen the past week.  Photo: W. Lord
A honey bee works a bramble flower on a day much warmer than we have seen the past week. Photo: W. Lord

Bill Lord, April 30, 2012

A Spring Full of Worry

To say this has been an unsettling spring weather-wise is a major understatement.  Tree fruit buds got growing early this spring in response to an incredibly warm March.  Several hard frosts that followed have many wondering just what kind of crop we will harvest come summer and fall.

Apples are our main tree fruit crop in New Hampshire and there has been freeze damage in some areas. Site has played a large role in bud survival to date.  Low pockets where cold air is trapped on frosty mornings are where damage is worst while those sites with great air drainage, those with good elevation relative to surrounding land, have fared quite well.

The female portion of this apple blossom to be has been killed by frost.  It will not produce a fruit.  W. Lord photo.
The female portion of this apple blossom to be has been killed by frost. It will not produce a fruit. W. Lord photo.

Complicating the apple picture is that many trees do not have as many flower buds as we would like.  Normally we thin apples just after bloom to improve fruit size and insure a return bloom the following spring.  Weather during bloom last spring was so wet that most growers were left wondering when if at all bees had a chance to pollinate flowers.  We did less thinning of the apple crop as a result and perhaps that has played a role in reducing the bloom this year.

Peaches have been largely spared any damage so far, perhaps because we are so careful when selecting sites for peach orchards.  Bees are not essential for a peach crop.  Peach flowers are perfect (contain both male and female parts) and all commercial varieties are self fruitful so wind action is usually enough to do the job.

Bill Lord, April 17, 2012

Pruning Peaches

We usually wait until the last minute to prune peaches, often pruning when buds are pink and just about ready to pop into bloom.  Peaches are a marginal crop in New Hampshire, although on good sites in the southern part of the state, annual crops are almost the norm.  Delaying pruning gives us a chance to see just how many buds have made it through the cold winter.  While basic pruning principles are not compromised, we can adjust pruning to compensate for reduced or excessive bud survival.

Peaches are pruned to an open center – a stark contrast to the central leader or Christmas tree shape we strive for with most other tree fruits. Peach fruits are produced on wood that grew the previous summer and peach wood is brittle – that combination of brittle wood and fruit load at the ends of the branches makes structural strength key.

We start forming the open center structure the day we plant the tree.  Head peach trees back to 24 to 30 inches at planting. Limbs arising below the heading-back cut should be cut in half to promote the development of strong, wide-angled branches and thinned to leave only the best 3 or 4. Remove any branches growing 15 inches or less from the ground.

  • Newly set peach tree pruned to create an open center.  Photo: W. Lord
  • Newly set peach tree pruned to create an open center. Photo: W. Lord
  • Young peach tree in its second spring before pruning. Photo: W. Lord
    Young peach tree in its second spring before pruning. Photo: W. Lord


    Same peach tree, pruned.  Photo: W. Lord
    Same peach tree, pruned. Photo: W. Lord

    In the second year, select 3 to 4 well-developed, wide-angled lateral branches and cut off all other branches flush with the trunk. Head the 2 or 3 that you have selected back slightly where growth has exceeded 30 inches.

    Bill Lord, April 28, MMXI

    Is it spring yet?

    Last Saturday, April 23, offered a stark contrast to the same date last year.  Instead of apple trees sporting some pink on flower buds just busting to burst, a couple of inches of heavy, wet snow hung on buds just starting to push green.  Warmer weather is due this week, but it will be mixed with showers.  Growers are busy, applying oil for scale and mite control, chopping prunings, and pruning peaches.  The potential for a great crop is there – but memories of June 11 last year add angst to the equation.

    Cleft grafts inserted, waiting for grafting compound.  Photo: W. Lord
    Cleft grafts inserted, waiting for grafting compound. Photo: W. Lord


    Bark or inlay graft in place and ready to cover.  Photo: W. Lord
    Bark or inlay graft in place and ready to cover.  Photo: W. Lord

    My pruning demonstrations are done for the year.  I will be demonstrating top-working older trees (grafting over to new varieties) on May 10 at Windy Ridge Orchard in North Haverhill (Meeting Notice).

    Bill Lord, April 26, MMXI

    Pruning Season

    We had our first pruning meeting of the season today at Sunnycrest Farm in Londonderry.  What a beautiful day – bright sun, blue skies, temperatures above freezing, a great crowd of eager home fruit fanciers, and most importantly, wonderfully hospitable hosts.

    Pruning apples is one of my favorite chores (although I often feel guilty getting paid for doing something I like so much).  Today I pruned 10 year old dwarf trees.  We do have a number of pruning demonstrations scheduled over the next few weeks.  The next one on the schedule is  Saturday, March 5 in Spofford (see flier at the following link – Cheshire County Pruning Demo).  And if you just want to learn how to grow fruits of any type, come to Conway this coming Thursday, March 3 from 6-8 PM (Carroll County Fruit Meeting).

    I prune, rain, snow, or shine, warm or cold, no matter what…so, if you plan to attend one of our pruning meetings please dress for the weather.

    Bill Lord, February 24, MMXI

    January Plunge

    The thermometer at my house read -19 F at 6:00 in the morning.  Cold, not super cold, but cold enough to validate my decision not to grow peaches at home.  Was the commercial peach crop in the state hurt?   That remains to be seen, but at this time my guess is there will be peaches.  Why?

    Peaches are always planted on the best site an orchard has to offer, one that is elevated relative to surrounding land offering a few degrees protection on those super cold nights and mornings.  And most peaches in New Hampshire are grown in the southern part of the state where temperatures were not quite so extreme.   There temperature readings  seemed to float between single digits below to perhaps -10 or so.  We have had great conditions so far this winter – good steady cold with little temperature fluctuation. Our better varieties should be able to take -10 to -12 and still offer us a spring crop.  Of course, there is a lot of winter left…and not every tree is planted on one of those “good” sites.

    The deep snow has slowed most movement in orchards to a crawl.   Pruning when snow is deep is hard work – even deer pruning has been slowed down as they too have difficulty traveling through chest deep snows.  Voles, on the other hand, are likely enjoying the deep snow.  It offers great protection from predation by coyotes and owls and the like and easy access to tender tree bark.  For my few trees, I have knocked snow levels down to a few inches below the tops of the the guards to restrict vole access.

    Spring pruning meetings for home gardeners will start soon (that word spring sounds good).  The first will be on March 5 in Cheshire County.  Watch this space for details on this and other pruning demonstrations as the season progresses.

    Bill Lord, January 28, MMXI

    Brr…

    It was just 1 F this morning, the first of what will likely be many cold days over the next 3 months or so.  How does that compare to years past?

    Well, on December 10 in 1902 it hit -13 F while just a year earlier on that date it hit a balmy 63 F.  Our weather is if nothing else, never boring.

    Neither extreme is normal, and both extremes carry some risk.  The -13 reading in 1902 likely would have taken out most peach buds.  A -21 F event on December 21 in 1980 was a bit more damaging, wiping out almost the entire peach crop in NH and killing tens of acres of wine grapes back to ground level outright.

    I spent some time this past weekend checking vole guards around trees and adding new ones where needed.  This chore should have been done weeks earlier, but with the ground still bare, I was OK.  With snow cover likely  very soon, I am happy I finally got around to this chore.

    For vole guards I use hardware cloth, usually 1/4 or 1/2 inch mesh.  I cut 18 inch tall pieces roughly 20 inches long which bends to form a protective cylinder about 6-7 inches across.  Cut hardware cloth is hard on the hands so gloves are important.  Fastening the ends of the cylinder together is easy now that I use hog rings.

    A short crop (oh, that May 11 morning) and warm summer did produce one thing in abundance in our orchards – strong fruit buds that promise a great crop in 2011.   Now if only we can have moderate temperatures this winter and spring…

    Bill Lord, December 10, MMX