Orchard pruning requires that human touch

MOUNT VERNON, Ohio — Anybody who believes that apple or other orchard-fruit growing is a seasonal job with a winter vacation would be surprised if they went out to the orchards and saw the work going on in the dead of winter.

Orchard fruit growing is about nine months of perpetration and maintenance and three months of picking, cleaning and storing fruit.

After the fruit is picked, the leaves have fallen and winter weather sets in, the trees go dormant and life activities and sap flow slows down. Then it’s time to get out into the cold and start pruning trees.

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Weather

Pomologist Richard Ridenbaugh, manger of Glenn Hill Orchards in Mount Vernon, Ohio, likes to start pruning as soon as weather conditions permit. He never knows how many decent days he’s going to have to work in the orchard before the sap starts running again, and pruning is high-priority work.

Washing, sorting and packaging apples to fill orders is an ongoing job all winter long, so he has to juggle his crew’s time between the two, along with a few other projects.

Cultivated trees have a tendency to grow more leaves and wood than is good for optimum fruit production. Pruning thins out the leaves so sunlight can penetrate through the whole tree mast.

The result is less, but larger fruit. Thinning also reduce the risk of wind and storm damage to a tree.

New growth

Apple trees produce fruit on new wood. Old wood and weak branches have to be pruned off to make room for new growth. Whip-like vertical growing shoots that don’t bear fruit also have to be cut away.

Gone are the huge apple trees of Johnny Appleseed’s day. In their place are the smaller semi-dwarf and dwarf fruit trees that take up a fourth or less space of the old trees. Growth on these smaller trees is much easier to control, but there are more of them.

Tree pruning is something that can’t be automated;
it takes a trained eye to prune a tree.

And with the old trees went the slender, A-shaped apple-picking ladders and pole saws with the rope-operated, guillotine-limb pruners.

Modern marvels

In their place are motorized three- or four-wheeled vehicles with hydraulic lifts and hydraulic or pneumatic pruning shears.

The pneumatic or air-powered pruning shears on 5-foot wands are several pounds lighter than when run with hydraulic fluid, but have a tendency to ice up when the temperature dips toward freezing.

With these mobile pruning platforms fitted with hydraulic lifts, a worker can drive between the more closely planted dwarf trees and reach any part of the tree without leaving the vehicle.

They do have to come back with a truck to clean up prunings, but the mobile platforms with power hydraulics take a lot of the drudgery out of pruning.

Tree pruning is something that can’t be automated; it takes a trained eye to prune a tree. And intermediate technology that does not put people out of work but relieves them of drudgery and increases production is a win-win option.

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