An Irish man and an apple tree

I thought the magic orchard was going to be my last winter pruning job this year but I was visiting another neighbour who I hadn’t seen in ages and realised I had another pruning job left to do. I had tended to these trees once (maybe twice) before and I actually grafted the younger ones in my own little nursery back in 2018 or thereabouts. So I was very interested to see how these little trees were getting on, and in particular how they were shaping up.

Central-leader apple trees

I generally favour a central-leader shaped fruit tree (think Christmas tree shape with one central trunk) over the open-centered shape conventionally favoured in gardening books. Basically each shape has it’s own merits but the central-leader shape is more natural for apple trees and should involve less maintenance. I go into the detail on this on my summer and winter one-day pruning courses.

Using local, renewable and recycled materials in permaculture orchard care

The younger trees needed some shaping and we achieved by some formative pruning and by bending down or splaying out the competing leaders with rubber ties and wooden pegs respectively to turn them into main, more horizontally-angled branches, called scaffolds in orchard terminology. I make the rubber ties by cutting up old bicycle inner-tubes to the length and width I need. I stock up on a couple of boxes of them every year as they have endless uses for the creative permaculture designer, especially if you do orchard work. The people in the bike shop I go to are happy to give them away for free as they are otherwise a waste item that they pay to dispose of. They are genuinely happy to divert their material to good uses. Circular Economy – it would be a great name for a bike shop…

The splaying pegs are an even more elegant solution where there is a suitable place to anchor them on the tree. I always easily find material on site (not apple as this could harbour a relevant disease) to make the pegs from. Willow is usually my go to, having nicely angled branches to serve as anchors.

Drainage magic on the mountain

I also tended to the older orchard up on top of the hill. It always seemed an odd place for an orchard as although it is a relatively well drained field, it is literally on top of a mountain with a near panoramic view and is completely open to the south and southwest winds (in the Southwest of Ireland!). Two of the trees had pretty bad canker as may be expected but amazingly two of them were doing well and the owner says that orchard gives apples every year.

Seeing this underlines some important points in orchard design

  • Choose varieties and rootstock suitable to the site conditions.
  • Apple orchards universally benefit from good drainage
  • A healthy dose of magic always helps : )

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *