Now is the time for pruning in the orchard.
My mum used to love the pruning time back at the farm. With her dog and her radio it was her own time away from the house and away from worry. Us kids were at school, beds were done, downstairs swept, lunch was on the stove and with her garden sheers in one hand and a hand-saw hanging on a string at her waste she became a sculptress for a couple of hours in those mostly foggy winter mornings.….
First of all she’d looked at a tree, at its shape, would decide on which 5 main branches to keep, then saw the others. She would then cut back those main branches such that my dad would be able to drive through on his tractor without creating any damage. Then she’d cut away all those incredibly vigorous suckers going straight up and taking all the energy from the tree.
The suckers on a peach tree are easily identifiable being more orange in colour from the rest of the bark which is of a deeper red. There is also more distance between the tiny leaf buds. The suckers don’t carry the promise of fruits and only develop leaves on the first year. They make the main bulk of what is removed from the tree and make a surprisingly big pile.
Once that is done there was a pause. She’d walk back a bit and assess her work having now clarity on how to proceed. It was then a question of taking any branches or twigs growing inwards, those crossing each other or sticking out too close from one another.
You have to imagine the tree in full leaf and the need for the wind to pass freely through such that unnecessary moisture has no place to hide and hopefully leaf curl and mildew stay at bay. You end up with a tree that is open and like a soup plate shape, which is ideal for easy summer pickings. Then she moved on to the next tree and started all over again. She had hundreds of peach trees to get done in the winter….
When I created the orchard here 10 years ago, my mum was very present with her joy and energy and generosity.
We have only 2 mature peach trees here at Balthazard and about 30 young ones planted along the lavender path, grown from stones that will need pruning in a few years’ time. The pruning of our 2 peach trees brings back the memory of those Saturdays and Sundays when I used to work with mum.
It was a great excuse for not doing my homework and she enjoyed my presence once I had managed to understand what was needed. We would chat and discuss this and that and which branch to keep and which to remove when the tree was an awkward shape to start with.
She liked having me there, and I liked being there with her, sculpting and creating, and being useful. She was often unable to explain precisely what she was doing and I spent a lot of time simply observing her and trying to make sense of it.
This afternoon I spent a couple of hours on pruning the second one of our peach trees and it was most pleasurable. This is when I realized what a sculpting job it was with some risk of course like cutting the wrong branch or being too severe which would mean less fruits possibly . Like a sculptor I was going round and round the tree feeling my way through the job and slowly stripping away until I declared the job done.
Tomorrow I have 2 mature apple trees to work on and they are very different trees but the satisfaction is the same whatever the weather. And tomorrow it’s raining all day said Monique tonight.