The aim of the week was to use the lessons we learned at a recent pruning workshop to get our tree and soft-fruit into good shape for the year. Everyone had a great time doing this - odd how we all like killing stuff!
|Mark wonders where to start|
Pruning is clearly an art as much as a science. You are usually aiming to achieve a specific shape, but nature doesn't often fit the plan exactly so the job involves quite a bit of standing back, sucking your teeth, deciding to cut a branch, thinking better of it, standing back to have another look.... You'll have worked out by now that we aren't very quick at this! However, I am happy to say that we all got faster at the decision making as the 2 sessions progressed, so whilst none of us is ready for a career in pruning yet, we can still say we have now tried out the skills we did the training for.
The main job was the fruit cage. Last year's wet weather gave the bushes a real growth spurt, but a lot of the wood they made is long and thin, so we worked to shorten the new growth on the red and white currants and the gooseberries. We were also a bit slow to weed the cage last year and the bind-weed ended up weighing some of the plants down, so there was a job to do to remove the branches at the bottom of the plants that ended up too close to the ground so we don't have fruit hanging in the mud.
|Pete shortening to new growth on a gooseberry|
The blackcurrants had to be treated a little differently, as they grow from a "stool". For these, you are looking to remove some of the older branches from the base each year, so that most of the wood in the bush is fairly young and vigorous. For all pruning, you need to keep an eye on how much wood you remove all together. More than 1/3rd removed, and the plant will tend to have lots of buds start to grow so you get too many new stems.
|Jade prunes a blackcurrant stem back to the base.|
We had to be careful to remember that 1/3rd rule when we came to look at the pear tree. This was already there when we arrived at the allotment, so we don't really know much about its history, apart from the fact that it was growing in very odd ways, with branches angling all over the place. It looked like a 2 year old's drawing of a tree that they scribbled on half way through. Last year we took off some of the branches, but it had so many issues that we had to leave quite a bit of the work for this year. Now, we have made it look a bit more organised, but there will still be quite a bit to do next year. In comparison, the apple tree was dead easy - take off one lower branch that shouldn't have been allowed to develop and it was done.
|Jo and new volunteer Carrie making sense of our crazy pear.|
One good result of pruning is that you get lots of cuttings for growing on to make new plants. It's not too hard to do, but not all cuttings will take. We've put in a lot now, using the bag beds from last year. One is blackcurrant and the other our favourite gooseberry - Leveller. Hopefully they will produce quite a few plants.
|Nadine prepares a gooseberry cutting.|
It was bitterly cold, with a biting wind, so some polytunnel work helped warm us up. We have now got all our spuds set out and labelled, ready to chit (that is, grow their buds or "eyes" into sprouts that will then grow when we plant them in the ground). We also found time to finalise the planting plan for the year.
|Sorting out the potatoes|
|Chris always enjoys getting the potatoes ready...|
|Ellis with the finished "chitting box"|
It feels as if we might actually be getting organised for the year already, but that will probably be wishful thinking, and, just like the last few years, we will get really busy as soon as the growing season starts.