Category Archives: Fruits from the orchard

Pruning Fruit Trees

February!  It’s time to prune here!  With this warm weather, 70’s,  it’s a race against time for me!  Racing around planting the garden, planning CSA crops, getting seedlings starting, running my shop, spraying dormant oil, weeds popping up everywhere and taking care of the old cat, Casper the Perfect Cat who has to eat 7-8 times a day! Yup he’s still doing good!  Whoa!  And making sure there is time for the new grand-baby (cutest baby on earth)! Arrg!  When am I going to get it done?

Ok, so I do cheat a little.  During the fall months after most of the leaves have dropped, I prune my apples and pears.  With almost 50 fruit trees, this can really help in the spring.  They sure don’t seem to mind and there is less water sprouts, which pears and apples are more prone to producing.  So this is a win win for me!

If weather is warm, like this year, I start early pruning.  Mid-January.  An apple a  day…Or a tree a day keeps…huh, I don’t have anything!  Here is some guidelines to follow when pruning.  GOOD TOOLS!  I can’t say it enough!  A good sharp tool is well worth it’s weight.  My favorite?  Felco!  I have had the a Felco f-13 for large hands for well over 10 years, plus it cuts larger branches and I don’t have to reach for the loppers.  They come in several sizes to pick from, so get the right tool for your hand to reduce fatigue. They do cost more, or do they?  10 years and still keeps ticking, well, still cutting!  I just can’t say enough about these excellent tools!  I keep it sharp, enough to chop a finger…there’s a story.  Sharp tools whiz through the work, making a clean-cut.  Clean cuts ensure pests don’t enter raggedy edges of the branches.  Good sharp saws are also important for those larger branches that are to big for pruners.  Again, I love my felco saws!  And of course a good pair of loppers.  On to pruning techniques!

Felco Pruners F-13

Tried and True Felco Pruners

You can stand out by your fruit tree with a pruning manual in one hand and pruners in the other and never get anywhere. You have to dig in!  Once you get going, you’ll get it!  Keep in mind, not all tree shapes are created equal! So relax about having the picture perfect tree.  More than likely, it isn’t going to happen!

I will prune twice each year, winter is a major pruning and summer pruning is done to keep sunlight on the fruit to sweeten it and help it ripen, and to remove any suckers that may develop. Usually when I do my thinning chores, I have a pair of pruners in my back pocket. Saves time.

Shapes of Trees:

Central Leader – is best for apples, pears, European-type plums (green gage, damson) and sweet cherries.  A “central leader” is the main stem or trunk of the tree from which other lateral branches develop.  For central leader shaped trees, select the tallest, straightest shoot to be the central post.  This will give the central post an extra bit of dominance. Start shaping the lower scaffolding by cutting back a branch with a heading cut, making sure that the new branch you choose will maintain an angle of 30-45 degrees.  Too flat an angle when you have a heavy crop, could break the branch.  Some heavy producing years, no matter how good your pruning is, you may need to tie some of the lower scaffolding branches to the central post for support.

15 Year old Peach Tree Pruned to Open Center

15 Year old Peach Tree Pruned to Open Center

Open Center – is best for peaches, nectarines, Japaneses-type plums (Santa Rosa, mariposa, elephant heart) apricots, and sour cherries.  Open center fruit tree pruning are based around three or four main limbs set at wide angles with about five lesser branches on each.

Planting new trees?  Look your tree over well when purchasing.  Look carefully over the trunk, especially near the soil line.  Watch for abrasions of any kind!  Abrasions can be a sign of present or future problems.  A tree on sale, may be a good deal at the moment, but it may cost you time and trouble down the road.  Look at its shape as well.  If the tree has branches only on one side, it will be harder to train to “open center”, but maybe easier to “central leader”.  For peaches and apricots, look for three or four main branches that are evenly, or somewhat evenly spaced.  The angles of these branches can be trained by placing a spreader between the main trunk and main limbs. So as long as they aren’t all straight up with the trunk, you can probably shape it. You can purchase these spreader or make them yourself.  When placing a spreader, be careful not to force your branch too much, or you may cause it to split at the trunk.  Do this gradually over time (within the first 6 months).  New trees will sometimes develop shoots along the trunk, don’t cut them, rub them off.  Cutting them encourages growth.  Do a small amount of pruning 4 or 5 times during the summer to get the shape you desire.

Here are things to remember –

1. Cleaning up the tree – This includes removing the following:

  • Dead, diseased and broken branches.  See!  That’s an easy first step!
  • Water sprouts and suckers.
  • Weak dropping and unproductive branches.
  • turning downward branches.
  • competing leaders (this is when pruning central leader)

2. Let in light – Remove branches that:

  • Compete with other branches
  • Shade the center of the tree (in very hot climates, you do need to be careful not to go crazy here.  To much sunlight in high UV areas will cause sun-scald to branches).

3. Methods:

  • Make cuts at a 45-degree angle, 1/4″ above a bud.
  • Use hand pruners for 3/4″ to 1″ (depending on pruner type), lopper up to 2″, and saws for anything more than 2″ cuts.
  • When pruning a tree that has had disease, be sure to wipe with a disinfectant wipe before moving on to the next tree so you don’t spread the disease!
  • Do not paint with wood seal or other paint.  Painting will take the tree longer to heal over. Let nature take it course.

Here is a great tip to remember when you are doing corrective pruning.  Do not fertilize that tree for that season.  Fertilizing will stimulate more water sprouts.  The corrective pruning will provide enough stimulation of growth for that season.

In more depth –

You will need to decide whether or not you want to use a ladder to harvest, or pick fruit from the ground when planting your trees!  When I first planted my orchard, I pruned all branches from the ground up about three to three and half-foot.  20 + years later, as I replace and plant new ones, I don’t want them so high, so I keep those main branches to about two foot from the ground.  I like this much better!

Peach trees will produce fruit on one year old wood.  Pruning needs to be done to encourage new healthy wood that is about 12-18″ long and under 1″ in diameter. Branches should be cut out that are to close to each other and any dead, diseased or broken branches or twigs.  The best fruiting wood will be horizontal wood.  The whole tree needs to be pruned enough so that the branches have space around them. Leave branches that will shade the tree trunk, which decrease the chance of sunburn.  This is especially true for out high UV area.  Suncald on tree trunks will cause bark to peel away, inviting insects and weakened branches.

Cherries and apricots will produce fruit on 1-year old branches.  Cutting old limbs keeps an apricot tree productive and healthy.  Some people will remove all the little stubs that form on cherries and apricots, leaving whips, but to find out later they just removed all their fruit as well.  Remove only 20 percent of the older growth throughout the tree. Pruning apricots and cherries can also be done after fruiting, late August if you live in a wet area.  This reduces the chance of disease that develops in wet conditions.  However!!!!  This is not good in our climate because it stresses the tree when doing the major pruning in temperatures above 100 degrees.  And we are certainly in that heat zone in August!

So, grab your pruners, loppers, and saw, and get to work!  I’m headed!



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Maintenance for Iron Deficiency in Fruit Trees


Beginning of Yellowing from Iron Deficiency on Young Peach Tree

When we first planted our orchard twenty-five years ago we didn’t know much about our soil we were putting the new little trees in, or for that matter what we should have done to improve it. There had been orchards all over our valley for decades and they all seemed to be doing great. In fact 40 years before we planted our orchard, there was a huge peach orchard right were we put in our little fruit orchard. But, the topsoil had been scraped, probably removed and sold, perhaps other soils brought in and if there were any original soil left, it was depleted. Within a few short years some of our trees started to show signs of iron deficiency. Yellowing leaves with green veins with the tips showing signs of burn. This is the first tell-tell sign of iron deficiency.
In our area we typically have a high content of iron in our native soils, but because the pH range is generally on the high side, around 7.5 to 8.0, plants can’t take up many of the nutrients in the soil needed for healthy growth and tasty fruit.
We have incorporated tree care regimens over the years and our newer fruit trees are healthier than ever and produce the best tasting fruits.
Every Spring (When trees begin to bud) the trees get a feeding of Azomite,  Rock Phosphate and Gypsum sprinkled around the drip line with a heavy layer of compost, but not covering the trunk of the tree. Once the trees begin to leaf out we carefully watch for any yellowing, which seems to happen here once a year to every other year. While we give them all that tender loving care, they still seem to have an iron deficient issue on occasions. This is because of our high pH.  Not only the soil’s pH is high, but  our water is also high in pH, so yes, we have succumbed to the fact that we can do every thing to insure a healthy tree, but because we live where we live, we just have to do a little more maintenance to keep our trees at their best. The first sign of yellowing I sprinkle Ferris Plus Iron around the drip line of the trees (from the trunk, out to where the canopy of the tree stops) and water in thoroughly. Ferri Plus Iron is a chelated iron that the trees can take up very quickly. Generally within a week or less! You can use as a foliar spray, but I choose the easiest methods…or it may not get done. Follow the instructions on the label for each tree. Each tree will require a different amount of iron, due to their size, age and canopy. Trees that are deficient in iron will first show signs of yellowing with green veins. As the problems increases, leaves tips will look as if they have been burnt. If deficiency is left to get worse, branch die back can occur and the loss the tree is possible.

We have learned over the years of orcharding that just sticking a tree in the ground may work for a while, but giving it a great start to insure a healthier tree with more vigor, better tasting fruit and longer life is an investment worth putting time into. Trees we have planted lately have been healthier and less prone to bugs. Compost is always mixed in the native soil, but not more than a cubic foot for five gallon sized trees. Mychorrhizae is used as well to give them the best boost they can get. We could place fertilizer in each hole as well, but we feel the compost and Mychorrhizae is enough and then they get the regular feeding when the rest of the trees get treated.
Giving plants the proper nutrients will improve flavor of the fruit. We have found that iron and mineral deficient trees will have fruit that taste a little bland as well. A good example is we planted a Saturn peach years ago, and I threaten to yank it out every year. The fruit was not what a fresh peach should taste like. After starting a good fertilizing and fruit tree care program, amazingly, the fruit was sweet, juicy and delicious!

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Growing Your Own Fresh Figs and Using Them

I have to admit that I was never fond of figs until about 10 years ago. But, the silly thing is I never knew why! How could I have not have liked figs if I never tried a fresh fig. Heck, I liked fig newtons! I even planted a fig tree in my orchard. Okay, so I am a stubborn creature…. Luckily I finally gave them a whorl once the tree started to produce and now it is one of my favorite trees in the orchard.

Figs are a Mediterranean plant. They are hardy in Zones 8 to 10, but can be grown in pots that can be brought in out of the harsh cold winters or planted on the south sides of buildings for extra winter warmth and protection from harsh winds and should be bundled with a thick layer of hay or straw and burlap. A properly wrapped fig tree should survive winters even down to Zone 6 sometimes colder. When temperatures drop below 10 degrees Fahrenheit without proper protection, figs will be lost to the cold! Moral of the story is, if you live in zone 7 or lower and you are not good at doing protective covering, you might be better off planting figs in containers.

There are over 200 fig cultivars grown in North America with a wide range of color and shapes. Most figs are self-pollinating, outside of a few odd balls, so no need for a pollinator! I have grown several varieties here, but have found my favorites are Black Mission, Kadota, Brown Turkey and Celeste. These cultivars do well here and are full of flavor.
Figs will fruit two, seldom three, different times during the season on new wood. The first starts here in June, giving off the biggest best fruits and the second is late summer. Although the second harvest is smaller fruits, it always seems to last a little longer in the season sometimes continuing a month. Many times in mid to late September new fruit starts to set. Because of the cold weather they tend to grow slow and rarely do they ever mature unless we have a very late frost.

Luckily for us, figs like a more alkaline soil and lots of sun! If you live were the soil is more on the acidic side, apply lime around the base of the tree. Keep figs well watered during the fruiting season to assure proper ripening and larger fruit. Apply rock phosphate around the base of the tree in early spring and mulch with plenty of compost.

I was told once to dip my finger into olive oil and coat the bottom of each fig to hasten the ripening. Well, when you have thousands of figs on one tree, that hardly seems sensible, but for potted figs, I can assure you, it really does the trick! The figs touched with olive oil mature and ripen ahead of others.

Harvest often! The warmer the weather, the faster they ripen. Figs will become soft to the touch when ripe and sometimes the skin will begin to split. Know the color of your figs while some are a light golden-green and others are dark brown or blue/black when ripe.

As far as pruning figs, Keep the suckers that sprout at the base of the tree and any suckers that form from the roots. Keeping fig trees open makes them much easier to harvest the fruit. Figs will grow rather informal, so prune to keep under control and open. Keep dead and damaged branches removed. Figs can be espaliered, but you have to keep on them all time to manage a good-looking espalier tree.

Figs are generally disease and insect free. Our biggest problem is ants that climb up the branches to feed on the fruit, but a layer of wood ashes keeps them at bay. Birds can be a serious pest problem. Once they taste the ripe fruit, well they are on it like BIRDS! Netting works well for smaller or containers figs trees.

What to do with all those figs…..Figs will spoil rather quickly. Making a puree out of figs by simmering them with a touch of honey and lemon for 20 minutes then running them though the food processor and freezing them makes a great filling for cookies like fig bars or it can be spread on toast.
Dehydrating them is a super quick and easy way to preserve figs for winter snacks, or even chopped up and put in whole wheat breads.

Carmel Candied Figs

Fresh Black Mission Figs

Fresh Black Mission Figs

Left over fig juices

Save the left over fig liquid reduce with balsamic vinegar for balsamic vinegar.



A friend of mine shared a recipe with me this year and I have enjoyed it more than anything I have done with figs. It’s called Carmel Candied Figs. While it takes days to make, it is a very easy process. Day One; Place 6 pounds of figs in a heavy stock pot, adding 1 cup honey, 1 cup water and simmer with a lid on for 1 hour. Swirl the liquid, but don’t stir the figs or they will tear. Let sit overnight. Whole spices can be added like, cinnamon, star anise or allspice, but it is not necessary at all! Day two; simmer figs without lid for 1 hour. Let sit overnight. Day Three; simmer figs without lid for 1 hour. Cool. Line 2 cookie sheets with parchment paper. Place figs, stem up, flattening slightly on cookie sheet and place in an oven with pilot light. Turn figs over, belly side up, the next day, turning a few times a day from stem side to belly. do this until figs are chewy. It usually takes about three days, depending on the humidity. I store mine in glass containers with a lid, but leave the lid ajar for a week to remove any extra moisture. Extra moisture will cause mold….You don’t want that to happen. They can also be frozen at this stage. These delicious figs can be eaten like this alone or can be added to fall breads, muffins, scones, custards or whatever you set your mind too!  TIP:  Save the left over liquid form cooking the figs down and add to two cups of regular balsamic vinegar, reduce by simmering for several hours.  Here is your own fig vinegar for making the best salad dressing you’ve ever had!


Filed under Fruits from the orchard, Preserving

Quiet Sunrise

There is nothing better than a summer morning, just as the sun rises and being in the garden!  The sound of business only come from the birds chirping and the occasional crow from our little rooster.  The air is still cool and calm.  Bliss!

First stop is the goats. Getting their morning ration of hay, grain and giving Ivy a check, which is due to kid any day now.  She is nice and round, but no signs that she will be giving birth today.  The anticipation of new little kids hopping around keeps me going to the barn several times a day with excitement.

Watering chores are done early before the heat to arrives.  My favorite tool is a watering wand, the gentle flow of water is soothing to me and with the many potted plants around the garden, a little joy in a chore never hurts.

Checking the potato crop, I noticed the purple blooms. So a little digging around in the deep mulch layer found a handful of new potatoes for dinner tonight.   These are my favorite type of potatoes.  While the potato crop grows, I continue to mulch with compost around the plant, piling higher and higher until the compost reaches about a foot thick, making a perfect bed for new potatoes and a super easy harvest.  New potatoes are so succulent and tender, they melt in your mouth.  Their little skin just falls right off with the slightest rub.  Cut into fourths, tossed with some fresh herbs and olive oil, grilled or  baked makes a great easy side dish for a summer supper.  Fresh!  Luckily we will harvest new potatoes for the new several weeks until the foliage starts to die back, then it’s time for the main harvest.

Boysenberries are in full swing now and picking daily is a must!  Purple hands are a dead give away where I has hiding out this morning.  Morning is the best time to pick most crops, as they are usually sweeter and juicier.   A rustic berry tart is on the dessert menu tonight!  They get an extra drink of water while they are fruiting.  We are looking forward to the Triple Crown Blackberry harvest coming up shortly.  They are loaded with green berries and white blossoms. I planted a Triple Crown Blackberry on our back patio winding around one of the pillars.  What a fun focal point. And, you can eat it too!  A toss of some acidic rich fertilizer for the last time this year and a layer of compost over the top gives them a boost and promotes healthy new growth for next years berries as well.

My two garden helpers, Casper and Mabes are on the prowl lurking around the bushes

as we go from spot to spot making sure they don’t miss out on anything.  Casper is getting up there in years, but still enjoys the garden. While we adopted Mabes, a six-year-old active cat about two months ago, hoping for a mouser, when in deed, again, another cats whose only interest is in the delectable food easy captured in her bowl, but chasing butterflies seem to be a favorite. As well as Casper, Mabes has keen typing skills (computer terrors) as well. She has been a fun addition to the little farm.

The last of the peas were harvested this morning.  Hot temperatures slowed up the crops enough to warrant a new crop in their place.  Pickling cucumbers will replace their spot after a good amendment of compost goes in.  In six weeks time we will be adding to the  pantry, dilly pickles, bread and butter pickles and some sweet gherkins.

Light pruning, weeding and harvesting every morning keep things under control and while these could be daunting at times if not kept under control, a little work in the morning goes a long way and brings peace to the soul.


Filed under Casper the Cat, Fruits from the orchard, Gardening, Goats, Life on the Farm