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Questions from Permaculture Orchard

 
Rj Ewing
Posts: 18
Location: Western Oregon
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So I just watched the film again and I have a couple of questions.

1. You mentioned that your woodchip mulch only lasted 6 months or so. When you are explaining how to correctly plant a tree, you lay down a layer of cardboard and then woodchips. How long does that typically last? Is that your preferred way of planting or do you plant and then lay out the plastic soon after?

2. People often recommend pruning a whip after planting. I believe to encourage a vase shape for the tree structure. I assume you do not do this if you want a central leader?

3. In the film you mention an alternative to plastic is to use plants such as hosta. How does this compare to using plastic right after planting? What about to cardboard and woodchips? Does hosta compete too much with young trees to get proper growth? I would like to avoid using plastic in my orchard if at all possible and am hoping to find an alternative while still getting good growth/yields. Are there other plants that would work well? Comfrey? Maybe it would be better to use a biodegradable sheet mulch for 2-3 years before planting living mulches so close to the tree?

4. After training branches to below horizontal, what is the growth like? You said a good time to beginning training the branches is when they are 3' long. Will they only grow very slowly after being trained? It appears that is the case. What would you recommend for apple tree on b118 rootstalk? An 18' tall tree with only 3' long branches might look a bit funny. Maybe train the tops in order to limit the height?

5. When you were demonstrating pruning, you mentioned that removing the branches/spurs underneath a branch is the polish when pruning. It sounded like that was optional. Do you usually remove them or leave them be?

Thanks so much for producing the film. I really enjoyed watching it. The film has been extremely helpful in my planning of a mark shepherd / stefan sobkowiak influenced planting going in the ground this fall.

Keep up the great work!
 
Stefan Sobkowiak
permaculture orchardist
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Rj Ewing wrote:So I just watched the film again and I have a couple of questions.

1. You mentioned that your woodchip mulch only lasted 6 months or so. When you are explaining how to correctly plant a tree, you lay down a layer of cardboard and then woodchips. How long does that typically last? Is that your preferred way of planting or do you plant and then lay out the plastic soon after?

2. People often recommend pruning a whip after planting. I believe to encourage a vase shape for the tree structure. I assume you do not do this if you want a central leader?

3. In the film you mention an alternative to plastic is to use plants such as hosta. How does this compare to using plastic right after planting? What about to cardboard and woodchips? Does hosta compete too much with young trees to get proper growth? I would like to avoid using plastic in my orchard if at all possible and am hoping to find an alternative while still getting good growth/yields. Are there other plants that would work well? Comfrey? Maybe it would be better to use a biodegradable sheet mulch for 2-3 years before planting living mulches so close to the tree?

4. After training branches to below horizontal, what is the growth like? You said a good time to beginning training the branches is when they are 3' long. Will they only grow very slowly after being trained? It appears that is the case. What would you recommend for apple tree on b118 rootstalk? An 18' tall tree with only 3' long branches might look a bit funny. Maybe train the tops in order to limit the height?

5. When you were demonstrating pruning, you mentioned that removing the branches/spurs underneath a branch is the polish when pruning. It sounded like that was optional. Do you usually remove them or leave them be?

Thanks so much for producing the film. I really enjoyed watching it. The film has been extremely helpful in my planning of a mark shepherd / stefan sobkowiak influenced planting going in the ground this fall.
Keep up the great work!

1. RJ The way I show in the film is the preferred way if you are NOT using plastic. It should last for 2-3 years our site soil is VERY alive so the exception. We mostly planted in fall and laid plastic in spring.
2. Correct, do not touch or prune the central leader, it allows the tree to follow it's natural architecture.
3. If you can use cardboard and woodchips for 1-2 years to really give the best to the young tree then you can add comfrey or hosta. I have used both plants and unless you use a large clump of comfrey will not get the smothering effect of hostas early start and large leaves. Hosta also does better with some shade.
4. The branches continue to grow outward until the branch reaches maturity (flowers near the tip). The growth then slows because of fruit bearing and training speeds a branches fruit bearing by simulating a load of fruit on the branch the year previous. A big load of fruit bends the branch downward and once it reaches below horizontal the hormonal stimulus changes to encourage fruit production instead of mainly vegetative growth. Try it on a mature branch you will be surprised at the change.
I'm not familiar with b118 rootstalk. You will not limit the branches growth that fast. Usually when you train branches you will eventually train the top when it reaches your desired height by bending it as well.
Good questions, thanks.
 
Rob Read
Posts: 86
Location: Poplar Hill, Ontario (near London) - Zone 6a
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A very technical question about planting hostas: how close to the tree would you go? I've heard concerns about letting the trees 'breathe' by not covering 'root flares.' The most obvious concern with root flares is not covering them with soil or mulch, but what if they are heavily covered with hosta leaves during the growing season? I'm thinking it wouldn't be a concern, because air would still be able to get in there.

And a note which many will already know: hostas are edible when coming up in the spring (just before unfurling, or as they are unfurling.) I've only tried them steamed/stir-fried so far, but they are very good - a nice mild green. I've heard you can eat them raw at that time of year as well, though don't wait too long - as they get very acrid tasting once the leaf is fully open. I wonder if the flowers are edible too? They are loaded with nectar.

 
Stefan Sobkowiak
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Rob Read wrote:A very technical question about planting hostas: how close to the tree would you go? I've heard concerns about letting the trees 'breathe' by not covering 'root flares.' The most obvious concern with root flares is not covering them with soil or mulch, but what if they are heavily covered with hosta leaves during the growing season? I'm thinking it wouldn't be a concern, because air would still be able to get in there.

And a note which many will already know: hostas are edible when coming up in the spring (just before unfurling, or as they are unfurling.) I've only tried them steamed/stir-fried so far, but they are very good - a nice mild green. I've heard you can eat them raw at that time of year as well, though don't wait too long - as they get very acrid tasting once the leaf is fully open. I wonder if the flowers are edible too? They are loaded with nectar.


Rob I plant them half of their total spread from the tree, usually 1.5-2' from the tree. No need to waste plants there are lots of trees that could use them.
I tried them raw this spring, not my taste but maybe steamed.
 
Cj Sloane
pollinator
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Location: Vermont, off grid for 22 years!
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Rj Ewing wrote:
4. After training branches to below horizontal, what is the growth like? You said a good time to beginning training the branches is when they are 3' long.


I've just finished watching the excellent DVD & I can see that I need to train the branches of my fruit trees. Is there a preference for a certain gauge wire? You can tie the wire to the branch and the tree. Can you also tie the wire to the branch and tie a heavy object to the end to weight it down that way?
 
Stefan Sobkowiak
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Cj Verde wrote:
Rj Ewing wrote:
4. After training branches to below horizontal, what is the growth like? You said a good time to beginning training the branches is when they are 3' long.


I've just finished watching the excellent DVD & I can see that I need to train the branches of my fruit trees. Is there a preference for a certain gauge wire? You can tie the wire to the branch and the tree. Can you also tie the wire to the branch and tie a heavy object to the end to weight it down that way?

CJ I use a 12 guage wire that we recycled from the previous orchard. Yes we tie from the branch to the trunk. You can tie down with a weight as well but will need a collection of different weights, it just gets complicated. One wire one branch. The wire is reused for other branches.
 
Cj Sloane
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Stefan Sobkowiak wrote:I use a 12 guage wire that we recycled from the previous orchard. Yes we tie from the branch to the trunk.


Good to know. I actually wound up using twine from haybales - branch to trunk.
 
Nick Segner
Posts: 29
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Stefan-

Thanks for your great film and taking the time to answer questions on this forum.

I just got the DVD in the mail and had to borrow a TV to watch it twice now. I was keen to see it as we just bought a small farm with 300 dwarf (M9) apples on a collapsing trellis, without working irrigation and out of control as it hadn't been pruned in a few years. We are scrambling to adapt this orchard to organic/permaculture/soil food web practices.

I have two questions:

1) First, you mention that your apples are also on dwarf rootstock, but there wasn't any info on trellising in video - do you use one? Conventional "wisdom" is that dwarf trees are trellis dependent but have you found a way around that?

2) Second, I am kind of stunned by your training technique after having read a lot of other material on pruning.. My understanding was that branches should be ideally at a 45 to 60 degree upward angle and never at a downward one that you utilize. I know that the tree won't have a lot of vegetative growth at downward angles and the branches in our orchard that are sloping downward DO have a lot of fruit but how do you keep regenerating growth to have 2-5 year old branches that will bear the most fruit? Is it simply because you prune out any branches that are 50% of the size of the trunk that encourages enough new growth?

 
Stefan Sobkowiak
permaculture orchardist
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Nick Segner wrote:Stefan-

Thanks for your great film and taking the time to answer questions on this forum.

I just got the DVD in the mail and had to borrow a TV to watch it twice now. I was keen to see it as we just bought a small farm with 300 dwarf (M9) apples on a collapsing trellis, without working irrigation and out of control as it hadn't been pruned in a few years. We are scrambling to adapt this orchard to organic/permaculture/soil food web practices.

I have two questions:

1) First, you mention that your apples are also on dwarf rootstock, but there wasn't any info on trellising in video - do you use one? Conventional "wisdom" is that dwarf trees are trellis dependent but have you found a way around that?

2) Second, I am kind of stunned by your training technique after having read a lot of other material on pruning.. My understanding was that branches should be ideally at a 45 to 60 degree upward angle and never at a downward one that you utilize. I know that the tree won't have a lot of vegetative growth at downward angles and the branches in our orchard that are sloping downward DO have a lot of fruit but how do you keep regenerating growth to have 2-5 year old branches that will bear the most fruit? Is it simply because you prune out any branches that are 50% of the size of the trunk that encourages enough new growth?


Good questions Nick. I don't see where you are from but likely USDA zone 4 or warmer as you use M9 rootstock. We don't use a trellis. Some trees get a stake for a time so they will grow straighter. We occasionally prune to allow a straighter tree. We have apple trees on M26 which is a little larger than M9.
2) I really need to give a few pruning and training workshops in the US. Your pruning and training practices tend to be behind the times. The French primarily from the research at INRA originally led by Dr. Jean-Marie Lespinasse progressed the art and science of pruning to a simple and far more efficient system. Being in Quebec and functioning in French I have followed their work and taken a 1week training from them. Fantastic. It has cut my pruning time by 80%. Training branches to a 100-120 degree angle (resulting in below horizontal branches) produces branches that are fruitful instead of being branchy. In the end do you want to grow branches or do you want to grow fruit. Each tree has a limited amount of energy and will put it into branch growth or fruit growth or both. Focus the trees energy in its youth to grow branches and once mature to grow fruit.
 
Stefan Sobkowiak
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Sorry I missed the second part of the question.
Limit your tree to 12-14 branches and you will get a commercial crop.
Each branch below the horizontal should be left intact or almost so and the pruning is simply the removal of growth BELOW the branch. This growth is usually shaded anyway so not as productive. This is pretty well the only pruning you do to a branch. Do not cut the tips. The branch continues to be productive by adding a little bit of growth to each spur which will give next years fruit. Eventually that spur bends down with the weight of fruit on it and becomes a spur or branch below the branch which you will dormant prune off. We use a heavy glove and just rub them off. Try it since you already understand that that branch angle is productive.
As a transition to having a fully trained tree I dormant prune one or 2 of the most vertical main branches each year until I get a tree with all branches below horizontal. Follow up with 1-2 years of summer training and you will enjoy years of FAR easier pruning. My tress have gone from: OK where do I start (since there is so much to remove) to now Ok is there ANYTHING to remove. A dramatic change.
 
Nick Segner
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Stefan-

Thanks so much for your response.

I forgot to mention my zone (8b) here on the Olympic Peninsula of Washington state. We are in a rainshadow behind the mountains and have very very dry summers (and only approximately 20" rain/year).

I'm intrigued by the pruning technique.

One other thing that came to mind- the video didn't address flower/fruit thinning. Assuming you mostly grow eating apples, what do you do along those lines?

Nick Segner
 
Stefan Sobkowiak
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Nick Segner wrote:Stefan-

Thanks so much for your response.

I forgot to mention my zone (8b) here on the Olympic Peninsula of Washington state. We are in a rainshadow behind the mountains and have very very dry summers (and only approximately 20" rain/year).

I'm intrigued by the pruning technique.

One other thing that came to mind- the video didn't address flower/fruit thinning. Assuming you mostly grow eating apples, what do you do along those lines?

Nick Segner

Ah balmy zone 8! We have never thinned. I realize I should have last year. With our great flowering diversity we now have TOO MUCH POLLINATION. While others cry about the lack of bees we have an over abundance of bees and other pollinators and will likely have to resort to some type of thinning.
 
Miles Flansburg
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Scarlet Hamilton
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Location: UK
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Hi Stefan,

I’m extremely pleased I watched The Permaculture Orchard. I learned a few crucial tips and will definitely be using them when it comes to planting my small forest garden this year.

Even though I watched the film twice I still have a few questions and would be very grateful if you could answer any of them. Thanks in advance!

1. You said you use a dwarf rootstock and the gap between the tree and the edge of the mulch is about 3 feet on both sides. Would this distance be greater if you were using mm.106? When you planted the newly taken cutting about half way between the tree and edge of mulch I’m guessing that was about 45cm on a diagonal. I’m just trying to piece it all together so I can work out the distance to plant a currant shrub from an apple on mm.106. I don’t want to plant it too close but I really need to make the most of my small space.

2. Is waiting before a branch reaches 1 metre or more going to ensure that it doesn’t snap with the weight of the fruit?

3. Do you get away with only staking some of them because of the training and minimal pruning? For the ones you do stake to make straighter are the stakes put in after they’ve grown wonky or at the start of planting?
 
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