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Fruit trees & pruning = guard dogs & teacup dogs

 
Ann Torrence
steward
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Posts: 1188
Location: Torrey, UT; 6,840'/2085m; 7.5" precip; 125 frost-free days
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bee books chicken duck goat trees
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You wouldn't try to turn a Chihuahua into a livestock guardian, would you? Nor would you expect a rat terrier to be a herding dog. Different breeds have been refined though the ages for different purposes on the farmstead.

Is this not the same as these discussions where people want to raise fruit trees grafted onto modern rootstocks as no-prune trees? As they say in Texas, "that dog don't hunt." You buy a tree that has many virtues from its rootstock, like disease resistance, anchorage, dwarfing, and then want to treat it like a seedling tree, which it is not and will never be. Sometimes the no-prune strategy is advocated for no better reason than "because Paul (or Fukoka or some other august permaculturalist deity) said." I'm not saying that the no-prune method is right or wrong. It's just not a tool that works in every situation. By not pruning and training grafted trees, you can lose many the potential benefits of the rootstock that you probably paid good money for, and to what advantage? Because you want to "let the tree be a tree?" We need to think harder. Not all trees are suited to that regimen. If you don't want to prune fruit trees, start with the correct tree for the job.

Perhaps this is just a natural phase of permaculture where all the new ideas are so exciting. Swales! Hugels! RMHs! Herb spirals! We don't do a very good job of foundational teaching of how to select the right tools for the elements of a design. I surely have made plenty of mistakes out of enthusiasm without really thinking through whether the application made sense for my overall design. Learning the tools is the apprenticeship stage of most any craft. Why does a chef have an arsenal of knives? Which one to use when? It's a lot to learn, but learn it we must.

An unpruned apple tree on a rootstock bred to grow no larger than 6' is like putting a Golden Retriever out to guard your sheep. Sure it's a dog, but nobody, not the dog, the sheep, nor you, is likely to be happy with the outcome.
 
John Wolfram
Posts: 613
Location: Lafayette, Indiana
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Ann Torrence wrote:I'm not saying that the no-prune method is right or wrong. It's just not a tool that works in every situation. By not pruning and training grafted trees, you can lose many the potential benefits of the rootstock that you probably paid good money for, and to what advantage? Because you want to "let the tree be a tree?" We need to think harder. Not all trees are suited to that regimen. If you don't want to prune fruit trees, start with the correct tree for the job.

I would go one step further and say the discussion should not be limited to just grafted trees. If you want to let a tree be a tree, you should remember that these fruit trees did not spend eons evolving in well manicured orchards, or even in permaculture gardens. Instead, fruit trees have evolved with characteristics so that they can shade out and kill their competitors before their competitors kill them. When removed from its natural environment, letting something be itself can have disastrous consequences. Letting an elephant be an elephant on the plains of Africa is great, letting an elephant be an elephant in Manhattan, not so great.
 
Linda Ford
Posts: 32
Location: Southwestern New Mexico
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A good observation. The problem is finding a "different breed" of tree in our local nurseries. I had a similar problem in my demand for a fruiting mulberry, which is illegal in our cities, even though I live far out in the country. Thus I am stuck making a compromise to limited pruning to maintain the tree while continuing to search for and plant other "breeds." The Chow will have to do to keep the Coyotes at a distance but will not be successful at protection from the mountain lion.

I will own up to my ignorance and thus reliance on the recommendations from friends and professionals, none of whom told me that a Peach required intensive pruning. I asked for a variety of fruiting trees for a food forest in chicken pastures. Everyone of them knew I was not creating a traditional Peach Orchard. There are many small orchards around here that include happy Peach trees that do not appear to be heavily pruned and are shaped like average trees mixed in with apples and other varieties. My parents had a Peach bought at a local city nursery (probably some dwarf type) that they never did anything to and, in the years it did not succumb to a freeze, was very prolific.

My Food Forest journey is just beginning. I am too old to hope to build something from seeds in the years I have left so I must start 'somewhere' with what is available. A Rat Terrier may not become a prize herding dog but it can be taught not to chase the sheep all over the field and to respond to commands thus becoming more of a help than a hindrance. I appreciate all the advice and recommendations I find here and will do my best to learn as I go. Please have patience (with us) and continue to share your wisdom.
 
I agree. Here's the link: https://richsoil.com/wood-heat.jsp
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