It always happens when you have some time, or make time, and can’t afford to waste time. If something has to be done you have to do it, even if it happens to be the worst day thinkable.
Cold, snowy days appeal to me. They have since I was a kid.
It’s quiet, tranquil. There’s something calming about it, despite the news and constant forecasts of disaster, as if we’ve never seen a January before. Tragedy lurks with every new snowflake. Get your milk and bread? It’s Christmas on a slow news day.
But to some it’s a wonderful day to be outside…working, absorbing, and appreciating the change in seasons – an opportunity to consider global warming, of course.
I thought about that in December when I went with friends to North Dakota to pheasant hunt. It was -18 below zero the day before we arrived, and if you want to get your butt kicked just mention something about global warming to a North Dakotan who works outside in that every day.
I recently shared some photos of that trip with another photography friend who lives outside Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. We share photos nearly every week.
“It looks really cold,” he wrote back to me. “Really COLD!”
“It was 8 degrees above, with wind,” I shared.
Jack and I are exactly the same age, and he’s a retired engineer living the heart of Adams County’s orchard country. He replied back with this FB response: “You pick the damndest things to do on a miserable day.”
So this week I’m sending him photos of Sunday’s snow, and time I spent pruning apple and peach trees in the side yard orchard. My dad got me interested in growing fruit trees years ago, taught me how to manage them, and used to say that there’s never a bad time to prune a tree. “Any time you’ve got a few minutes…and a sharp knife in your pocket.”
I’ve got about fifteen trees, and there are better days, I admit, to thin them and clean up the mess. But it seems there’s always something that needs doing on a bright, sunny day that you wouldn’t do in the wind and snow. Hence, Sunday was provided, and I didn’t waste it.
If you want good apples and peaches you have to prune, even though a neighbor lady used to wail when we’d thin the tops and cut the middle out of an apple tree.
“That’s apples you’re not going to have that someone else could use,” Dolly Smith would say.
Dad would reply, “Less is more” Then he’d add, “Better to have fewer, and bigger, than too many small ones no one wants.”
Another old-timer once told me, “The idea with pruning is to keep the tree short enough to reach the top limbs…and the middle so you can throw a cat through it and not touch anything.”
It takes discipline, and some experience. Pruning an apple or peach tree can’t be done with a zero-turn device, like that with which you mow the yard. There’s no quick way to do it. Basically, the idea is to thin the tree so the middle is open, so sunlight can get inside, and the added air and light makes for better fruit. The old-timers would say that they ripen better if sun can get to them, but that’s not true. Apples ripen when they’re ready to ripen. But they do respond to competition for nutrition and space. Thereby, if you have fewer, you have better.
You make a few cuts, then back away a few yards and survey the shape and density of the tree. Sometimes I go in the house and look at them from a second story window – a different perspective. If I don’t like what I see I go back and cut again until I get it the way I want. You also have to imagine what a limb will look like in the future if allowed to grow. You prune with an eye for five years down the road.
In addition, they only last so long. Apples seem to last longer than peaches, depending on the care you give them. For peaches, twenty years is about the limit. My dad’s been gone now since 2011, and the last tree he planted is about ready to go be with him. I looked a long time at it in Sunday’s snow – at unpicked apples that still hang on it from the fall. No time then, either; and no one ever stopped to say they were desperate for a few. Now, they’re just a poignant photo op.
There used to be a dove that nested in that tree every spring…until my neighbor Bob harvested her one fall for the ingredients in ‘dove’ pie. In the spring he substituted ‘Grackles’, those big blackbirds…four and twenty of them. Use your imagination on that.
You can’t do fifteen trees in a day, or at least I can’t, and I started the process more than a month ago. Take a few minutes every day, and save the biggest cuts for last. I called a neighbor next door this week and borrowed a chain saw to cut limbs that should have been pruned years ago. Live and learn.
To my friend Jack’s point, it is a lot of work, especially as the years roll on. But my motivation is the harvest, as Dad taught me, and discipline and patience is life’s greatest investment. What I do now will result in the apples like I’m holding in this photo, come next October.
Seeing is believing. There’s never a bad day to prune, Jack.