Shaping Up for Spring

I have started some carrot, kale, pak choy, and beet seedlings for an April planting in our community garden. I can’t wait to see what The Garden of Feedin’ yields this year.

We are approaching what passes for “springtime” in central New England. Some days are around 60F, other days the temperature tops out at 20-something. We have been on this climatic roller-coaster since mid-February. We have years like this sometimes, where the weather is even more twitchy than New England Normal. I try to roll with the punches dolled out by old man winter, but I am down to three quarts of tomatoes in the pantry and I am getting antsy for Garden Season 2022.

There is just not much we can do right now, though. The compost pile and all the planted beds are still frozen solid, and currently covered with puddles. The snow is melting faster than the ground is thawing, so the water has nowhere to go. Planting is still a few weeks off, even for the cold-tolerant crops.

The cold weather did have one advantage for us- it left us more time to get our fruit trees pruned. Pruning most varieties is best done in winter, while the trees are dormant. It is important to the health and productivity of the trees to keep them properly trimmed. Pruning is not my best skill, but Mr. Food It Yourself got me some books on the subject for Christmas. After carefully studying them, I was able to make (kind of) educated decisions about what branches to remove from each tree. It is definitely nerve-wracking to chop bits of the trees off. Thankfully, my dad was available to help me out.

I learned that sour cherry varieties (such as the Montmorency’s we have) just need to be pruned for shape. We trimmed branches that crossed each other, down-growing branches, and branches growing towards the center of the overall shape of the tree. The aim is to encourage the branches into a “chalice” shape to maximize sunlight exposure and air flow. We decided to take out a few larger branches on each tree with a chain saw. I winced the whole time. I think the more open shape will help fend off the fungus we’ve had in the past few years, so I regret nothing.

Our multi-variety pear tree and fruit salad tree were a bit more tricky. I wanted to be sure not to remove all the branches yielding a certain variety. My solution was to look at each graft as if it were an individual sapling.

These aren’t the best pictures, but I was working barehanded in the cold, so I was trying not to stop (you can see dad’s gloved hand in the picture on the left). First, we trimmed away the the skinny twigs that will not be productive. Next, we found the “leader” on each graft, the central stem. We cut the leader just above a strong looking side branch. We trimmed the remaining side branches on each graft, leaving only two others. I think we did it right. At least, I do not think we permanently damaged the trees.

After all the trimming, we snipped all the branches we removed into small sections so I can bring them to the town yard waste dump. It will still be a year or two before we get full yields from the pear and fruit salad trees, but they are poised to grow strong this season.

Spring will come to central New England, eventually. When it does, I will race to get planting. If you are in the northern hemisphere, what late winter/ early spring chores are you doing in your garden? If you are in the southern hemisphere, what is your late summer/ early autumn garden looking like? Share in the comments section!