This past year, an orchard was found hidden within tall weeds and grasses by a creek in Prospect Valley, south of Ithaca, New York. These trees stand tall, strong with age. Many are over thirty feet tall and may be about 80 years old. They form a stunning grove which also serves as a temporary campground for the Lion’s Gate Festival.
I am fascinated by old fruit trees, particularly since 2009 when I was asked to prune two 100-year old apple trees, and a few dozen trees in a younger orchard. I began studying orchard pruning avidly, along with the Natural Forestry I was there to learn in Oregon. I have carried these practices since then, and currently my primary work is in climbing trees for pruning or removal.
Older fruit trees are generally expected not to fruit. Much of their energy may be shifted toward defending from disease and decay. When branches become overly cluttered, less sunlight reaches the nodes, and putting out fruits on a cluttered branch can weigh down the tree so much the branch would break. Old trees may also notice if their fruit is simply rotting beneath and going unpicked, and this may also influence their impetus of whether to expend the energy on producing a crop.
Many trees go through a cycle, called a “mast year”, where they produce an abundance of seed in a single year. The prevailing perception is that by doing so, the tree guarantees that critters will not be able to eat all the seed, and this ensures that some will remain scattered to produce the next progeny. I have a sense that these apple trees are waiting in a similar form of energetic frugality, and may be inspired to produce a bumper crop, given evidence that their seed will be harvested and carried far and wide.
At this point you may sense that my approach balances the thorough study of classic commercial orchard pruning, modern tree science, and a personal mystic connection with trees that recognizes them as having a deep intelligence which I aim to work in coherence with. This is the approach I bring to pruning, and I would love to share the insights, approach, ways of seeing, and physical skills and tools I use.
For a longer Video part 2 describing pruning in more detail, Click Here.
This orchard provides us with incredible opportunities. It is beautiful in itself, and the act of removing dead wood and removing diseased branches will help prolong the healthy life of the trees. This is good work from an aesthetic standpoint, as well as the environmental benefits trees hold: dancing with winds, refreshing air, and in this case holding a streambank. These dozens of trees provide learning opportunities where we can get our hands involved in their life. There is so much work to do, that we have endless chances to look at the variety of challenges mature trees face, and the choices that are available to help them.
Naturally, I am intrigued to see if these trees may be encouraged to produce fruit! New York State is known for having the greatest diversity of Apple varieties in the world (from my understanding), and here we can experiment with sensible methods to encourage their fresh fruit, also having a chance to compare methods and pruning doses with trees experiencing the same conditions and age.
I hope you’ve gained a sense of the opportunities available at this heritage orchard. I have been looking forward to pruning there this winter, planned for the second half of February. To support this, I am reaching out for material support, in the form of Membership dues made to Steady Oak Forest Association, and by hosting a workshop.
Steady Oak Forest Trust exists for the care and cultivation of Trees, forests, land, and animals, and to deepen mankind’s connection with Natural creation. We conduct this by partnering with Association Members to assess, plan and fulfill work that meets these goals. Primarily this consists of pruning and removing trees to encourage healthy and balanced landscapes. We adopt principles of Holistic Management, where small adjustments made with patience, may bring profound and natural results over time. We have chosen a Membership model to encourage relationships between us and the trees that can be followed through the years.
Steady Oak Forest Association accepts dues of a one-time gift of $50. These funds support projects like this orchard pruning, and allow you access to our tree and garden services and Member content. For Members we provide a basic consultation and site visit. We are growing a service area covering the entire lower 48 States of America. Relationships with people who care about their land and intend to steward it actively and intentionally are the foundation we hope to build our work upon, standing firmly on the Land.
I hope you’ve enjoyed these glimpses into a blessed orchard here on Earth. For decades I have wondered how to approach these sound environmental works. I know it’s a heart calling for me, and I hope you will co-create, with our own hands, and the material support making it possible for us to walk the path. I may be reached directly at email@example.com to discuss Membership, and how to participate in the Pruning Workshops schedule for February 18 & 25, 2023. I am joyful to present this offering today, with the wish for many great meetings and great fruits to be.