If you are looking for good advice from me about pruning grapes, forget about it. I don’t know what I’m doing. When we originally planted our Swenson’s Red grapes, we provided a fairly normal kind of wood and wire trellis, which served its purpose for a while. However, there were a few chaotic years which included graduate school and heavy equipment to install a modern septic system. A large pile of very large stones, salvaged from the foundation of what was once a barn, ended up next to Swenson’s Red.
With the combination of my neglect and its exuberance for the extra heat held by the rocks, it covered the rock pile; and it started bearing quantities of grapes that would actually get ripe, and are nice to eat.
So, I hack away at it a few times a year as time allows to try to keep it in bounds, and to get more sun on the fruits as they ripen. Recently I was clipping away at the new growth, lost in my recurring grape pruning fantasy.
Kemosabe in the Siberian ginseng
My recurring fantasy is this: I am wantonly snipping away at the vines, when suddenly a man bearing an uncanny resemblance to Gerard Depardieu yells “MERDE!!! Stoopeed woman! Zat ees no way to treat a grape!!” and he whisks me off to the south of France to show me how it should be done…
Lost in this revery, I was working my way around the grape behemoth. Out of the corner of my eye I thought I noticed Kemosabe, one of our loyal and trusty cats, who likes to spy on me from the shrubbery. Black and white fur, right?
Kemosabe in the grapes???
NOT Kemosabe in grapes. Time to go, folks!!!
One of my gardening resolutions for this year was to get more of our approximately 20 fruit trees into better trim. Our trees range from several venerable specimens with girth I can’t reach around to a few 6 year olds, and everything in between, mostly apples grafted onto wild stock over 20 years ago. I’ve not been as good about pruning as I should have been, and now am suffering the consequences. There is a lot of out-of-reach vertical growth, several inches thick in some cases. What pruning I had been doing was with a good pair of professional quality bypass loppers, a folding pruning saw, hand pruning shears, and occasionally a regular bow saw. The bow saw we had mostly wouldn’t fit to make the needed cuts.
I had envisioned getting either some kind of pole pruners or a hand held chain saw (a cutting chain with rope on either end), essentially something that would permit me to make cuts from the ground. I do my homework now when purchasing tools, because I have learned the hard way that cheap tools are usually more expensive in the long run, and I get very aggravated by tools that don’t perform well, or only last a season or two.
I contacted a professional tree pruner, Padma at Earthwise Harmonies, and queried him about his favorite tools:
For pruning fruit trees: I generally don’t favor the heavier long pole pruning tools with exterior string mechanism which I find gets caught in the trees, yet their advantage is that they, like loppers, can cut up to 3 inch wood. Mostly I’ve come to depend upon ARS long arm (lighter=aluminum-stainless steel) pruners. For yearly maintenance work, I use the 4 feet and 7 feet with heavy duty razor edges, saws can be attached. (ARS makes an 8 feet one but I’m told it can’t be mailed.) I supplement with a telescopic (unfortunately not heavy duty) 6′ extends to 12′, but although it is a good tool, it depends on mechanisms that will eventually fail (I’ve replaced several). So the telescopic should be secondary, for places hard to reach; and if you planted and upkeep your trees yourself, you probably didn’t let them get so far out of reach to need a telescopic. The long arm ARS pruners can be got from: Pruning Tools and Harvest Equipment for Professional Fruit Industry: web: www.sfequip.com or also at www.wood-avenue.com
For slightly thicker sprouts or two year twigs I use a 10 feet long pole lever pruner made in Vermont by the Allen Bros Inc: 6023 US Route 5 Westminster, VT www. allenpolepruner.com . I’ve had one for almost 20 years but it eventually broke, I replaced it and also bought a shorter one, which I hardly ever use. They cut through a hook that also is handy for helping to pull down rotten branches.
As far as hand clippers, I go to places like Big Lots because what matters to me is that they be light weight since repetitive motion takes a toll on my hands, and I end up losing many, surprisingly some of these cheaper lighter plastic clippers are not junky.
For a chainsaw, I mostly use the smallest lightest ECHO, unless I need to make bigger cuts; I love it because at times I literally swing off a branch with one hand while using the chainsaw with the other. I found the telescopic chainsaws too heavy and inconvenient for precise side cuts. So instead I use the lightest 24 feet aluminum ladder (I prune a lot of older tall trees). I have a motorized extended 8 feet ECHO articulated hedge trimmer, the head of which I can interchange into a 6 or 7 inch jig type saws with a pruning blade with which I find I can manage to cut difficult to reach branches up to 5 or 6 inches in diameter.
The Allen pole pruner sounded like what I wanted, and I really liked that it is Vermont made. I phoned to get more info, and got to speak with Tim Allen, who was very helpful. From our conversation and Padma’s suggestions I realized that for the bulk of the pruning I need to do this year (high vertical shoots 3″ and thicker), what I really needed was a good ladder and an agressive hand saw. Tim suggested an orchard band saw that they carry. We just got a suitable ladder last summer, so we purchased the saw (see the photo) and have been really pleased . We decided to wait on the pole pruner until next year – it’s not cheap, but once I get the bulk of the big bad stuff cut out, the pole pruners should be good for annual maintenance.
I never seem to accomplish all the pruning work I should on our fruit trees. Some of the older ones are dishearteningly out of control. I’m comfortable climbing trees and using the chain saw, but not at the same time. Call me a wimp, I don’t care.
Anyway, last week I pretty much finished up pruning for this year. Pictured is one of my victims, a Beacon apple we planted about 20 years ago. 3 or 4 years ago it was severely damaged in a wind storm and split in half, so it has needed some TLC. It’s a robust grower and is recovering well. It bears lots of large apples which has been cause for concern because the storm damage left all the branches on one side, and the weight of the fruit pulls on an already leaning tree. This year it will be quite a bit better balanced.
Over the winter I discovered an inspiring and informative web site about pruning apple trees, which is connected to a really fun talk radio show. The website belongs to Padma, who is co-host of Sniggling Eels along with a market gardener named Alan LePage. The station is WGDR, a community radio station based in Plainfield, Vermont, and streaming on the web. The conversations are lively and intelligent, and range from practical homesteading and gardening (how to train a dog not to eat the chickens) to philosophy and politics (mostly left of center). The Sniggling Eels time slot is Friday, 8-10am (US eastern time) , though I believe they will be changing to Sunday mornings soon. Check it out!