Over the weekend we finally were able to get out into the orchard to prune the fruit trees. This is typically a task that we take care of in February. Usually we can count on at least one not-horrible day to shape the trees up. This year, not so much. There was just so much snow that we couldn't even get to the trees.
We've finally had some melting, though, despite the fact that it has snowed every single weekend since the end of January. This time it was just a light flurry and a dusting on Saturday, but still: snowy weekend number TEN.
Despite the cold and pesty snow on Saturday, Sunday was warm enough for Fletch to enjoy surveying out work from the front porch:
And the orchard even has bare ground in spots. Most is still in the snow, and it was enough that I had to wear boots, but at least it was passable:
Since the trees are no longer fully dormant and the buds are beginning to swell, we only did the lightest pruning possible. Pruning encourages new growth, but we don't want to weaken the tree while it's still cold, and we don't want to encourage branching at the time of year when the energy should go into blossoms and fruit production. All we did this year was make a quick pass to remove dead wood and crossed branches. Any aesthetic shaping will have to wait (as will fertilizing, since the ground is still snowy and frozen).
Though most of the trees seem to be no worse for wear, the Granny Smith is damaged beyond all hope:
You may recall that this super-tiny dwarf tree was completely covered over by snow at some point during the second or third blizzard in February. As the snow melted, it compacted and weighed down these branches, and they eventually broke under the weight and pressure of the (slowly) melting snow.
If even a few of the branches had been spared, it might have been worth saving the tree, but a couple of the breaks are deep enough to have split the central leader, so the tree is likely a loss.
Still, we won't replace it just yet. Standing out in the orchard and assessing the damage made us pause to realize that we might do better to leave more space for the trees that are thriving instead. This tree never did well, so it's no great loss. Likewise, the heirloom tree with four varieties grafted onto it has alway been a major disappointment in the fruiting department. If it doesn't start pulling its weight this summer, we might just get rid of it as well. The idea here is that we would replace both trees with just one new tree to allow it more room.
We shall see. There's also the ongoing question of whether or not we should ditch the front hedge to expand the orchard. The hedge's lower branches are pretty raggedy after the snow, but that's an enormous project that we probably just aren't ready for yet. Still, a decision about that will help us plan any orchard refurbishing, so…I don't know. This seems like an issue best left for a sunny, summer day on the front porch with a glass of sweet tea in hand, no?