Well today is perfect winter pruning weather - a bright, mild January day. Unfortunately for the pruning team they have been out there every day for the past two months, in bitter cold, wind, rain, sleet etc. No matter how well wrapped up you are winter pruning usually means cold feet at the least, however fast you are – especially at Wrabness when the wind is coming straight up off the river. Electric pruners powered by a battery backpack nowadays save us from RSI to hands or wrists but you still know you have done a hard day's work.
We like to have the pears done before Christmas, leaving the apples for the new year. We aren’t quite on target but the pruned rows of pears are now a perfect example of the Dutch art of click pruning. Growth is carefully controlled and managed to defeat biennial bearing. Branches are clicked, tied, removed or split to ensure we have fruit for this year, wood for next year and, above all, light in abundance throughout the tree. It’s a long way from traditional pruning, so much so if someone knew pruning in the past we rarely let them loose on today’s orchards, such is the temptation to retreat to old habits not compatible to our methods.
The Braeburn and Opal orchards are yet to be started, home to flocks of Fieldfares, Starlings and clouds of finches and other smaller birds. Footprints on the ground give away night-time visits by fox, badger and deer. The Muntjac seem to pop out from amongst the trees on every visit.
This pruning is different yet again from the pears, the Braeburn now turning 10 years old (grown up in apple tree years) demands one approach. We are still feeling our way with Opal, which are younger trees with different growth habits meaning you can’t slip into auto-pilot – probably a good thing when using secateurs!
It may still feel like winter, despite today’s blue skies, but the fat fruit buds on the trees can’t help but give a little promise to warmer, more fruitful times ahead.