Learning to look after Orchards

Surrounding the Food Growing Hub, at Dundee Botanic Garden, there is a small orchard of apple, plum, pear and cherry trees donated by and planted by the Dundee Urban Orchard.  Last year the Hub members enjoyed watching the fruits appear and swell through the summer, and were keen to learn how to care for orchards, so offered to take responsibility for its care.  To help us on our way to becoming master orchard keepers we decided to invite Andrew Lear (also known as AppleTreeMan) to come to the gardens to teach us what on earth we should be doing to make the best, and most, of the fruit trees. And we decided to offer the opportunity to other members of the public and members of the Botanic Gardens staff too.

The Food Growing Hub is a small food growing space at Dundee Botanic Gardens, providing local residents with an opportunity to grow their own food.

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So on a cold, snowy and rainy Monday morning, (the Monday after we’d been hit by the Beast from the East), sixteen of us gathered together in the warmth of the Education Centre, to soak up the knowledge Andrew has built over 30 years as a horticulturalist, working with fruit trees and orchards.

Folk travelled to garner Andrew’s wisdom from Aberdeen, West Lothian, Perth and Montrose, and whilst some people were starting out with orchards in their gardens or community projects, and wanted to know how best to care for them and train them.  Others had very mature and large trees that they were finding unmanageable and wanted to know how to bring them back under control.

AppleTreePruningWorkshopInside2 DundeeBotanicGarden 05.03.18

Andrew started by talking us through how an apple tree grows, as understanding this is critical for being able to make the right decisions about where and how to prune the tree.  He impressed upon us that cultivated apple trees are artificial plants, engineered by humans (a variety of apple is grafted onto an apple root stock that will control how much the tree grows), and so for the best fruit crop apple trees need to be managed and controlled, rather than allowed to grow wild and natural.  Andrew then talked us through how the choices about which branches and stems you cut, and how and where you cut them, affects the continued growth and shape of the plant and the amount of fruit you yield.  A couple of key principles included; wanting to encourage horizontal stems and branching, as here the tree puts more energy into producing fruit, than vertical stems and branches which put energy into making the tree grow tall; And LIGHT, LIGHT, LIGHT, as an all-important factor, trying to maximise the amount of light reaching each part of the tree, by making careful decisions about which branches to keep and which to remove.

Andrew took us out to the orchard to demonstrate the principles and talk us through the decisions he would make to prune the trees there, before getting us to have a go at practicing reading the trees and making those decisions ourselves.  Being a member of the Food Growing Hub, Andrew asked me to dive in and have a go, and as I started to put the ideas into practice, with some support from the rest of the group, I started to be able to see more clearly which branches were good to keep and which to remove.

AppleTreePruningWorkshop DundeeBotanicGarden 05.03.18

Apples trees need to be pruned yearly, to maintain and manage the first, second and third year growth that is taking place, and this pruning needs to be done in the winter, when the energy of the tree has been drawn down to the roots and branch growth isn’t taking place.  Having received the ‘Beast from the East’ last week, spring will be delayed for a few weeks longer, which gives us at the Food Growing Hub more chance to prune a couple of remaining trees at the orchard.  I certainly can’t wait to see how our pruning decisions influence the trees through the spring and summer of this year.

Andrew Lear runs a nursery growing fruit and nut trees, as well as working as a consultant and offering workshops on a variety of orchard topics.  For more information please visit:  https://plantsandapples.com/

Dundee Botanic Garden have an extensive programme of events and workshops throughout 2018 from practical horticulture through to botanical sciences. For more information please visit: https://www.dundee.ac.uk/botanic/news/2018/article/walks-talks-and-workshops-2018.php

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