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Tuesday, June 1, 2010

The Sometimes Not So Gentle Art of Espalier

I'm no expert at the art of espalier, but I'm sold on the idea of using the practice to get more fruit out of a smaller area.  Plus it looks so cool.

Ideally, the way to train apple branches for espalier is to plant a post on either end of your row of apple trees, and then run a wire between them, preferably coated grape wire, and then attach the branches to the wire. 

I'd been a little worried about getting the first year pruning and training done on my apple trees, whose green little branches were starting to harden up.  So when Steve balked at the idea of digging eight post holes in one day, I had to come up with an alternative, but quick.  The first idea I had was to attach them to something straight, and then tied down the end, like this:

But when tying on the second lateral on the opposite side of the tree, I actually managed to pull the entire branch off at the trunk, and I decided that this way was not good enough. Not nearly.  I cannot tell you how bitterly disappointed and upset I was to have pulled off a perfectly good branch that was ideally opposite the other and in perfect line with what I wanted to do.  And I was really surprised at how bummed I was all day over this.  I still am.

Not wanting to sacrifice any more branches with my ineptitude, I decided to just tie them down, like this:

These branches are not quite parallel with the ground, but I didn't want to pull them off, so I decided to leave them here for a little while, and then sometime later in the year, pull them down a little more.  For the first year, you prune the whip at about a foot and a half up, then after the branches start growing you pick three branches that are best for training on opposing sides of the tree, and one that will become the new leader.  This tree below made it somewhat easier on me, as there was already a perfectly lateral branch, so no training was necessary on one side of the tree.  I merely oriented it where I wanted it when I planted the tree so that I could use its lateral branch to my advantage:

This next picture shows how I tied down the branches in between two trees with a hooked stake fashioned out of the neighbor's apple tree prunings.  I originally asked for the prunings with the idea that I'd use them wattle and daub for my outdoor kitchen, which is now nixed, and also for smoking things in the Weber, but I've found that they are really useful to have around:

 And then last, but not least, the surprise I found when I went out to take care of this project.  Of the apple prunings I have, which were cut in either late March or early April, I used a couple to mark where the support post should go for that row.  One of them decided to take root!

I'm thinking that the best thing to do with it is to nurture it along into a tree, and then give it back to Larry as the fourth apple tree for his orchard, which currently only has three trees.  It's going to be a standard, so I certainly don't want it because I just don't have room for it, but his place is begging for a fourth to even things out.  Then if he doesn't want it, maybe I'll give it as a prize to a contest someday.  I think it might be a Winter Banana, because the fruit has a vaguely banana aroma when you cut into it.  Larry doesn't know what they are because the old lady he bought the house from didn't know what they are.  His apple trees are the largest I've ever seen outside of a proper commercial apple orchard.

At any rate, the post holes will still be dug eventually, and the wires set, because next year I get to repeat the process on the new leader.  Cut it, and from the ensuing branches, train two out laterally and a third to be the new leader.  I'll keep doing this as far up as I can comfortably reach to bag and harvest apples.  I'll post about bagging apples someday when I actually have apples to bag.  One of the things that I did yesterday while working on the espalier was to prune off all the little apples I found.  I want these trees to work on establishing themselves and creating sturdy branches for later.  Only the Golden Russet had apples, little, beautiful, bronze apples.  It was kind of a shame to cut them off, but isn't farming one difficult choice after another?

I mean, how can I reasonably expect myself to be able to cull problem animals or harvest them for dinner if I can't even sacrifice a little apple?  Better to suck it up now....

1 comment:

Miriam said...

I agree that espaliered trees look really cool. We bought an espaliered apple last year with 6 lateral branches, all grafts of different varieties. Strange, but too interesting to pass up! We've also started to informally espalier a peach tree that was planted against the fence in the vegetable garden - it almost looked like it was trying to espalier itself, so we've been helping it along.

Your idea of weighting or tying down the young branches to help them grow horizontally rather than up is a great one, and I am tickled pink by the little apple cutting that is turning into a tree!