Saturday, August 10:
The peaches have begun to ripen. Our peach effort, like many, if not most, of our self-educating projects, is an example of what happens when you don’t know what you are doing. At the same time it might be considered an instance of a truism we have heard attributed to Gilbert Keith Chesterton: if a thing is worth doing, it’s worth doing badly. We planted four peach varieties in 2011, each of which produced a five-gallon bucket of fruit last year. Late last winter we pruned the trees, but without consulting a good book on the subject. As would be appropriate for our mature apple trees, we trimmed out damaged wood, crossed branches, suckers and inward-growing leaders. We might have opened them up to let in light, too, but they didn’t need it, being young and willowy.
This spring, despite two late, hard frosts which got all the blossoms on the monastery apple trees, the peach trees set lots and lots of fruit, which we shook-thinned twice, the third time picking off individual fruits where they were doubled on a branch. We may have removed as many as half the fruit on the trees, and to do so is always a suffering, even though we know it is better in all ways to relieve the tree of some of its burden.
What we failed to consider was the simple physics of the thing. I mean to say, baby fruit trees don’t produce baby fruit, but the same size as would a mature tree; and they are just not up to the burden. A branch with a diameter of two inches can carry a fair load of fruit without being compromised, but these branches are not even half that size, and long before the peaches were ripe the branches were bending much too far, some even to the ground. Heavy winds snapped three major limbs on one tree; it will be years before we can prune it into a natural shape. All of the trees are distorted, looking like we remember the trees in Oklahoma after a big ice storm, sort of limp and apologetic. Although we are harvesting a great many peaches this year, we have that all-too-familiar sensation that goes with finding that something you never learned to do didn’t turn out as well as you hoped.
But, we always remind ourselves, we could spend our money on a seminar on some topic, or spend the same money on a tool or animal or tree, and learn as we go. We tell ourselves we’re kinesthetic learners, whatever that means.
Here is the place for my pitch (unsolicited) for Shlabach’s Nursery in New York — they are Amish; no website – all the trees we have gotten from them are excellent for type, hardiness, and fruit.