Grow Local Chronicles - June 2022
Updated: Jun 3
Hey West Coast Gardeners! My favourite month of the year, the brightest month, is here; June!
I read a great book this past month called “Grow a Little Fruit Tree” by Ann Ralph. It’s available through Vancouver Island Regional Library. This book is a great inspiration for bravely pruning your fruit trees.
Why a little fruit tree? If left unpruned, fruit trees will grow so tall and big that they surpass our human scale. When we keep our backyard trees small by pruning them we can easily reach and manage the tree and the fruit without a ladder, resulting in better care. By keeping trees small several varieties can fit in our backyards, so we can grow a diverse variety of fruits that will ripen at different times.
The book explains the importance of the first heading cut for young trees. You must snip the main leader down lower than you might think, to just a couple feet high! When we prune with this brave heading cut we encourage the dormant buds below the cut to grow, creating the branch crotch lower to the ground so that the fruit is accessible. Branches growing horizontally are more likely to produce fruit than those growing straight up. Pruning increases the strength and health of the tree, even though at first it can seem crazy to an inexperienced fruit tree grower to cut off much of your small tree.
I loved the encouraging tone of the book, which coaches us to prune. If you’re not sure, just cut something off! The tree will respond. Wait, observe, then prune again to shape it to your liking. Remove the dead, the damaged, the diseased, and the disoriented. Remove branches that cross or go in an awkward direction, like those encroaching on pathways. Prune for an open centre shape, so that sunlight and air can reach the whole tree.
There are two key times to prune fruit trees, in winter dormancy and around summer solstice, during active growth. The tree will respond more vigorously when pruned in winter dormancy since its energy at the pruning time is stored in the roots. When pruned in June the tree’s growth hormones are already active in all the photosynthesizing leaves and branch tips, so the responding growth from dormant buds will be less than when pruned in winter. June is the time to prune to keep trees small.
Tofino Community Food Initiative has an active fruit gleaning program! Do you know of any fruit trees in your neighbourhood? We are creating a database of where fruit trees grow for the whole west coast. If you or someone you know would like help harvesting their fruit trees, TCFI’s gleaning volunteers are here to help. You can register your tree, or sign up to volunteer here: https://www.tofinocommunityfoodinitiative.com/fruit-gleaning You can also email me, firstname.lastname@example.org to let us know where fruit trees are, even if you don’t want to register them for gleaning.
Lastly, wildlife safety is a key issue in food growing on the west coast. We humans aren’t the only ones who enjoy fresh ripe fruit. TCFI is working with WildSafe BC to promote safe food growing, and to glean fruit before hungry bears lose their lives by hanging around untended fruit trees. Thanks to Ocean Outfitters for their generous support in funding TCFI’s fruit gleaning program!
Happy Gardening and hope to see you all soon!