March 2012

Spring is our busiest time of year and we have each weekend set for a

Planting Apple "whips"

specific project all the way through May.  Unfortunately we don’t get to schedule in snow days!  We were lucky this Saturday wasn’t too bad, cold with maybe an inch or 2 of snow on the ground. It was agreed that snow and cold beats the wind out here anytime. 

This week we potted up about 50 trees and did some planting.  Here we are field planting dwarf apples, our first ones.  We had rototilled and then plowed this bed to about 16” deep 2 weeks ago in preparation.  Previous we have only had semi-dwarf which get between 12’ and 15’ if not pruned shorter.   Dwarfs on emla 26 rootstock will only get to about 8 foot tall. 

Root pruning, like top pruning, can be used to stimulate new growth

These trees are one year “whips”.  That means they were grafted last spring before bud break and grown for 1 year.  We then field plant them to grow one or 2 more years.  They are called “whips” in the trade because they are a single trunk with little to no branching. 

After planting they are cut back to encourage branching as Matt is doing here.  To develop a tree it’s a constant yearly process of grow, cut back, grow some more, cut back some more.  Kind of like 2 steps forward and one step back. 

Top pruning to encourage branching

The process must always be done when plants are dormant.  Some summer pruning is done but for different reasons.  Winter pruning encourages growth while summer pruning stops growth. This variety is Honeycrisp which is probably the most in-demand variety of apple now and into the foreseeable future.  Dwarf trees, while having an ultimate smaller size, also grow proportionately slower and do not have the same root development as semi-dwarf.  Staking is always recommended with dwarf fruit trees.

Applying labels to the whips

After field pruning we then applied labels to them.  These labels are really neat.  They come in 8 ½’ x 11” sheets to fit into a typical laser printer.  They are made from a thin plastic material that is slightly thicker than paper and seems relatively tear-proof.  The manufacturer says they should last at least 2 years in the field and not fade like labels that you would use a permanent marker on.  I hope so since none of us has quality handwriting!  Also you can put a good amount of info on them and they appear to be printable on both sides.

Planted, Pruned and Labeled.

To round out the day we finished with grafting about 20 Jujube trees.  Jujubes have very dense wood and are slow and tedious to graft.  20 trees is about a 2- 21/2 hour process. We discovered a new grafting tape which so far really has performed well and we are very impressed with it’s ease of use.   Next week we are grafting about 200 apple trees and will really put it to the test.


You may have read my last rant post and thought I was anti-Lowes.  Let me assure you I am not, they just happen to be where I spotted these situations I am writing about.  And this one is about the promotion of blueberries.  Mind you last year I also saw blueberries being sold at Wal-mart in Edgewood and Home Depot in Albuquerque.  Our primary goal at Road’s End Farm is to educate about and promote fruit varieties suited to growing locally by average people and gardeners.  As many of you know, we do a lot of experimental growing just to stretch the envelope and see if it is possible with unique varieties.

I love blueberries and everyone I know also does.  The idea of growing this fruit at home is certainly appealing. Who wouldn’t like to get up in the morning, take a few steps out of the house and pick a handful of fresh blueberries to toss onto their morning cereal?   Like they say “Ain’t gonna happen”.   Soil in our area varies from 7.4 to about 8.6 in ph.  This is highly alkaline.  Blueberries thrive in a ph of 4.5-5 at the top end.  This is highly acidic. Think peat bog.

You will not be able to grow blueberries in our soil.  Books will tell you to amend it with peat moss or to add aluminum sulfate to lower the ph.  At best these are very short term measures.  Consider the fact that you are constantly adding a high ph water and you can see this is a losing battle.  Bacterial action breaking down the peat will also have a slightly alkaline reaction. Blueberries  do not particularly like our intense sun or UV.

If you decide that you must experiment and try some, container culture is the best hope you will have.  I recommend a large container at least 10 gal and preferably 15 gallon size depending on the variety of plant.  Your “soil” mix will need to be about 90% peat moss mixed with a packaged topsoil.  The addition of cottonseed compost would be a good replacement for topsoil since it is also low ph and will provide nutrients.  Beware that most compost is alkaline in nature so do your homework.  You can probably add vinegar (5% acetic acid) to the water you use for the plants.  A quality ph kit or electronic measuring device is a must.  Collecting neutral ph rainwater for the plants would also be a benefit.  Find a site that gets afternoon shade and containers can be buried in the ground.  This will help protect the roots from temperature swings and also cut down how much you need to water them.  Also you will want to net them so the birds don’t beat you to them. It’s an awful lot of work and some expense but for the adventurous and patient ones out there, give it a shot.