Sunday, 13 March 2011

Pruning in the cold March winds

The Gorge Tillicum Urban Farmers arrived at Starling Lane Winery this morning,

a bitter, windy day for the great GTUF Pruning Workshop. Michael Winkel

of Celtic Tree Service walked us through the basics. Clear out dead,


and damaged branches first. Then look at the structure

and try to plan for five years ahead: work on training branches for future fruit as well as keeping the existing ones healthy and clear of crossed branches that can block light and rub against others causing damage. The position of pruning cuts

can help to reduce sucker growth and redirect the tree's energies into the remaining branch.

One thing to look for is inward-growing branches

unless you are working on an old or badly damaged tree with little viable growth on it; in which case you might be able to coax another couple of years' production even from a backwards branch which will not easily bear the weight of fruit.

The dark heart of this cut

might indicate rot, but it might simply be a pigment that naturally repels insects and disease (like the dark wood of the black walnut which is toxic).

Suckers should be trimmed back, though they'll return.

Time to go hands-on. We had a lot of trees to choose from in an old 100+ orchard.

Practice, practice, practice

Some of us really got into our trees.

After a couple of hours we retreated into the very beautiful greenhouse for coffee and a bit of warmth.

Someone had a new tool sharpener and we got a demonstration on how to use it on a secateur blade.

Monday, 7 March 2011

GTUF goes to the bees

Yesterday the Gorge Tillicum Urban Farmers had a very well attended and lively session

on wild pollinators from Gord Hutchings

who talked about the range of pollinators available to gardens in BC. His ire had been raised by too much talk on the part of honeybeekeepers about the threat to food production created by hive losses, when in fact there are something like 800 different species of wild bees - as well as many other butterflies, flies and other insects and birds who act to pollinate plants.

This is not to say that wild pollinators are not at risk; they face serious problems from loss of habitat; pesticide use; large scale agriculture and monocropping which create fields too large for natural pollination; and loss of food sources through the replacement of native plant species with imported and hybridized or genetically modified plants. Because so many of our native bees are ground-dwelling, our fondness for pavement, pristine weed-free gardens, and digging over of soil are harming the long-term health of our gardens.

Afterwards there was time to look at the display items

which included some variations on bee houses; the one on the left is a mason (Blue Orchard/ Osmia lignaria) bee condo, the one on the right a bumblebee box. Bumblebees are our only native social bee: the rest are solitary. They are at risk from the same factors affecting all wild bees, and also from the large number of bumblebees brought in to service the greenhouse industry. Some of them find their way out of the greenhouses and pass diseases on to the native varieties through pollination activity.

The orchard mason bee condos are designed to allow the bee pupae to be removed and cleaned over the winter, to rid them of mites and ready them to emerge in the spring. Here is the device used to clean the cocoons (with sand):

and here are some cleaned mason bee cocoons:

(the black specks are larval excreta rather than mites which will appear lighter in colour).

And here are some interested GTUFers: