By Steve Hoying
Area Extension Educator
Lake Ontario Fruit Program
Cornell Cooperative Extension
It may be just a little late to get budwood to your nurseryman this year but it is not too late to start the process.
Although nurserymen generally do a good job of producing high quality trees from a consistent source of budwood, too many fruit growers don't take the opportunity to improve the overall quality of their fruit by knowing exactly the characteristics of the variety and strains they are planting. This can only be done by supplying their own wood to their nurseryman.
What are the steps to improving your fruit quality through selection and propagation of trees from wood identified by you to have outstanding quality?
1. Determine that you will include money for orchard replacement, improvement, and/or expansion as part of your annual budget. If you consider orchard planting only as an investment it will be extremely difficult to plan far enough ahead for this type of fruit quality improvement. Once you have annual money budgeted for orchard plantings you can start to chart whole farm improvements.
2. Assess ALL blocks on the farm for profitability, yield, quality (reflected by price received) and input costs including management only. After you determine the sequence of block removal or whole farm development by the addition of blocks necessary for long term farm profitability can you begin to plan.
3. Simple observation, a little patience, and packout records can identify blocks that consistently produce good quality fruit. But don't limit your search to your own farm. Often neighbors have improved selections that are worth propagating. During the growing season and especially at harvest, check all blocks for trees with the exceptional characteristics you need to improve fruit quality. Early coloring fruit, exceptional size, natural typiness, spuriness, a clean fruit finish, and the quality of fruit color can all be characteristics that would improve packout. Before deciding to propagate a promising strain, make sure that fruit or tree characteristics selected are genetic in nature, not caused by soil differences or mechanical injury.
4. When an exceptional tree or even limb is found, tag it, and watch it for at least a couple of additional seasons to make sure it is consistently true. Also have someone else you can trust look at it and evaluate it. Often nurserymen or horticultural consultants can give a good indication whether this is exceptional and even help you through the propagation process especially if patenting and commercial sales are warranted.
5. If the selected tree shows the character consistently and it is worthy of further larger scale trial, you will need to begin to bulk up this wood to produce enough to provide your nurseryman. The wood can be multiplied by making a judicious number of heading cuts. If selected limbs are pruned too aggressively further unwanted genetic mutations can occur resulting in a reversion away from the characteristic you initially selected.
6. All this time you should be planning and working carefully with your nurseryman to coordinate tree type desired (grafted or budded) rootstock desired, and delivery time of bud or grafting wood and finished tree. This is perhaps the most important step. Nurserymen need to have high quality wood to work with otherwise they will have poor take and you will have disappointing results. This means it should be absolutely free of insect and disease damage and winter injury. Nurserymen can and do reject wood that is not suitable for propagation.
Just a little planning can make for an impressive orchard, superior fruit quality, and packout with consistent and exceptional returns. Consider scouting for your future orchards right now. Advantages include more time for proper orchard preparation, finished orchards with the rootstock, variety and strain of your choice, and ultimately fruit with consistent high quality.