Articles written by Darryl McCullough (unless otherwise noted)

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Calling All Newbies

We interrupt this ongoing blog to plug this spring’s Fruit Tree Paradise Workshop. That’s my twice-a-year, 3-hour introductory class on fruit tree horticulture, which will take place on Saturday, March 25, from 2:00 to 5:00. If you know anyone who might want to take the class, you can send them to this web page for more information and to register if they like.

The class costs $25, or $35 for a couple, but if that is a burden I’ll be happy to adjust the price appropriately. The proceeds all go to Transition Sarasota, a non-profit non-political organization that seeks to build local community by supporting local food and local business (full disclosure--- I serve on its Board of Directors).

Of course there is a long list of folks in these parts who know a heck of a lot more than I do about growing fruit trees, but none of them offer such a class. If they do, I’ll be happy to send interested parties there, and to attend it myself. But for now, it’s up to me.

This will the fourth time for the class, and it’s been fun. I’m fortunate to have a convenient classroom--- my two acres here in north Sarasota County. Actually, it’s less than two, after allowing for the house, the driveway, the shade of the oaks, and the ornamentals, but that still leaves room for plenty of fruit trees for hands-on demonstrations.

In a 3-hour class, a lot of information is dispensed. But as an experienced teacher of subjects other than fruit trees, I’ve learned to ask myself “What are the key underlying ideas?” If I can’t sum them up in a few sentences, then I don’t really have a clear understanding of what I’m trying to get across. So, in a nutshell:

1. In selecting a species and variety of fruit tree, and then in growing it, one should consider seven basic horticultural concerns: sunlight, nutrition, drought, flood, wind, cold, and (for those lucky and unlucky enough to live right on the coast) salt.

2. A fruit tree is not a machine, but rather an adaptive system with enormous embodied intelligence. And it is part of a surrounding ecology, which is an adaptive system with enormous embodied intelligence.

I try to put most of what I say in the context of these big ideas. And I also ask myself “What are are the key takeaways that I want people to remember, even if they forget everything else?”. Simply put, they are:

1. Promote healthy ecologies above and below ground.

2. Prune aggressively, fertilize conservatively, and mulch heavily.

Of course there are lots of practical tips, for example:

1. Tip-prune to force bushy structure, and don’t allow the tree to grow tall.

2. Plant on mounds, and when you plant, free the roots enough for them to start growing straight into the surrounding soil. If necessary, root-prune to correct circling roots and other bad root structure.

And of course there’s the most important takeaway of all:

Join your local fruit club(s) and become part of the fruit tree growing community. Share your knowledge with others as they share theirs with you.

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