Fruit & Vegetable Magazine

Features Production Research
N.S. orchard transferring and transition


November 20, 2014
By Dan Woolley

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 Chris Duyvelshoff outlines the features of the Eisses brothers’ new tractor-mounted Rinieri pruner and hedger. Photo by Dan Woolley

The 2014 Nova Scotia Fruit Growers Association’s annual orchard tour of the Annapolis Valley paid a visit to an orchard this summer experiencing an inter-generational transfer as well as a technological transition.

David and Peter Eisses are currently engaged in an inter-generational transfer with their father, John Eisses, who bought the Centreville, N.S., farm in 1970.

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The brothers recently bought an Italian-made Rinieri straight bar, tractor-mounted sickle bar pruner and hedger, one of the first of its type in a North American orchard.

According to Chris Duyvelshoff, a tree fruit specialist with Nova Scotia’s agricultural consulting agency, Perennia, the technology is only a few years old and was only recently introduced on the continent.

“This technology seems to be adapted to dwarf trees and fruit walls,” he said, adding the timing of thinning will also determine the ultimate crop load.

During the tour, the Eisses demonstrated the mechanical pruner on 8th leaf Ambrosia and 4th leaf Gala in their orchard. Mechanical pruning and hedging is done to reduce the cost of orchard labour; but David added the priority this year for their new machinery is to reduce fire blight in their orchard, which has been quite prevalent in Annapolis Valley orchards this year.

The Eisses’ Pacific Gala block is planted on G16 rootstock, which Peter considers “disappointing” because of its susceptibility to fire blight and European canker.

Duyvelshoff stated the response to mechanical hedging varies greatly depending on the age of the block and the cultivars planted in it.

“We saw a lot more re-growth on Gala (a younger planting)… than on Ambrosia (an older block).”

Gala also appears to be more prolific in flow bud development following hedging he has found as he continues testing this new pruning technology for future commercial application in co-operative trials with the Eisses brothers.

Duyvelshoff said the Gala block have a row spacing of 14 feet, with a two feet tree spacing and received a window pruning between the trees on May 5, after which there was no other pruning except for fire blight; although on June 24 (the Solstice) did some hedging to control growth on part of the block. Consideration was also being given for August hedging to stop new cropping.

Straight line hedging with the sickle bar straight pruner can taper the tree wall at the top, he said.

Row spacing appears to be a big factor on the sustainability of fruit wall production and he also felt a 14 feet wide row is too wide as it admits too much sunlight into the tree canopies. “If you have a 14 feet row; you need tree to be at least 13 feet high.”

The tree wall spacing in the Eisses’ Ambrosia block, which has 1,400 trees to the acre, is 12 feet by 2.5 feet, noted Duyvelshoff, adding it has a light bloom this year as Ambrosia is susceptible to biennial bearing.

The Ambrosia tree wall is hedged 25 to 30 inches thick at the bottom and tapered to just 12 inches wide at the top, he said, adding the Eisses straight hedged the block from May 29 to June 29 and they will also hedge it again in August.

The Rinieri hedger costs about $18,000, Duyvelshoff said; but summer pruning can improve apple colour and the hedger can prune a lot of acres very quickly. Nevertheless, hand pruning must be done every year for any branches that stick out from the wall.

“Plant your rows straight for effective pruning and hedging,” David advised.

Duyvelshoff warned mechanical hedging can spread fire blight. So, he advised growers to check their orchards for its presence before hedging and clean the hedger’s teeth before pruning.