One of the things I am really excited about this Spring is another class – Applied Permaculture with David Homa near Portland Maine. This course is eight Saturdays, once a month, going out to sites and doing real work – pruning, grafting, planting, soil building – all the practical skills one needs for building and maintaining a food forest. Where my first permaculture course last year was a lot of really good and useful classroom learning, this one is all about learning by doing.
David is well-organized and energetic. He welcomes us into his cozy dining room, where he has laid out white folders of materials with every participants’ name on them and set up a white board with the day’s schedule, as well as a table full of cool-looking pruning tools. Wow! Class starts with introductions. This is a group with some experience, including a number of professional gardeners and homestead farmers. I feel kind of proud to be part of this group, and again, as in other permaculture or farming meet ups, take a liking to the folks. Our in-house lesson is on tool safety – always wear good gloves and eye protection so you don’t lose any fingers or eyes; make sure your first aid kit is well-supplied; and take care of tools – always clean them, and put them away dry.
Our first practical lesson is in espalier pruning – we tackle a small espalier at a friend’s (who mainly grows mushrooms) down the road. David talks a mile a minute, snips here and snips there, and poof! the branch looks great. He points out the difference between spur and tip bearing apples, which look exactly the same to me, no matter how much I squint. Then he sets all us novices off in pairs to prune the rest of the espalier. Boy, David’s friend must be an easy-going guy! We prune the branches back short, to little spurs, like with grapes, so the trees look quite sparse when we’re all done.
After a good lunch, our next lesson is in a small orchard, where there are proper trees. Here, we leave most of the branches on, we just take out the three D’s (dead, damaged, or ??); growth near the trunk; growth going up or down; and sometimes we tip branches to “stiffen them up”. My partner, Nicole, and I take on our first tree; we snip, cut, talk, snip, saw, talk, snip. It’s a very clean-looking tree when we are all done. When David comes over to check, his eyes just about pop out of his head – oops, I guess we snipped too much! We try to be a little more selective on our next tree…
Mark asks me what I learned when I come home. I say “I learned tree pruning is really hard, and I don’t know the first thing about it!”, but I am totally satisfied and happy.