Monday, February 22, 2010

Pruning Trees at the Biltmore Estate

Last summer, Eli, the Kitchen Garden Manager at the Biltmore Estate, enlisted my help in regards to an old apple orchard on the property. A resident on the property inquired about the trees and hoped that the orchard could be revitalized. Honestly, I do not know much about tree fruits, so I asked Dr. Steve McArtney from the Horticultural Science Department at NCSU to accompany me to the Biltmore Estate to assess the orchard.

When we arrived at the Biltmore Estate orchard, we were greeted by about 160 very large apple trees of unknown varieties. Eli told us that the apple trees have been on the property for at least 30 years and it was obvious that they were neglected. There were gaps in the orchard where trees were removed and the few apples that were on the trees were out of reach.

Canopy of large apple tree last summer.

Eli (who secretly wanted us to tell him to get a root rake and remove the trees) was surprised when Dr. McArtney was optimistic about the apple trees. With a little T.L.C (and a lot of pruning), the orchard could be revitalized.

The revitalization would be a multi-year project, but was manageable for a small orchard. The first step would be spent on reducing height of the tree. The next step would be spent pruning out lower and unhealthy limbs.

This winter we are tackling step one: deciding which limbs would be pruned out and then removing them. The goal was to reduce tree height and encourage horizontal, rather than vertical growth.

Pink Ribbons designate which limbs will be pruned (above).

Royce the fearless arborist, prepares for pruning (above).

The Biltmore Estate has a wonderful crew of arborists, led by their fearless leader, Bill. The crew works 10-hour days and have been busy removing damaged trees from our recent ice and snow storms here in WNC. I joked with them that they must all be "really good eaters" because of all the physical labor they do. Royce responded with an "oh yeah!"

Royce begins the "big cuts" (above).

Royce cuts through that apple tree trunk like a knife through butter (above).

Tossing those limbs to the side (above). That is not an easy job.

Royce take a much deserved rest after tackling that tree (above).

Above you see the final product after pruning. Looks sad, but remember, this is a happy story of revitalization!

The wounds were painted with NAA, a growth hormone that is applied to help prevent the formation of water sprouts from the trunks (above).

Look at how much got pruned out! (above and below). That was just one tree!

My job was to be a "brush-dragger". I think I was pretty good at it. Though this week we were pulling brush down a hill. The other side of the orchard will require dragging up hill!

The pruned out limbs were destined for the chipper (above).

Some of the large cuts of wood (above) are headed to the kitchen to make some apple wood smoked delicacies.

Some trees were not going to make it, so Eli flagged them with the "florescent pink ribbon of death" (above). Below you can see one of these poor trees meeting its demise.

Eli got to pull the rope on this tree, but I got to do one too! It is very empowering to pull down a tree with a rope.

So the first step of the orchard revitalization is underway! I can't wait to see what these trees look like and produce this summer. I will certainly keep you updated. In a few years this orchard will be revitalized- I can't wait!

My hard hat goes off to the crew at Biltmore Estate! They are a great and organized group to work with. Maybe next time I can convince them to let me handle one of these puppies!

1 comment:

The Waverly Inn and Hendersonville, NC said...

We can all take a lesson out of the Biltmore Estate's operations manual. They are some of the best in the country at revitalizing almost anything. So much of what was originally created at the Estate was so well thought out that large changes are not really necessary. Hats off to the team at The Biltmore and thanks to you for providing these tremendous pictures and narrative of what happens behind the scenes there. Kudos to all!