Fruit Tree Pruning and Making Homemade Pectin

Yesterday I went to a fruit tree pruning workshop. I heard about it through Kathy Kramer, who organizes the Bringing Back the Natives garden tour each Spring (which is free and amazing!). The workshop was not free, it was $40 and worth every blessed penny. It was taught by Ann Ralph, who has a wonderful book out - Grow a Little Fruit Tree - and in two hours, I came home confident about pruning my own fruit trees.

We met in a idyllic garden in San Pablo, which had dozens of fruit trees waiting for us to prune. There were about 15 of us in the class. We got hands-on training which was terrific.

I learned an awful lot, but I don't want to give too much away - I want you to support Ann and buy her book or go to one of her workshops. However I'll give you a summation: Firstly, I realized that I need to re-think how much water I am giving my fruit trees - even the new ones can take much less than I give them. (Water less frequently and more thoroughly, is what Ann advised.) Also I should be mulching around the trees with worm castings; Ann says they are best for helping the trees to stay strong and avoiding pests. And she gave us some 'pruning rules to live by,' which I love.

* If you don't know what to do, cut some stuff out.
* Prune to keep in reach.
* Make aesthetic decisions.
* Pruning is a conversation between you and the tree.

I came home and immediately got out my tools and started. The new plum and cherry trees were easy, I just gave them a slight heading cut at the top. (Apparently I should have done this right away.) I also pruned some dead wood off the fig tree. Then I got started on the apple tree. Oy, this thing was about 15 feet tall at its highest points, very bushy, and totally out of control.

I got out my Felco bypass shears and the Japanese saw I've permanently borrowed from my dad. Loppers too.

I spent part of yesterday on this project, and most of this morning. Finally I got the tree down to a reachable height, and had cut out all suckers, upward branches, downward branches, and crossing branches, plus all the dead and unproductive wood. It looks completely different.

Now more light and more air can flow through the tree, there is room between branches, and I also thinned out the fruit, which should all be eight inches apart. A side benefit is that the vegetables planted near the tree will get more sun, now.

I had a huge amount of compost. I gave a bucket of unripe apples to the chickens, put a ton in the bins, and brought a bucketful in to make homemade pectin.

What is pectin? Pectin is a 'soluble gelatinous polysaccharide that is present in fruits and is used as a setting agent in jams and jellies.' Unripe apples have quite a bit of natural pectin, so why not make some to use this summer in our canning adventures?

I cut up about 4-5 pounds of apples and added them, cores and all, into a pot with six cups of water, and brought them to a boil.

I then simmered them for 45 minutes, mashing them with a potato masher as they softened.

Then I transferred the whole mess to my 'nut milk bag' (which I normally use for cold brew) and drained it for four hours.

Then I took the resulting juice and boiled it for quite a while, and at the same time, boiled the canning jars. The lids and rings also got a hot water bath.

Then the syrup got poured into the jars and then the full jars had a boiling water bath for ten minutes.

I'm not sure when we'll next make jam, but this pectin will come in handy.

Tomorrow, I'll tackle the peach tree!!!