Sunday, May 26, 2013
GARDINER — Karl Richards has tried repeatedly to grow apple trees on his Whitefield property.
• Fruit trees aren’t grown from seed. Seeds won’t grow into same variety as their source.
• Rake old leaves away from apple trees to reduce likelihood of apple scab.
• Avoid spraying insecticides on windy days.
• Pruning trees can lead to larger fruit, easier harvests.
• When pruning, target large stuff first, small stuff last.
Source: Renae Moran, Highmoor Farm
Now “I’m at the point where I need help,” he said. “There are a lot of things that work against them, from weather to deer.”
Regional School Unit 11’s adult education program responded to Richards’ call for assistance.
Richards was one of more than 20 Gardiner-area residents who had a chance to pick up some tricks of the growing trade as part of the adult education program’s fall offerings.
Renae Moran, the tree fruit specialist at the University of Maine’s Highmoor Farm in Monmouth, taught two sessions on growing apples and other tree fruits. The enrichment offering proved to be among the adult education program’s most popular for the season, director Diann Bailey said.
“There’s a strong interest in all types of gardening,” Moran said, “and tree fruits is just one aspect of gardening.”
Moran teaches classes on growing tree fruit at locations throughout the state, including Highmoor Farm, a 278-acre facility on U.S. Route 202 dedicated to research on cultivating apples, vegetables and small fruits.
The RSU 11 course was Moran’s first foray into adult education.
“I like the idea because I can reach a wider audience,” Moran said. “They do the advertising, which saves me a lot of time.”
Moran devoted the class’s first session to the fundamentals of growing fruit trees in Maine, and she held an apple-tasting at the end.
“I brought some apples that they’ve probably never tried,” along with some they probably had, she said.
The second session, on Monday, dealt with pruning and preventing diseases and insect-related infections.
Moran admitted the class format — a two-hour session in a lecture-style classroom at night — had its challenges.
“It’s kind of tough to teach pruning in a classroom,” she said.
The Monday night session was dominated by talk of apple, pear and peach scab; fire blight on pears and apples; flyspeck; peach leaf curl; plum pockets and other tree fruit maladies.
Moran reviewed the insecticides available to growers — both organic and conventional — and shared tips on their use.
The organic insecticide Surround, for example, can be expensive, and the repellent will be more difficult to wash off the fruit after harvest than a conventional counterpart, she said.
For growers not interested in organic techniques, it’s wise, Moran said, to limit insecticide sprayings to four times a year. Otherwise, the insects targeted by the insecticide will become resistant to the treatment.
Bailey, the adult education director, said it’s a gamble every time the program releases its booklet of class offerings.
“It’s hard to tell when you’re putting courses out there who will be interested and whether it will be something that will get off the ground,” she said.
The gamble on the tree fruit class was one that paid off.
Brenda Weis, of Whitefield, grew up on a farm in Wisconsin filled with apple, plum and pear trees. She enrolled in Moran’s course in part to bring some tips to her parents, who still run the farm.
“I’m learning a lot here,” Weis said. “It’s nice to recognize a lot of these things you never researched or put a name to.”
Greg Roy said he enrolled since he’s “always wanted to grow fruit trees.”
For Roy, growing and tending to them would be the perfect family activity.
“It’d be good for the kids,” he said, “good for the family, to interact.”
Moran said she wants students to know that gardening and growing fruit trees don’t have to be all-consuming work. The amount of work depends on one’s expectations, she said.
“With tree fruits, it’s the kind of fruit quality they expect,” Moran said. “If they want blemish-free fruit every year and well-pruned trees, there is a higher level of involvement.”
Matthew Stone — 623-3811, ext. 435