A Hard Day

– Posted in: Fruit, Pests, Plagues, and Varmints

While pruning the apple trees this spring I noticed extensive bark damage on two trees, similar to damage I saw on the third apple tree last year. Since the problem was mostly located on a single tree last year, I simply removed the affected bark and took a wait-and-see attitude. That was probably not a good idea. It was clear this year that the infestation had spread.

The damage was caused by a bug–that much was clear from my observation. There were little round entry holes in the effected portions of the bark, and when I stripped off the dead bark I found gnawed tunnels along the branches, and little holes in the limbs which held white larvae. A bug. A pest. But what pest was this?

To find the answer I had to do a bit of research. I had no idea what the name of my pest was, but I searched the Internet (via Google, of course,) for “Apple tree pests” and then started to wade through the results. The initial search results brought up nothing close to my problem. Then I came upon the Ministry of Agriculture, Food & Fisheries for British Columbia. The site had a long list of apple tree pests. I scanned the list, reading the various names and wondering if I would have to click on every one to find what I wanted. Near the bottom of the list was a pest named Shothole Borer. Descriptive name, and it sounded like my beast.

I clicked on the link and was immediately greeted with pictures that looked just like my problem. The page gave a concise description of the bug, its habits, and how to control it. The information confirmed my worst fears. The most effective way to control Shothole Borers was to cut off the affected wood, and repeated attacks by heavy populations would kill healthy trees.

When I saw the damage done to the trees I already subconsciously feared these very facts. I had hoped that somehow the information I found would tell me everything was okay and I had nothing to worry about. Hah. The dreadful premonition was right. I had a major catastrophe on my hands.

I still didn’t want to admit to the facts. I reasoned to myself that since I stripped off all the affected bark, perhaps I had contained the problem and I wouldn’t have to go lopping off major limbs. Perhaps because I subconsciously realized the stupidity of that logic, I dragged Dad outside to get his verdict on the case.

Dad was as dismayed as I to see the damage wrought on the trees, but he was firm in his verdict. Cut off all the affected wood, he said, and burn it. This was the best hope, and even then, the trees might continue to succumb.

This was news I didn’t want to hear, but it was the truth. Coming to grips with these facts required a great deal of mental readjustment. The trees are my babies. I have worked years, pruning and caring for them in the hopes of many wonderful harvests. And now I was going to turn around and cruelly saw off major limbs? The trees would be disfigured for the rest of their lives. How many apples lost in one year? A hundred? Then make that a thousand for ten years.

I stared at the apple trees, and thought about shearing the limbs off. It was both terrible, and not as bad as it could be. I only had to take one minor limb from the middle apple tree. I had to remove one major and one minor limb from both of the other trees. Crushing yes, but I thought about losing all three of the trees entirely. What is the loss of one fifth of the harvest when everything could be lost instead? I considered this, and firmed my resolve to do what was required.

Once I came to the decision in my own mind, there was no point in putting off the action. I climbed into the trees and removed the smaller limbs with a hand saw. I brought out the chainsaw to execute the major limbs. It was all quick and ruthless.

Then it was cleanup time. I dragged the large limbs up the hill to the burn pile. All the twigs from the spring pruning I raked up and carted by wheelbarrow to the burn pile.

I’m still in mental shock, I think. Or else I’ve truly gotten over it, and things don’t feel so bad anymore. How do you know the difference? The trees don’t look so very bad. Where the limbs were removed I see an empty spot. I suppose they don’t look too unbalanced. Maybe someone who hadn’t seen the trees before the surgery wouldn’t see anything amiss. But I still see.

The cuts were clean. All the refuse was cleaned up. I hope the trees heal.

I still need to burn the wood.

* * *

The weather was excellent today. A day for getting things done. With the apple trees finished for the spring, I turned my attention to other work many weeks overdue.

Two Juneberry trees needed moving to a new location. One of the trees was over ten feet tall, and the other was around eight. I was supposed to move them two months ago, but since they are wild trees–nice trees, but wild–they came in very low on my list of things to do. But if the Juneberries we going to be moved this year, it couldn’t be much later than today.

It was suppertime when I went out to move the first. I knew I couldn’t eat supper before the tree moving. The Juneberry trees were big, and moving large trees is a strenuous chore. Working hard on a full stomach is not a good idea, so supper had to wait.

Moving trees is work. Hard work. This is not the first time I’ve moved trees, and I have a good routine worked out. Nevertheless, the work is still hard, and if a tree is recalcitrant about coming out, the job becomes brutal.

I’m young, in good shape, and I know it. I take advantage of myself and do things I could never do at a different time in my life. As it is, I might really feel some pains from my exertion tomorrow. There are some things even a young man can’t get away with. Heaving with all my might, trying to rip a tree out of the ground, is one of those things. There are costs to everything, and I knew it when I did it. I was willing to take the risk for the chance to move the trees in good time. Both trees were moved and planted before seven thirty.

I’m exhausted from all the work, but I’m not feeling too bad. Not yet. Tomorrow will reveal all. I strained a muscle or two in one side of my back, but I don’t think it was too bad. The tugging, pulling, shoving, and ripping put a lot of stress on my elbows. They were aching by the time I finished. Both of those pains have faded away, and, as I write, I mostly feel a dull tiredness everywhere.

About the Author

At age fifteen, Rundy decided he wanted to write for his living. He is currently working on a novel, although it is not the novel he started at fifteen. When not working on the novel, he might be riding his bike, feeding his chickens, helping his neighbors, messing around with web design and computers in general, or writing on his blog, which discusses other topics in addition to gardening. USDA Hardiness Zone: 4 AHS Heat Zone: 3 Location: rural; Southern Tier of NY Geographic type: foothills of Appalachian Mountains Soil Type: acid clay Experience level: advanced beginner Particular interests: fruits, vegetables, major landscaping, chickens and other poultry

What differentiates a bulb from a perennial plant is that the nourishment for the flower is stored within the bulb itself.…There is something miraculous about the way that a little grenade of dried up tissue can explode into a complete flower.

~Monty Don in The Complete Gardener pp. 142

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