Orchard meeting discusses runting issues, Asian pears
LISBON, Md. — Nestled in Howard County’s far western corner, Larriland Farms, a sprawling pick-your-own operation owned by the Moore family, hosted this year’s Multi-State Spring Orchard meeting. Jointly sponsored this year by the Extension Services of Penn State University and the University of Maryland, the event drew over 70 attendees from across the Mid-Atlantic, including several Extension faculty members from both PSU and UM as well as other members of the agricultural community such as Future Harvest CASA and the USDA’s research facilities in Beltsville, Md.
The final event in a series of similar farm tour meetings held every spring by Penn State, Larriland’s orchard tour provided a different perspective for many of the regional orchard growers attending. Unlike Larriland’s farm, which as a pick-your-own farm is primarily a retail operation, “most growers sell directly to packing houses or processors,” said Dr. Daniel Weber, a Penn State Extension tree fruit educator in Adams County.
Lynn Moore, one of the Moore family members, began the tour by introducing herself and other key family members involved in the farm’s operation as well as explaining the parameters of the farm’s lands and its customer base. Because all of the farm’s orchards and fields — the Moores grow pumpkins, small fruit and some select vegetables in addition to the tree fruit — are pick-your-own, “we have people crawling over the farm all of the time,” said Moore.
In answer to a question about average numbers of daily customers, Moore noted it’s difficult to estimate based on “cash register sales because an individual customer can ring up multiple sales” of different crops in one visit; however, she continued, “on a beautiful day, it can be a lot” of customers.
Demographically, those plentiful numbers include “a lot of government workers and a large ethnic population.” To cater to those latter populations, Moore noted that they planted “three-quarters of an acre of gooseberries because of the large Russian and Slavic population that comes to the farm.”
The introductions over, the attendees piled into four hay wagons — two each behind a tractor — and headed for the tour’s first stop, one of the Moores’ apple orchards, which was experiencing runting problems. Moore had initially been reluctant to include the stop in the tour when Weber and Dr. Chris Walsh, a professor of horticulture in UM’s Department of Plant Science and Landscape Architecture, first approached her about hosting the Multi-State event.
“We both encouraged her to overcome that concern because we knew that so many folks would benefit from seeing that block of the orchard,” said Weber. “On these types of tours, the strongest benefits come from those imperfections and things that are out of everybody’s control. It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been in the business, everybody benefits from those lessons.”
Dr. Jim Schupp, a Penn State professor of pomology, who gave the presentation and answered questions from the group for the stop, later explained that runting occurs “when trees don’t grow to their indicated stature, or when they don’t fill their space.”
It can occur for a couple of reasons: Usually in fruit trees, particularly in apples, it occurs as a result of replant disease, a phenomenon that happens when trees are planted into soil that was occupied by a previously related species; or “sometimes the trees are healthy, but they come into production too soon,” Schupp said.
The latter cause happens “particularly with varieties that are precocious too soon, especially if they are put on a precocious root stock.”
“If you let the fruit stay on the tree for the second and third year,” he continued, “the tree ends up half as tall as it should be, and the problem becomes that you’re getting half as much fruit because fruiting takes place at the expense of root growth. It’s much easier to prevent runting rather than curing it, because curing it requires doing without a crop for a few years.”
In fact, that cure — defruiting the runted trees — was Schupp’s recommendation to both the Moores and the group at large. “It is, a tough love moment for an Extension agent,” he said later.
On a much brighter note, the tour’s next stop focused on a part of the Moores’ 3 1/2 acres of Asian pear plantings. Schupp began his presentation at this stop noting Asian pears “are trendy particularly where you have an ethnic Asian population. That population will come a long way for them.”
Moore also noted that Asian pear trees “can tolerate wet feet.” To accommodate the pick-your-own aspect, she noted “we put them in planted on a 45 degree angle to keep them from getting too tall.”
Succeeding stops included stops at the Moores’ small fruit fields and one at their irrigation pond.
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