2017-05-11 / Life in Leelanau

Orchardists polish up pruning skills in Port Oneida

By Patti Brandt Burgess
Of The Enterprise staff


JOHN TRIS of Glen Arbor tries his hand at sawing a dead branch off an antique apple tree, which is done to allow air movement and sunlight in the branches. JOHN TRIS of Glen Arbor tries his hand at sawing a dead branch off an antique apple tree, which is done to allow air movement and sunlight in the branches. Stu Warsen has about 10 Honeycrisp apple trees on his property in Cutlerville near Grand Rapids.

Warsen drove the three-plus hours on Friday to attend the 12th annual antique apple and pear tree pruning workshop sponsored by Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.

“I just wanted to get more information on pruning and how to take care of trees and hopefully get a good yield,” Warsen said.

Warsen was one of about 30 people who showed up for the workshop, which is held in the Port Oneida Rural Historic District in partnership with the Leelanau Conservation District and the MSU Extension Master Gardener Program.

“We’re always surprised at the numbers,” said Kimberly Mann, historical architect for the Lakeshore. “A lot of people are moving back into this area onto a relative’s farm and they want to know how to keep those trees growing.”


ANDY BYERLY of Pinckney and Central Lake and Stu Warsen of Cutlerville talk with Stella Otto of Empire, author of “The Backyard Orchardist,” about pruning antique apple trees at a workshop held Friday at the Miller farm in the Port Oneida District. ANDY BYERLY of Pinckney and Central Lake and Stu Warsen of Cutlerville talk with Stella Otto of Empire, author of “The Backyard Orchardist,” about pruning antique apple trees at a workshop held Friday at the Miller farm in the Port Oneida District. It didn’t hurt that the sun was shining, Mann said.

Several of those attending come back to the free workshop every year to get a refresher or to pick up new tips, she said.

“People can come and ask the experts and it doesn’t cost anything,” Mann said.

Gabrielle Crandall has a lot of old apple and sweet cherry trees on her Arcadia property that she’s been trying to trim up. It was her first time at the workshop and she came to see if she’s been pruning her trees the way it’s supposed to be done.


STEVE CHRISTENSEN demonstrates how to prune dead branches from an antique apple tree at a workshop held Friday in the Port Oneida Rural Historic District. STEVE CHRISTENSEN demonstrates how to prune dead branches from an antique apple tree at a workshop held Friday in the Port Oneida Rural Historic District. Crandall thinks her trees are about 80 years old, though she doesn’t know what variety of apple they are. She thinks maybe Jonathan.

She does know they taste darn good.

“It’s pretty amazing that you have fruit in your yard and you just walk around and pick fruit,” Crandall said.

The workshop, which is always held in Port Oneida, was held at the Miller farm, where only the barn and a handful of trees are left from the homestead.

There are 18 farms in Port Oneida, with 12 of them owned by the Lakeshore. They all have apple trees and they all bear fruit, Mann said.

Anybody can pick the trees, Mann said, though she asks that people not climb them, as many are 100 years old and their branches could break, she said.

Instead they should bring a fruit picker with a basket to reach the apples from the ground.

Andy and Tamara Byerly have half a dozen apple, apricot, peach and cherry trees on their Central Lake property. Friday marked the second time the couple was at the workshop.

“Someday we’ll be moving to a place where there is an orchard,” Tamara Byerly said. “We want to understand how to be gentle with it and use the knowledge and information without cutting trees down.”

The program was presented by Steve Christensen, a soil erosion officer with the Leelanau Conservation District, and Tom Adams, a resource specialist with the Conservation District.

Also on hand was Stella Otto, author of “The Backyard Orchardist” and it’s sequel, “The Backyard Berry Book.” The Empire resident has been at previous workshops and was asked back because of her wealth of fruit tree knowledge.

Otto said when it comes to treepruning, timing is everything. Right now is not a good time to prune pear trees as doing so will make them susceptible to fire blight, a disease caused by bacteria that can be introduced into an open cut on the tree caused by pruning.

“Prune it out, but do it during the dead, dormant period, not right now,” Otto said. “Dormant pruning is usually OK.”

Mann said that the Lakeshore is finding more and more species of apples that flourished in Port Oneida at one time. The species are not gone, but they are rare, Mann said, such as the Shiawassee Beauty, a rare apple that was developed in Vernon and was grown prior to 1860.

“We don’t find them any more in supermarkets,” Mann said.

In all, there have been more than 40 varietals identified as growing in the Lakeshore. The apples taste better and are unique, Mann said.

The reason there are so many different species of apple in Port Oneida is so people could have fresh fruit year round, Mann said.

“When you don’t have access to a supermarket and you want fresh fruit you have to have varieties that will ripen at different times of the year,” she said.

Also at the workshop was Ben Buchan, who took over his family’s business, Buchan’s Blueberry Hill in Traverse City, about 10 years ago.

“I took over the farm from my father and now it’s time to learn,” Buchan said. “I grew up on a farm. I wish I would have helped him more.”

Return to top