Finally, winter has arrived.

At the orchard, we had a rather impressive progress at training new hires at winter pruning. Just after 3 days, these guys are pretty confident at pruning, decisively making the right choices. On their first day, we taught them how to identify wood of different age, ideal branches and non-ideal branches, the tree structure that we are trying to achieve.

I believe teaching them the physiology of a tree is quite important especially if they are not from a horticulture background. Come to think of it, I am still unable to tell different type of veges apart if they don’t have a label on them (Google helps too)! Common sense? Only applies to my mum who has been doing the veges shopping at the wet market every week even before I was born.

We  then proceed to prune a branch and at the same time, explain to them why each cut happens. Then, they are assigned a main branch each to prune, and to explain why they are making the cut, very much like NZ driving exam. This part of the group learning goes on till morning smoko, where everyone took turn to prune a main branch.

After smoko, they have to take one side of a row each and start pruning the base of the tree while we go around and guide them, question them, challenge them, and so on. The entire process is about them building up their confidence and understanding of pruning techniques.

We also showed them how to tie down the main branches and the different knots involved. I also realized that a new pruner tend to attack a tree from everywhere. So the general pruning process is quite important as well, start from the lowest branch, start pruning from the trunk towards the outside and defining a leader in the process. Prune from bottom up and paint from top down.

When they finished the bottom, they had to go through again on the ladder and do the tops. As different parts of the tree has a slightly different focus on pruning, we do go up the ladder with them to guide them along as well. Pruning at the top of the tree is more severe and lease compromising and focusing on renewing branches.

Once they have completed their rows, they will go on to a new row and start working on the entire tree bottom and top at the same time. At this point in time, we start to coach them individually by working opposite a staff on a row as a pair. This is a fine tuning process as each new staff will have different issues to work on. It is also the time to show them how fast the job can be done.

Finally, we work on their speed. We always believe in positive motivation, so we had them on a competition on who can finish a row the fastest and doing a good job at the same time. We are also having a weekly scoreboard for them to gauge their performance. In the process, we will introduce our expectation and deal with any staff who are unable to meet expectation.

It is really about the teacher being patient and non-judgmental. Have faith and instill confidence. It takes people years and years to learn how to prune properly. But in the current horticulture sector where budget is tight plus the dependency on seasonal labor which is usually made up of backpackers who lack experience, we do need to improvise on the pruning operations.

Here’s my wildflowers meadow in winter, among the brown decomposing stalks, its still flowering! Grant is definitely baffled by the flower power, he was expecting a sorry dead sight. Flocks of Goldfinches can be seen perching on the daisy-like flowers foraging for seeds, an amazing sight! I laid out drip lines in the meadow yesterday and connected them to the fertigation tank, this will divert some of the rainwater headed to the tucker patch away onto the meadow. Indeed, yesterday was my first time wading through the meadow, it ain’t easy. Weeding has also started, it involves more wading through the meadow with a bucket and fork in hand, looking for clumps of grasses and pulling them out and dump into the bucket to be emptied into the compost bin. The soil seem to be good, it is relatively easy to pull out the grasses. I am now doubtful if I should douse it with EF Humus Builder in late winter, it will save me $13.

Broad beans are coming along steadily. I have the Broad Bean Superaguadulce and Broad Bean Dwarf Early Green, both from Kings Seeds.

Remember my plight about my peas? I finally caught the culprit! Not the slugs, not worms, not the rabbits. The birds! The birds! The birds! Something like the swallow or sparrow. I caught one of them nibbling away at my dwarf peas growing in the cloche. I asked Google and it seems to be one of their favorite pass time. A home made spray to deal with it is to soak chopped chili peppers in water, fermenting in the sun for at least 2 days and spray out onto the plants.

In a bid to tighten my finance, I have decided to stop buying books but instead to borrow them from the library instead. My very first book that I borrowed from the library, Koanga Garden Guide by Kay Baxter!