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Springing into tree maintenance education

Class and instructors wait patiently for the course to begin and waivers to be signed.
Hattison Rensberry
Class and instructors wait patiently for the course to begin and waivers to be signed.

Each spring gardeners from amateurs to professionals prepare for the growing season to come. That includes researching, planting, and the maintenance of established plants. In western Colorado that can also mean fruit trees.

Normally walking into a gathering of trees with strangers carrying sharp tools might be… intimidating. But on this windy day in New Castle attendees from towns all over the Western Slope are converging for a fruit tree pruning workshop. The workshop is free, and organized by UpRoot Colorado in collaboration with Colorado Edible Forest, as well as CSU’s extension program. 

Attendee Jennifer Nelson lives in Glenwood and works in healthcare, and is investing her time into learning how to maintain the health of her yard’s long-standing fruit trees. This workshop is her first with UpRoot, and she say's that she is excited to meet other gardeners with similar interests.

"I have four fruit trees downtown, and I need to know how to take better care of them. I don't want them to look scraggly. I want to have good produce. We do a lot of canning and dehydrating, so just hoping to keep that going. They're really old trees, so I don't want them to die on my watch. Yeah, it's 120 year old house and the trees are probably 50 or 60 years old and I just want to keep them happy.

They have a lot of tools here that we have, so I think I'll just borrow. So great that they do things like this. I mean, there's so many fruit trees in the area, you know. Like, you could really do a lot of foraging around Glenwood, you know, if the trees were better taken care of."

Soon after, the workshop begins with a preface by Vanessa Harmony of Colorado Edible Forest. 

"I own and operate a plant nursery in Spring Valley. I specialize in berry bushes and perennial vegetable plants. Things that are edible and grow outdoors and are very cold tolerant. And so, in my nursery, I'm always selling things when they're juvenile, they're in containers. But, my customers have questions about how to take care of their trees and the landscape, so This is why giving this workshop benefits me and my customers, to educate them about fruit tree maintenance.
Up in spaces That, uh, that are old, like these, you know, a hundred plus years old, that need management. And so all of us benefit from keeping fruit trees healthy, so that they produce quality fruit that's as big and delicious as possible. This is the second year in a row that we're doing this, and we're so glad that it's so well received."

Enthusiastic students brave the wind, snuggling into their camp chairs as the lecture segment of the workshop begins. Shortly they’ll be practically applying their new skills to the apple orchard around them that is part of Orchard Creek Ranch. The property owner Kirsty says some of the trees hadn’t been touched for over 20 years when she first got to the ranch.

"This orchard in about 2000s, and it was kind of a funny way how it happened I was married, and my ex husband wanted to build houses out here. Well, that didn't last too long, so I ended up with an orchard. And it was so old, it had not been touched. In over 20 years. It was big and long and gangly.
There was so much dead wood between these trees, I really did not know it was in rows until we started cutting it. I was totally green, didn't know a thing. And now some of these trees I've reached very close to 100 years old. They're about 80 to 100. When I got them they were 60 to 80. Anyway, so as time went on, I learned how to cut trees and I learned how to drive a tractor, I learned how to fence.
And this place was so wild. There was tall grass everywhere, there was barbed wire, there was trash. And this is what it like now with a lot, a lot of love and work.
So then across the way is a gal who's about 100 years old. She told me what kind of apples we have. We have double red delicious, which are the older trees back over here.
So they're similar to a red delicious, but these are crispy and they have Better flavor. And we're organic also, just so you know that. And then we have Jonathan's and rums, which are sweet and tart. And now we do apple picking every September at the end of September on weekends."

Thanks to patience and careful maintenance, the trees now produce nearly every year and are quite healthy despite their age. The property’s manager Luis oversees the wellbeing of the orchard, and assists with the production of apple cider, hemp products, and honey. Kirsty says that the state of the orchard now is thanks to trial and error, as well as information available on the internet throughout the process.

Another no-cost workshop will be available in Basalt on March 23rd, and the intermediate hands-on experience for volunteers will be on March 30th. That final session is the opportunity for volunteers to lend their new skills for the maintenance of Emma Townsite during the workshop.

More information by emailing:

Information on the last workshop of the month in Basalt:

Information on the Emma Townsite volunteer day:\

Hattison Rensberry has a Bachelor’s Degree in Graphic Design and Drawing, but has worked for newsrooms in various capacities since 2019.
She also provides Editorial Design for the Sopris Sun.