When it comes to fruit tree care, practice makes perfect!

Fruit Tree Practice Makes Perfect

When it comes to fruit tree care skills, practice makes perfect.

That’s what the interns of a new intermediate level fruit tree care program in Toronto’s San Romanoway community have discovered.

These interns are graduates of  Orchard People’s Certificate in Beginner Fruit Tree Care program in San Romanoway. The certificate program included 18 hours of training in pruning fruit trees, pest and disease prevention, soil and fertility management and more. The program included both theory and lots of hands-on practice.

This year, as part of their internship, the team of five dedicated students will have 20 hours of additional practice. In ten sessions they will prune and care for homeowners’ trees in their community in the economically disadvantaged Jane/Finch area in Toronto.

The program was organized by the Toronto and Region Conservation (TRCA) as part of their Sustainable Neighbourhood Retrofit Action Plan (SNAP) initiative and the goal of the program was to give local graduates of Orchard People’s Certificate in Beginner Fruit Tree Care the opportunity to practice their new skills.

Isioma, an Orchard People Fruit Tree Care graduate and Intern, evaluates a diseased fruit tree. She looked up the disease problem in the book “What’s Wrong With My Fruit Garden” by David Deardorff and Kathryn Wadsworth.

Working on Fruit Trees of all Sizes and Ages

The five interns already have a wealth of knowledge about fruit trees. They are part of a larger group of 24 that completed their Certificate in Beginner Fruit Tree Care in San Romanoway in 2015 or 2016.

In the course they learned:

  • How to improve tree health and productivity using winter and summer pruning
  • Pest and disease identification and prevention
  • Fruit tree fertility management skills.

All of this knowledge has been put to good use both in the certificate program itself and in the 2017 internship program where they are having lots of hands-on practice in caring for trees of all ages and sizes.

Many of the homeowners’ fruit trees have had problems due to neglect. The team has seen some healthy trees, but they have also worked on a number of sick trees. After pruning the tree properly to open up the canopy and increase air circulation, the team advises their customers about other ways they can care for their tree to boost tree health.

Chelia uses a magnifying glass to identify the pests on this ailing cherry tree. This type of scouting is a key aspect of “Integrated Pest Management’ for fruit trees.

Communication with Clients is Key

The interns have learned the importance of communicating with the homeowner before they start work, listening to the homeowner’s fruit tree challenges and goals and offering advice. They also explain what their pruning approach will be during the session.

After they do their work, the interns meticulously clean up any pruned off branches and again chat with the homeowner about what they did and ways forward to continue caring for the tree. They fill out a fruit tree recommendation sheet to give to the homeowner with tips and advice about how to care for their tree.

Interns chat with homeowners before a session to discover what their problems have been with the trees and to share their observations on the tree’s health. Then they will explain their pruning strategy before starting their pruning work.

Blossoming of a Fruit Tree Care Social Enterprise

I have had the honour of being the team’s teacher for quite a while now. The first time I met these students was in the first class of my nine-part in-person certificate in Beginner Fruit Tree Care. Looking into their eyes, I knew that many of them were sceptical about what they thought they might learn during the course.

But over the weeks and months, I watched as my students blossomed and am continually amazed by how much they grew and learned during the course. And they continue to learn and grow as paid interns.

So what’s next for this wonderful group? Well, right now they’re hoping to start a social enterprise offering a package of fruit tree care services so that they can continue to help homeowners in their community grow healthy and productive fruit trees.

And the the fantastic team involved in the TRCA’s Sustainable Neighbourhood Retrofit Action Plan (SNAP) is looking for grants to help support them in education about starting a business, money to create professional brochures advertising their services, business cards and other essential resources.

Red apple cluster on tree

Fruit trees can be part of a sustainable lifestyle as they produce fresh, local and organic fruit. But neglected fruit trees can be a liability as they are magnets for pest and disease problems that may spread to neighbouring trees.

Fruit Trees are Only Sustainable When They are Healthy

One of the team’s goals is to clamp down on fruit tree pest and disease problems which spread quickly when trees are neglected. After all, fruit trees are only sustainable when they are healthy. Sick and neglected fruit trees are actually more damaging because they spread pests and disease to neighbouring trees and even to nearby commercial orchards.

In any case, the San Romanoway Team is on the job. They are offering a much needed service and sharing their expertise in the community. I so look forward to seeing where they take this business! Good luck team!

The San Romanoway Revival Project was brought to the community by the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority’s SNAP program (Sustainable Neighbourhood Retrofit Action Plan) and was made possible thanks to sponsors including Metcalf Foundation, The W. Garfield Weston Foundation, Trillium Foundation, Boise Project UP and Fiskar’s Tools and partners including property owners and managers,  San Romanoway Revitalization Association, the City of Toronto, Orchard People Fruit Tree Care Education and FoodShare.

Read more about the San Romanoway fruit tree care project by following these links:

Susan Poizner

Susan Poizner

Director, OrchardPeople.com Fruit Tree Care Education Online

Susan Poizner is the author of the award-winning fruit tree care book Growing Urban Orchards and the creator of the award-winning online fruit tree care training portal at www.orchardpeople.com. She is an urban orchardist, journalist and film maker living in Toronto, Canada.