By DAN WHEAT
CASHMERE, Wash. -- All over central Washington orchard crews are busy with their loppers and ladders this time of year -- pruning endless acres of fruit trees.
To the casual observer it may appear that they're just hacking around, but they're not. There's skill in every cut.
"There's art and science to it. You have to have the science to know what you're doing, and the art is how rapidly you see how to apply that on each tree," said Ed Kenoyer, of Cashmere, who has been involved in orchards most of his 66 years.
Pruning is a key horticultural practice. It provides basic structure for fruit. It opens the tree canopy so fruit gets more sunlight for growth. It removes older wood and stimulates growth of new wood. It all adds up to better fruit quality and size.
"I've always been told, by growers more experienced than myself, that pruning is the most important aspect of raising fruit. It's critical to everything else -- good light and spray penetration and getting good fruit," Kenoyer said.
He and his two brothers own or lease 240 acres of mostly pear orchards from Monitor to Cashmere, a few miles up the Wenatchee River from Wenatchee. One of Kenoyer's brothers, Jerry, is the general manager of Blue Star Growers Inc., a Cashmere pear-packing cooperative.
Washington State University Extension tree fruit specialist Tim Smith said the Kenoyer orchards are pruned very well, indicating an effective plan carried out well.
"Good pruning requires that everyone involved knows what they should be doing and have the skills and fortitude to put this knowledge to work," he said.
The main thing, Kenoyer said, is getting rid of old wood.
"If you're losing (fruit) size from one year to the next, then you prune harder to get new wood coming," he said.
Growers prune heavily, moderately or lightly depending on their objectives and the age of the tree, Kenoyer said. Older trees take longer to prune because of their larger canopies.
In all, there's a fair amount to think about. New pruners study a tree before they start. But, as Kenoyer said, experienced ones "glance and go."
Smith calls it "a thing of beauty," a skill, not just a job.