Eric Robinson (right) explains to Carlos Chavez (left) and Pepe Armendariz how he’s training his cherry trees to the Spanish Bush system.

Eric Robinson (right) explains to Carlos Chavez (left) and Pepe Armendariz how he’s training his cherry trees to the Spanish Bush system.

The Robinson family is experimenting with cherries, a crop not commonly grown in Mexico so far. “Cherries are a crop we’re not very acquainted with,” said John Robinson, who has about 250 acres of orchard in the Casas Grandes area of Chihuahua.

He has a test plot of 20 varieties on a number of rootstocks, including Mahaleb, Mazzard, G.5 and G.6. The trees, now in their third leaf, were planted as whips and are being trained to the Spanish bush system. The trees are planted in berms, which provides better oxygen flow to the roots in the clay soil and fewer disease problems, resulting in better tree growth.

The fruit will be packed at the local cooperative, Paquimé, and sold in major cities in Mexico. Cherries are a fairly new item for Mexican consumers, Robinson said.

“There’s not been a lot of imported cherries, but what’s been imported has been well received, and at a good price. The Mexican people like sweet fruit that has a lot of sugar in it.”

Super spindle

Though the Robinsons grow mainly peaches, they are also trying new ways of growing apples. John’s son Eric planted a block of Gala apples on Malling 9 rootstocks, trained to a super-spindle system.

The nursery trees were planted as unheaded whips on a 0.6 by 3.0-meter (2 by 10-foot) spacing. The block produced about 200 to 250 boxes of apples per acre in the second leaf, and looked set to produce record crops—for the Chihuahua area—in the third and fourth year, observed Cornell University horticulturist Dr. Terence Robinson, who is Eric’s uncle.

However, the trees have a lot of blind wood resulting from inadequate chilling hours last winter. Even after applications of Dormex (hydrogen cyanamide), many of the buds didn’t break, Eric told visiting International Fruit Tree Association members.

A group of orchardists from British Columbia, Canada, who have experience with the super-spindle system, offered advice. Jamie Kidston said though the Robinsons’ approach is minimal pruning, it’s best not to leave long branches because the fruit will be on the end of them and will be small. With a super-spindle system, fruit should be close to the trunk.

Wilfrid Mennell advised Eric to cut off any side branches that are more than 50 percent of the caliper of the trunk so they don’t inhibit the growth of the top of the tree. “Prune off branches when you realize they’re going to be strong,” he suggested.

Bruce Currie noted that Eric’s trees had lots of nice short branches and didn’t need the longer ones. Strong branches or branches growing at too-steep angles can be snapped or ripped off easily and quickly, he said.