Grower Paul Muradian has nearly ten years of experience with tight tree spacing and multiple leader orchard systems in peach and nectarine orchards. But though they are very productive and pedestrian-friendly, he worries about the economics and labor needed to establish and to sustain such high-management systems.
Muradian farms about 200 acres of fresh-market peaches and cling peaches for processing, as well as plums, Pluots, nectarines, and grapes with his brother in Kingsburg, California. He has some of the earliest nectarines in the San Joaquin Valley, which he attributes to a combination of site and variety selection. Several blocks of plums and peaches are certified organic, with additional acreage in transition for organic certification.
In an effort to reduce labor costs—which he said in cling peaches accounts for 70 percent of inputs—he is focusing on making his trees smaller. Although ladders are needed, most workers only need to climb the first two or three steps to thin, pick, or prune in the Muradian orchards.
His experience with nontraditional peach training systems began in the 1990s when he bought a cling peach orchard with 12-foot-wide rows and 8 feet between trees. The cling peach trees were trained to a palmette system and grown as a hedge. Since then, he has planted his peach and nectarine trees in different spacings, but found that 16-foot rows with 10 to 12 feet between trees works best for trees trained with four to six leaders in an open vase type system. His spacing is much tighter than conventional orchards planted with 18-foot rows and trained to the two-leader Kearney-V (vase) system.
“The 16 by 10 or 12