It’s almost 2 months since the big planting party, when 20 of us put 300 apple trees in the new orchard. In the month that followed, we more than doubled that number. There are still trees and shrubs in buckets on the porch that we may or may not get around to planting. Truthfully, I have about reached my limit on what I can take care of in a day . First priority are the 57 chickens, 8 geese, 3 bitchy goats and 1 cat who has decided that his proper nature is a farm cat but knows nothing about raccoons, dogs or skunks. Keeping him from skunks is particularly worrisome. Second priority is watering the new trees. Third and far down the probability of completion on any given day are luxuries like showers, doing dishes and weeding the garden. We are going to have a great crop of volunteer sunflowers instead of corn unless I spend some time with my hoe very soon.
At one point, around mid-May when the nursery boxes were piling up faster than we were planting the contents, I made a spreadsheet to keep track of our planting progress. It was bleak, with more undone than done, but crossing items off a list is strangely motivating. As a result, I can now report that we have planted:
- 297 apple trees
- 48 other fruit trees (pear, pie cherry, Shipova and plum)
- 52 nut tree seedlings
- 30 grape vines
- 200 Siberian pea shrubs
- 145 other trees and shrubs, mostly in the edible wind break
- 100 strawberry plants
If you are an apple tree, your chances around here are excellent. I believe we haven’t lost more than 3, which I consider excellent results for whips (unbranched saplings) only one year from being grafted. Most of the other fruit trees are doing well, although a few of the pears still haven’t broken bud yet, not sure if they will. The apples are showing the kind of growth we expect at this point, at least 4″ on every tree and some are more than double that. Redfield seems to be particularly vigorous for us again (we planted some last year as well with similar results).
The fedge is struggling along. With my attention going mostly to the apples, the windbreak receives what Mark Shepard refers to as the STUN method of care: Sheer, Total, Utter Neglect. Actually, not completely, but it hasn’t gotten watered as frequently as it would like and our losses are commensurately higher. I can tell you that the Staghorn Sumac is doing the best, and a few of the pinons have more than an inch of growth. But I doubt we will get 50% of the hedge through summer. There’s no sense in coddling along windbreak that isn’t ever going to get a whole lot of attention, and the plants themselves weren’t too expensive, so it’s the right place to cut corners.
The strawberries, thanks to the geese, may be a complete loss. Or it could be too hot where I put them. Or they could still be settling in, but I suspect the geese even so. Geese, I can report, also like the new leaves of currants and gooseberries. And corn. And lettuce and sunflowers. Ravenous monsters. Fencing has been reinforced.
The Siberian pea shrubs fall in the category of serious type 1 error. The idea was to plant them WITH every other apple tree and see if the pea shrub’s nitrogen fixing gave any advantage to the apple. Alas, I didn’t schedule the pea shrubs to arrive in time for planting day. So R and I dug a second hole alongside over 100 apple trees and shoved a pea in it. Later, whenever we planted the other fruit trees, we put in a Siberian pea in the same hole. They all got planted, but my grand experimental design: FAIL. As could be predicted, the back-filled pea shrubs are struggling, our losses will be high. But enough are doing ok that we will have a source for propagation for as long as we need them, maybe forever whether we want them or not. We have so much alfalfa out there I shouldn’t worry about nitrogen anyway, but the pea has other useful attributes, like yellow flowers for pollinators and dropping loads of organic material in the fall. Some sources even say that chickens will eat the seeds, although others disagree. The chickens will let us know what they think about them in a couple years.
The biggest news of all is that, despite the 20° freeze that came right after planting day, we have our first apples on the trees we planted in 2012 and 2013! Ok, maybe it’s only a dozen, but them there are our apples. They are about the size of a large grape. R wants to bag them like Japanese farmers do to keep out the pests. Why not? If all goes well, we might even have our own apples at the third annual Apple Tasting party in October.
There is so much life out in the orchards now: more weeds than I’d like, and a rabbit that needs to find another home. The bees are starting to show up, and perching birds are finding some of the bigger trees. It’s only going to get better. More diverse, more habitats, more yields. Right now, the odds are looking pretty good.