First winter storm this season, a break in the drought
Remember last year, we went to Thomas Jefferson’s home, Monticello to taste apples with the legendary Tom Burford? Probably not, since I seem to have neglected to blog about it. Anyway, it was a catalytic experience that launched the Stray Arrow orchard project. I knew if we planted apples, I would want to do a similar thing here.
I am not a patient person. We planted an orchard, but we will be lucky to see a fruit or two next year. That fact, however, has not stopped us from organizing the first Stray Arrow Ranch Apple Tasting event for the first Saturday in October.
The necessary, enabling action is then to acquire apples, preferably something other than the six grocery store apples everyone is familiar with. Thus, R and I have been on a hunt for apples. Seasonally, we are in the transition between summer apples and fall apples. Summer apples typically don’t keep well. They need to be eaten right away or processed. I would love to have some Pink Pearls, but they may not last. The long-keepers tend to ripen late. Granny Smith, which reportedly can keep a year in cold storage, is one of the last apples to be harvested.
Our friend Tom in Salt Lake has set aside some fruit from his personal orchard. Tom says he even may be to send us some Esopus Spitzenberg, an apple we planted based on its reputation, but have never tried. R is in NYC doing an important science experiment with Bryan, and they will check out a Greenmarket farmers’ market near their hotel. They are bringing back whatever they can manage in their luggage.
In the meantime, I am scouring the county for apples. I want to bother some people who have a tree known locally as the “One pie apple,” which is probably a Winter Banana variety. Most folks just have Red or Golden Delicious, if they even know the name of the variety. Luckily, just eleven miles from our place are the heritage orchards at Capitol Reef National Park.
The Capitol Reef Red apple, our local specialty, is a more of summer apple. I collected some in August; they went mushy. I made applesauce with them yesterday. So we went back to the park to see what is ripening up and came home with a bunch of treasures from the Jackson orchard. None of the trees are labeled so I need to confirm with a park interpreter which apples these might be. All I know today is that no two varieties taste remotely alike (think lemons vs limes) but they all have that apple-y goodness of tree-ripened fruit.
When you go to a small town grocery store like ours in Loa, the local wedding invitations are taped to the checkout counter with a note that says something like, “In all the excitement, if we have missed you, please consider this your invitation and come join us that day!” We aren’t putting any such sign up at the local Foodtown, but that sentiment applies to you blog readers. If you want to come to Torrey to taste some apples and to a potluck to meet the neighbors, send me an email for directions and instructions on what to bring and where to park. It’s going to be a tasty time.
Three months have flown by here at the ranch. We moved in at the beginning of April. I look around and see all the projects that aren’t done, and have to remind myself that we’ve done a tremendous amount in a short time. Over 140 trees planted, half of them very fragile brand new grafted trees, the starting of a garden and chicken yard, lots of fencing and even more watering. There’s a whole post coming about irrigation, which has pretty much taken over my life this summer. We get water every 11 days. In between, we get stuff done. R goes to Salt Lake for 3 or 4 days a week, and works until he falls asleep when he’s here. I try to keep up the pace while he’s gone. Here’s a partial list of what I’ve been working on:
- Laid out orchard, planted 68 bareroot trees and 73 first year grafts.
- Built a hugelkultur bed
- Built five more lasagna-style beds for potatoes, tomatoes and peppers this year. These are the precursors to a more permaculture-style effort in concert with the stone fruit trees, but that’s mostly a paper plan until next year.
- Learning basic carpentry to build a chicken coop (waiting for nest boxes to arrive to finish it)
- Built some other stuff for the garage. Will photography my scrap wood bike stands for another post.
- Put up two fences around the orchard and garden. (the caution tape worked but was too ugly to live with)
- Learned how to take our own irrigation turns (we have paid people to help us do this in the past, but it didn’t work out this year).
- Taught two sessions for Lifelong Learning and spent my wages at Costco stocking up the bunkhouse pantry.
- Wrote another article for PhotoshopUser, this time on working with white balance in Lightroom,
- Unpacked, reorganized and shoe-horned stuff from a 3500 square foot house into a 1000 square foot house.
- Did some painting, sewing and finish work for the bunkhouse.
- Crashed a tour sponsored by the Utah Travel Council and the Mormon Pioneer Heritage Alliance of Highway 89 and Utah 12 in southern Utah.
- Made some friends and started taking a spinning class at the gym in Bicknell.
- Made some jam from 12 lbs of apricots we picked in the Capitol Reef National Park orchards.
- Found an oriole nest and filled hummingbird feeders with quarts of homemade nectar.
- Started researching an idea for a new book.
- Discovered that I can in fact power nap.
- I even took a photo or two.
No wonder I’m tired. Then there’s regular life: laundry, cooking enough food on weekends so R has a full picnic basket of goodies to take back to Salt Lake each week, keeping an eye on the two city cats who desperately want to be farm cats. My big outing each week is to Loa, 18 miles away, to get groceries and whatever is needed from the lumber yard and farm store for the week’s projects. I don’t want to think about how far behind I’ve gotten in basics like Lightroom keywording. Maybe once the irrigation canal shuts down for winter, I can catch up.
I’m tired, but I’m not complaining. This is what I wanted to do. It’s exciting to think about how productive this land could be years from now. I’m learning new skills out of necessity. I am confronting my reasonable fear of power saws, first with a circular saw, then a miter saw. Next up is the chain saw: a monster limb fell out of one of our cottonwood trees. I needed some mulch material for the chipper anyway. It’s nice for once to be able to look around and see tangible, incremental progress for my effort, even with regular setbacks for sure.
Worst has been the deer, the rapacious marauding Torrey deer. I can’t say we weren’t warned about them. I just hoped with the abundance of other food in the pasture, we could get by without a deer fence until fall. Nope, they favor young apple foilage. It’s heart-wrenching to wake up and find that half of your trees have been stripped clean of all their leaves. We tried Milorganite, which we had seen work in the east. The Torrey deer did’t care. Strands of fishing line slowed them down while we waited for an incredible FUBAR delivery of our deer fence. Just this last Friday night, working by moonlight, we got the last bit of the orchard enclosed with a 7.5′ fence. So far, the deer seem to be respecting that fence and the trees are making a valiant effort to come back.
To save some cash, we used livestock panels to fence the garden. The panels are only 5′ tall, is temporarily holding them back but isn’t high enough for full protection. I have a scheme to raise the fence up to eight feet, at least from the deer’s perspective. Once that gets installed, I will post some photos, it’s going to look cool.
Three months later, I think we have survived the storm of moving and and planting and all the deciding. Once you plant a Jerusalem artichoke patch, it will grow there forever, so you had better choose its location carefully. I moved the future hoophouse location four times, luckily all on paper. We learned some hard lessons that we won’t need to repeat (no trees in the second pasture before fencing!) And I can see glimpses of a life where it is possible to nurture both a productive patch of land and my creativity. I don’t have a complete vision of how it all fits together in time and space, but I don’t have to. As projects mature and we take on new ones (did I hear me say livestock?), the schedule and structure will evolve naturally. I just have to do the next right thing. Which until the monsoons start, could mean a lot of watering.