Here are some photos that Emily took a few days after we planted.
On Saturday several friends joined Alexis, my family, and me for an action-packed day of orcharding. We put up a permanent woven wire fence at the south end of the orchard enclosing enough newground for about 8-10 trees, and planted new trees in that area and also between the existing apple trees.
We had done the preparation for the new fencing on the last orchard weekend two years ago, but had not had time to put up the fence. So on Saturday we installed and tensioned the 6.5′ woven wire, stapled it to the posts, and braced it to convenient locations on nearby bedrock outcrops or stone wall boulders. The woven wire (between 4×4 posts at about 22 foot intervals) makes a much more handsome and stout-feeling fence than the combination plastic netting and tensioned electric fence system we have been using, and counting the maintenance of the plastic netting and wires, I suspect it will actually end up being significantly less work in the long term. Meanwhile, other folks raked the mulch away from the trees and spread manure and lime, as well as seaweed that was collected from the intertidal zone by an ambitious group of kids under the leadership of Jake and Joanna. Emily and Joanna also patrolled for borers, finding a few small infestations in most trees and a couple of cases where the tree would clearly have been doomed without their efforts. I didn’t paint the trees with latex and rotenone last year, and that might have been part of the problem – in any case, greater vigilance is needed.
We then planted new peach trees from Fedco, primarily in places where previous peach trees had died (some from apparent blight of some type, others from porcupine damage. I’ve gotten reasonably good at bud grafting peaches, but I haven’t started a new batch, and I didn’t want to wait at least 2 more years, so I ordered several varieties from Fedco. I also ordered another cherry tree just for fun, and we planted it on the southeast corner near the only other cherry tree. We also transplanted a couple of apples to replace failed trees, and planted a new block of pear threes in the newground. That area had been outside the fence, and was cleared and stumped a couple years previously, and left neglected to grow weeds and a rough sod. Pear trees grow slowly, so I made the decision to plant them in the freshly broken newground rather than wait a year or two to cover crop it and smooth it out – we’ll see how that decision turns out. Most of the large rocks and roots came out previously with the chisel plow and mini-ex, but I think it could use a final treatment with the moldboard plow and disk harrow before seeding down with oats and clover. I’m going to try that mix because I’m sure the new area could use nitrogen, and the orchard grass I planted in the rest of the orchard is pretty aggressive, so it takes a fair amount of work to keep it tame around the trees. I also turned over the sod between a couple of the newer rows at the west end of the orchard, to be planted in clover and pumpkins for the summer. I’m going to try a mix of white and red clover in hopes of getting a long-term clover-dominated sod that can help feed the bees.
Thanks to everyone who helped out, thanks to MomJones for being with us in spirit and contributing to the tree fund, and thanks as always to my family, who enthusiastically go along with my orchard obsession.
Yesterday Dave and I worked the newground on the south edge of the orchard – one goal for orchard weekend this year is to enclose the southerly boundary with permanent woven wire fencing, and while it had been cleared and stumped by Evan Holbrook a couple years ago, it was still pretty rough. First I hauled off over a cord of firewood from the selective thinning we did in the woods to the south of the stone wall. Then we used string to establish the fenceline grades, and the excavator to get as close as we could to those lines – the woven wire does not bump up and down over the terrain as well as electric or plastic netting does. That being done, I hitched up the disk harrow and spring-tooth plow and worked over the new area, turning up a number of very large rocks which Dave shoved to the margins. There are still a lot of roots in there and surely plenty more rocks, but the soil looked good, and with a bit of luck on the weather, we should be ready to string the fence and plant new trees in there next weekend.
With apologies for radio silence, a brief report. It was a cold, windy day, but it was the day I had, so Jake and I pruned all the apples in the orchard, and also the older trees in Pops’ garden. We were a bit more aggressive with the older trees than I have been in the past, since they looked brushy despite several years of diligent pruning, and haven’t been fruiting well. I also collected up some scionwood, in case by some miracle I get some time to do some topworking on the north side at Stroudwater.
The NYT just can’t resist photo-ops involving people demonstrating their affection to chickens:
A day or two ago I heard a piece on NPR about a guy named Marcin Jakubowski who is on a mission to design and build the Global Village Construction Set, “a modular, DIY, low-cost, high-performance platform that allows for the easy fabrication of the 50 different Industrial Machines that it takes to build a small, sustainable civilization with modern comforts.” As described in a short TED talk, Jakubowski explains that he was a theoretical physics student, started farming when he felt that he lacked practical skills, and had bad experiences with old farm equipment that motivated him to design simple, practical open-source tools. This evening I checked out the website of his organization, opensourceecology.org, which has a work-in-progress wiki-based compendium of concepts, specifications, designs, fabrication videos, and test images. The group is big on modularity, hydraulics, and structural steel, and they’ve done a pretty impressive amount of development on a few of their concepts, including a skid-steer tractor and an automated press for making rammed-earth blocks. They are based at Factor e Farm in Missouri, which reminds me a lot of stuff I’ve read about the New Alchemy Institute.
Friday evening I picked up a second nuc of bees at Merrimack Valley Apiaries in Billerica. Saturday morning Emily and I hived them in a new hive inside the orchard fence, so they won’t have any excuse but to work the apple trees. We then pruned Pops’ orchard around the garden – some of the clippings went to the goats for a snack. The peach trees are just starting to flower, and with a week of cold and damp in the forecast I’m not sure how much pollinating is going to happen. But the apples are just barely leafed out, so if there’s nice weather next week the new bees will be able to get busy on them. Afterwards I did some whip and tongue grafts on a birthday tree that I grafted for niece Nola last spring; we put four different types of apples on a small feathered tree, but it did not get a fence around it, and despite it being right in a yard with a fairly active dog, the deer zapped all but one of the grafts. Now it’s got a loop of woven wire around it, and hopefully it will make it this year. I’ve been too busy this spring to do much work among the wild trees on the north side in Gorham, but we have a couple B118 rootstocks in the garden that didn’t take their grafts from last year, so if nothing else I’m going to graft them over to Medaille d’Or (which flowers really late) as a hedge against crazy spring weather.
This messed up weather is getting to be a serious threat to the apple crop. Many of the wild trees in Gorham have broken buds; some of them are at half-inch green. I don’t know exact dates, but most of the time the trees aren’t leafed out for orchard weekend in early May. A hard freeze now could easily ruin the entire year’s crop. The key temperatures are at the bottom of this page at UVM. If it gets colder than the listed range of temps for each stage, the crop is toast. Fortunately, things were relatively slower in Five Islands, where we went for Easter pot luck breakfast. This is making me think to pay more attention to the flowering time of different varieties. One that comes to mind is Medaille d’Or, which is a good strong bittersweet – it breaks buds so late, the first year I thought it was dead. I snipped a bag of M’dOr scions today and stuck them in the fridge; if I can come up with some rootstock I’ll graft a handful as frost insurance.
For several years the web has been missing out on the general and anachrotechnological awesomeness of my friend Holly. But no longer: check out http://tooling-up.blogspot.com/ for news on antique treadle sewing machines, extreme sprouting, and death-defying experiments with a straight razor.
When we moved up here last July I bought a pair of cheap mud boots from TSC – Tingley brand, $15. I’ve used them a fair amount; whenever it’s wet out in the morning I wear them to walk the dogs around the north side, which is about 3/4 mi around. Last week I noticed a crack in the top of one of the boots, which otherwise look brand new – must be pretty low grade rubber. So I bought a nicer pair, Servus brand, for $35. We’ll see how long those last.