A couple of weeks back our spring Fedco Trees shipment arrived, so I ran up to Five Islands for the better part of the weekend to get things situated. Saturday afternoon I picked up a few bags of ProGro organic fertilizer, some lime, and some clover seed at Ames in Wiscasset. The first order of business was to transplant three overgrown black walnuts that I’d ‘temporarily’ stuck in the orchard at least five years ago; I got them on a lark because Poppy had tried to grow some walnut trees in the land that I ended up clearing for the orchard many years later; as it happened the forest swallowed up his efforts, and between the nuts, the wood, and the history I thought it would be cool to have some walnut trees somewhere. The problem was that they had gotten pretty big in the time since; the largest was probably 3-4″ at the base. I had cut around them with a shovel in the fall to get them ready to move; on the fateful day I further excavated outside my shovel cut (still easy to find after the winter); then Dave snarfed them up with the mini-excavator and dropped them on a wooden platform he keeps attached to the bucket of the big Kubota. A reasonable amount of dirt came with the trees (maybe a couple hundred pounds each), and we plopped them in holes we dug behind Um and Pops’ house where they won’t be in the way.
We then planted two new peaches, two new pears (to replace a couple that were mauled by porcupines), and one new apple. We also transplanted six peach trees of various flavors that I had bud grafted a couple summers ago, filling in the empty spaces between the apple trees, and stuck in 10 plum rootstocks to be grafted over to peach. Rather than putting them tightly together in a nursery bed, I chose to stick the plums in the spots where I want peach trees, figuring if the graft doesn’t take I can always try again or drop in a ready-made tree from Fedco.
We also tested a technique I cooked up to simplify transplanting of trees when we do decide to nursery them. Several years ago I did some benchgrafting and planted several apple trees in rows between the older trees, but I planted them in empty 5 gallon buckets that I slit all the way down the sides in four places. I planted the small benchgrafted trees in the buckets in the usual way, being sure to spread the sides of the bucket a bit to make openings for the roots to escape as I backfilled with soil. They grew into good-sized trees, maybe 6-8 feet tall, and didn’t show much sign of stress from the constraint of the bucket. I figured it was time to move them and we had spaces for a couple, so I excavated, and was pleased to find that the roots had found the slits in the bucket (and jumped over the rim in one or two places where the backfill was deep.
I had planned to rig ropes through holes in the rim of the bucket and lift them bodily out of the ground, which would probably work and might be worth it if we were to get serious about the technique, but as it was I just dug around and cut roots until I could lever the bucket out of the hole, then Dave grabbed the whole business, bucket and all, with the excavator and plopped it down next to the waiting destination hole. I stripped off the bucket by hand and schlumped the tree into the hole, backfilling carefully. The technique worked pretty well; I’m confident that the transplant shock will be a good bit less than if I had dug them up bare-rooted. I’d definitely recommend others try it for nurserying benchgrafted trees.
Toward the end of Sunday I spread lime and fertilizer around the trees by coffeecan-fulls, and watered in all the new stuff. Emily has taken good care of the trees since, watering as needed and keeping a vigilant eye out for tent caterpillars. Today I went back up, renewed the labels on the trees (some of which were tied on with wire that was too short or flimsy), and mulched the majority of the trees from the big pile of wood chips that Dave has accumulated from various jobsites. The big tractor with the extension platform and plywood sideboards can probably hold a cubic yard, and if so I moved at least 20 yards of chips today. I would be feeling absolutely thrashed if I had done a tenth that much work with a wheelbarrow; it’s amazing what diesel fuel can do.
Some of the trees e.g. Wickson are already leafing out; should have blossoms soon, and the season will be underway.