Archive for June, 2007

Photos from the last two trips to Maine

June 19, 2007

New drainage ditch, dug by Dave to shunt groundwater around to the north of the orchard:


Breaking ground in the new orchard with the Kubota:

spring tooth harrow

As usual, there were plenty of rocks in the Maine coast soil.   From David Mallet: Pulling weeds and pickin’ stones/ Man is made of dreams and bones/ Feel the need to grow my own/ ‘Cause the time is close at hand:


Happy Ben on tractor:


Joshua spreads the seed. We used an old seeder with a cloth bag, it worked well though there were some mouse holes that increased the application rate:

joshua broadcasting seed

Peas/Vetch/Oats mix – 50 pounds for 1/4 acre. This is the recommended cover crop for building soil in Maine:


Raking in the seed. The soil is still quite rough with roots etc, so the raking was not as effective as it might have been, but fortunately there have been frequent showers in the last week, and as I understand things are germinating nicely.


Niece Nola Bean in the Rhubarb Patch:

nola and the rhubarb


In other news

June 17, 2007

A few other odds and ends:

The trees are coming along nicely. Everything has leafed out (the peaches were a bit slow) and looks pretty healthy. We lost a few of the sugar maples (not sure why) but the others look happy. Emily took a string trimmer inside the fence a few days back and beat back the grass which is coming up quickly.

When Joanna was up we painted the trunks of the new trees to ward off borers. Per Fedco instruction, we mixed interior white latex paint with wallboard joint compound, and painted the resulting yogurt-like stuff on the trunks. Apparently the bugs don’t like chewing through gypsum, and it has the added effect of showing the holes more obviously if they do get through.

Back in Lebanon, I’ve got a decent small garden going maybe 20 feet square. It was hard going to cut the sod into foot-square chunks with a round-point shovel and flipping them over, but the soil underneath looked good. Our neighbor used to own the house we’re renting, and he said he improved the lawn at one point by bringing in some silt from the rock plant down by the river. One of Alexis’ classmates stables a horse at a nearby farm, and she invited me to get some manure, so I went down there and loaded up a ton or so of well rotted horse manure which I spread on top. The neighbor lent me a nice old snapper rototiller which I used to incorporate the manure and lighten things up. I’ve got tomatoes, corn, eggplants, peppers, broccoli, summer squash, and basil going, as well as an earlier bed with chard, beets, lettuce, and bok choy. I’m not expecting a huge amount out of it, but it’s fun to watch it grow.

I’ve also been playing more fiddle, mostly because of a Sunday afternoon contradance music class that a guy named Jeremiah McLane has been organizing over in Vermont. I’ve been playing on Thursday evenings with some of the same folks as well, and we’re improving. Last night we had our first “gig”; we played waltzes for a group of about 8 old-timers and random hippies in a little restored schoolhouse in Thetford, VT. There were four of us – me on fiddle, a clarinet, a guitar, and a cello. I don’t think we sounded professional exactly, but we played and they danced, so I expect it was something of a success. Definitely good incentive to keep practicing.

Alexis takes her first big licensing exam on Wednesday; when she passes she will officially be half of an MD – pretty exciting. She’s been studying hard for the last three weeks or so. After that she starts her rotations with Family Medicine. So far it’s a pretty quiet summer planned; we’ll probably get up to Maine a few times, but no plans to go west so far, though the folks will.

Seeded Down

June 17, 2007

pea seed sprouting in orchard

Joshua Kaufman and I went to Maine last weekend, and we got the new orchard seeded down. First off, we needed to finish the drainage ditch that Dave started last time. It being the coast of Maine, the soil is only about two feet thick over bedrock, sloping gently off to the west and a bit north. Theres a couple hundred yards of woods up to the ridge of the island, with the effect that a lot of groundwater moves over the bedrock through the orchard, and the soil takes a long time to dry out. So, last time we were up there, Dave used his little excavator to dig a ditch just behind the stone wall on the east (uphill) side of the orchard, which sloped slightly to the north. Sure enough, water started dribbling out of the soil as soon as he dug the ditch, and the north side was pretty full by the time he got to the south end. We didn’t have time to finish it while Joanna and Kevin were up, so it stayed that way for three weeks or so, with the effect that the south side of the orchard dried out nicely, while the north side got wetter if anything. So first thing last weekend Joshua and I cleared some moosemaple scrub and fir to make way for the drainage ditch, which Dave then dug down the north side of the orchard and under the access path. He had a couple scraps of used 8″ corrugated plastic culvert, which we used to pass the ditch under the access path. The soil was pretty soupy, but there were plenty of rocks coming out of the soil to firm up around the culvert. Dave left a dam up by the northeast corner to keep the water out while he was digging the ditch; as soon as we had the culvert in he crawled back up and broke the dam. It was pretty exciting for a minute or two as the water from the ditch rushed down and filled the well leading into the culvert; it came within a couple inches of overtopping the stones and muck we had just filled in with, but in the end it held and receded quickly to a slow trickle. By the next morning, the water in the stump-holes on the north side of the orchard had seeped away, and the orchard seemed well on the way to drying out.

On Sunday, Emily, Joshua, and I continued to work the relatively drier areas with the spring tooth harrow, bringing up rocks, roots, and small stumps. Dave did a bit more work with the Bobcat pulling small moosemaple stumps as well. We ended up getting about 3/4 of the orchard in decent shape, with the remaining area too wet still to work thoroughly. There are some piles of grubbed up roots and muck that will hopefully subside and dry out to the point that we can break them up this fall prior to seeding down for the winter. Sunday afternoon we mixed up a 50 pound sack of Johnny’s organic PVO (peas/vetch/oats mix) with a bag of suitable nitrogen-fixing bacterial inoculant, and Joshua spread it over the orchard using an old hand-crank broadcast seeder. We raked the seed under as best we could by hand (our usual technique is to drag it with a lawn tractor and an old bedspring, but the soil is still too rough for a lawn tractor yet).

Emily reports that they got a perfect half-inch of rain the day after we left, and a shower on Tuesday. As of yesterday there was an inch of green rising over the orchard, so apparently our efforts worked out. In theory, the oats, peas, and vetch grow up in sequence and pull one another down into a mat of green manure, with the peas and vetch fixing nitrogen to build up the soil. Meanwhile, hopefully the roots that we left in the ground will be starting to decay, such that in the fall we can mow and then plow or disk the soil to incorporate the organic matter around late September. I’m planning to put down a cover crop of winter rye to hold the soil over the winter, then seed it again in the spring. I haven’t decided yet whether to transplant the trees next spring, or let them go another year in the pumpkin patch; it will depend on how the orchard soil seems come fall.

Spring-Tooth Harrow

June 13, 2007

Joanna, Kevin, Nola, and Ellis came out to visit from Idaho back in May. Among other things, we started to prepare the soil in the new orchard site. First we raked up sticks and brush and carried them aside to a new compost pile. Then we broke up the soil with the Kubota tractor and an old gray spring-tooth harrow. It was slow, hard going, since despite the stumping last fall, the soil was thick with a mat of roots that bogged the tractor down and clogged the tines of the harrow. We’d get under way and lower the harrow, then raise it when we started to stall out, and then drop it back in; when the tines got loaded with roots we’d rake them off to the side and go in for another pass. Eventually, we got the bulk of the roots out so the harrow could pass cleanly through.

Another issue was that the north side of the orchard was still too wet to work; this seemed to be related to the bedrock being relatively close to the surface, so the water that fell as rain in the ground above the orchard had nowhere else to go. We put Dave to work with a little bobcat excavator, digging a trench on the back side of the eastside stone wall to collect the surface water and shunt it off to the north. The trench seemed to be effective, or at least, groundwater started to flow in immediately, and it ran to the north end of the trench and pooled up. Unfortunately we didn’t have time to continue the trench off down the hill, so it had the effect of further drying out the south side of the orchard at the expense of the north side.

We’re all hoping that Joanna and Kevin will tire of snowboarding and come back east, to help take care of the apple trees and get the farm going. They do the best they can at agriculture in the Teton valley, but at well over a mile of elevation, frost comes any time of the year, limiting what can be grown.