Seeded Down

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.


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