Harpooned, harrowed, seeded, watered

We’re headed back to Leb for the rest of the summer, so I took Friday off to make it a three day weekend of agricultural madness.  I ended the day Sunday utterly whupped but hopeful that the orchard is in good shape, thanks to generous help from my parents, Alexis, and my aunt Lucy, and enthusiastic oversight by my grandparents.

Friday I took apart the tubing that formed the siphon from the farm pond to the orchard, reassembled with silicone and better hose clamps, and put another ball valve on the pond end, so even if there’s a vacuum leak at the top the system can’t drain down. The only trick is to remember to open the pond side valve first and close it last. The siphon makes an impressive flow at the bottom of the orchard, filling a 5 gallon pail in perhaps 15 seconds. Sadly the top of the orchard is actually above the pond, so lacking a pump (plan to build bicycle version someday and I’ve got a small 4-cycle honda pump on order as backup) it’s fill buckets and lug in the meantime.

Then I replaced my folks’ small fence charger (which they had lent me in the interim) with the replacement solar charger, a triangular black plastic housing with a bunch of PV cells on the diagonal surface. Props to Tractor Supply Company in Scarborough, which swapped the defective unit out without a receipt. Not so much props to Zareba, the company that makes the things, since the seal between the solar panel and the housing is woefully inadequate, allowing rain to leak in at the top of the panel. The water then pools in the bottom of the housing, where the unprotected circuit board sits just 1/8″ or so above the bottom. The first one I got worked when I installed it, and when I came back 3 weeks later it just made a funny humming sound with no zap. When I took it apart there was a mark making it obvious water had gotten in there, and the plastic under the circuit board had that telltale white and black smoky stuff that you get when circuits start to fry. Indeed there were several meaty traces on the board that had blown, rendering the thing useless. My uncle has tried to use this kind of charger as well and reports that they always break after a while – now we know why. Anyway, I gooped the snot out of the replacement with silicone, so hopefully it will last. I also told the guy at the store exactly what I found and suggested that he contact the manufacturer about upgrading; we’ll see if that has any effect – heh heh…

My dad had the tractor and bobcat tied up on a jobsite, and the weather Friday was cool, so I gassed up the stihl and did some more work on the selective thinning down along the stone wall towards the shore. I probably accumulated a quarter cord of mostly maple and some oak, also cut away a lot of trashy fir and piled the brush behind the stone wall. My new theory is, no brush fires unless absolutely necessary. Better to keep the carbon out of the atmosphere and in the soil. So, ideally we’d chip all the brush, but we don’t have a chipper and renting one is expensive and a pain in the ass, so I’m figuring on putting it in piles in out-of-the-way places, to be mined some decades later for compost.

Saturday my mom and I did a patrol for borers. She had looked earlier in the week, discovered an extensive infestation and made a first pass at eradicating them. These are little worms that live in the bark of the apple trees at the base of the trunk, right at ground level. We had painted the trunks with latex paint mixed with drywall compound, per Fedco recommendation, but this apparently did not do much since almost every tree had borers, and some had several. Michael Phillips recommends using a 3/8″ paddle bit to probe and extract the little bastards, which he likens to harpooning miniature, apple-killing whales, so we went around and probed them out. Other handy tools include a paperclip to probe into holes and a toothbrush to remove soil. It’s distressing how a little thing like these round-headed apple borers can kill a healthy young tree, but very satisfying to battle them and (at least temporarily) get the upper hand. We made several circuits of the orchard, finding a few more each time, then my mom painted the trunks again, this time adding some rotenone powder to the paint/drywall mix – this is an organic insecticide that’s pretty good against other kinds of worms; we’ll see how it does against the borers. This is our own theory; I haven’t read of anyone trying it before. We’ll see how it goes.

My dad had made a neat rig that goes on the Cat 1 hitch of the Kubota tractor for pulling a trailer. He modified a receiver hitch assembly he found at the transfer station (formerly the dump, now the “Georgetown Mall”) to attach to the 3 point hitch; I bought a hitch with 3 different size balls at VIP to go into the receiver, and with that we could tow the dump trailer around the orchard, using the independent wheel brakes and short turning radius of the tractor to maneuver among the trees. We loaded up three trailers full of roots and stumps with the bobcat and dumped them over a banking near the pole barn, where they can rot undisturbed and eventually be reclaimed as compost. I then switched to the spring-tooth harrow and pulled the perimeter of the orchard for roots once again. The excavator also improved the ditch that drains the middle field, and we launched a small sailing dinghy for my folks to sail on nice days when there’s a breeze.

On Sunday we pulled another two trailers full of roots and stumps out of the orchard, then I went over it one more time with the harrow, pulling the chain drag behind it to smooth things out a bit. Alexis and my aunt pitched in and we removed a load of rocks from the orchard with the smaller tractor and wagon, and I used them to line the sides of the ditch in the middle field; hopefully this allows the field to dry out quicker in the spring. I then broadcast 3 pounds of clover seed (inoculated), 10 pounds of timothy, and about 8 pounds of orchard grass over the orchard, concentrating on the outside where the ground was disturbed. The center of the orchard among the trees has come up very nicely with rye and vetch; I was planning to give it a first mowing but I didn’t get to it. Alexis, Emily, and I then used the siphon to fill 5 gallon buckets and watered the trees, filling the buckets again for the next round next week. Dave and I then moved the equipment back to his jobsite, and (being hot and sweaty from a long day of working hard in the hot sun, and the tide being high), I went down the hill to jump in the cove and cool off.

I’ve got pictures to post, but they will have to wait; I’ve got engineering to do. Making cost-effective photovoltaics takes on added urgency with oil at $137 and gas at $4. But at this point the orchard should hopefully be in pretty good shape. So long as we keep watering the roots and harpooning the worms, photosynthesis should begin to work its magic.


One Response to “Harpooned, harrowed, seeded, watered”

  1. bug fix for Zareba SP10 solar fence charger; electric fences in winter « Five Islands Orchard Says:

    […] fence charger; electric fences in winter By fiveislandsorchard Last spring I mentioned in a post that I had trouble with water leaking into a brand new Zareba SP10 solar fence charger, and that I […]

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