Archive for June, 2010

Snippets of orchard progress

June 10, 2010

In the month since orchard weekend I’ve had a couple chances to get in the orchard, and things are looking very good. It was a bit dry for a couple of weeks, and Joanna watered once, then Joshua and I watered a week later. The inter-row patch of wheat I planted is up, and the barley also, though a bit thinner – for whatever reason the fedco instructions were for abt half the seeding rate as the wheat. I expect with the recent rain the grains will bolt up if we get some warm weather. Joanna and Emily planted about fifty hills of pumpkins and squash in one of the inter-rows, and they are growing up nicely, and the clover I underseeded around them has made a slow but convincing start. Around the edges the timothy/clover/orchardgrass mix I planted has got something of a start as well. In the established orchard area the orchardgrass which we mowed right before orchard weekend has bolted up in the last month and is just as tall as before – it could use mowing again already. That stuff is remarkably prolific, and maybe the light application of lime we did helped. I’ve also pruned the peaches where they had some dieback after transplanting, and edited a couple of the apples that looked weak. So far the two trees that got moused down in the roots last winter (honeycrisp and mac) are alive and look healthy after our heavy prunings, though they haven’t thrown up the 10-12 inches of new growth already like some of the established trees have.

Last visit I also made permanent labels (pencil on scraps of vinyl siding attached with loose wire; according to Fedco this lasts forever), and staked out a couple of spindly looking trees. And in the middle field below the orchard road, where we dug the improved drainage and I had previously turned over the rough field as best I could with the 2-bottom plow, I took the disk harrow (heavily weighted with an oak log) and smoothed it out substantially. My plan is to let it mellow another couple weeks, then tip out the big rocks and even it out some with the springtooth, and plant it to buckwheat and pasture mix for the summer. I’ll either underseed the buckwheat with clover or reseed it after mowing with rye/vetch, or just rye, and maybe harvest it next summer just for fun. The end goal is to turn a rough field into a nice piece of pasture that could be turned over and planted to crops if anybody took an interest in it.

The coolest thing is that every single one of the whip-and-tongue bench grafts that I made at the MOFGA grafting workshop has taken off, and some of them are really going crazy. Whip-and-tongue grafting is this improbable technique where you basically just cut the top of a pencil-sized seedling rootstock at a diagonal, make a similar cut on a 3-inch long scrap of scionwood (basically the waste product from spring pruning) of the desired variety, and tape the two together. This is done in early spring, and they can be planted right out at that point, though I let them heal in a bucket of sawdust in a cool garage for a couple of weeks first. A few days later the buds on the scionwood start bursting out; you strip the competing leaves off the rootstock below the graft union, and a year later you have a respectable young tree of the scion’s variety. For some reason I find this incredibly cool. And since rootstocks are less than 2 bucks each, and we have close to 30 varieties of trees planted at this point for scionwood (scionwood is also available for purchase from Fedco), our ability to create orchard stock has become dangerously unconstrained. If any of the participants in our annual apple-themed weekends want a particular type of apple for their yard, let me know and we can make some next spring!