Late summer orchard update

The last couple weekends I got up to Five Islands and had a bit of time to work on the orchard. We harvested the crop of pumpkins and winter squash (amounting to 3 large wheelbarrows full) that my mom and sister had planted between the new rows of trees, and I mowed the lush stand of medium red clover that had come up underneath them. That was perhaps the most successful of the summer’s experiments. I had planted perhaps 1500sf each of wheat and barley in the next row down from the pumpkins on a lark, and for whatever reason the barley didn’t amount to anything (thin germination, no heads to speak of), while the wheat came in thicker and headed but the heads were small and low to the ground – I estimated that if I was able to harvest it all, I would about make back my seed. It seemed nearly ready to harvest during a previous visit, but then I was away for 3 weeks, and when I returned it had lodged completely and was dried out and dissipated against the soil, with a stand of some coarse wild grass succeeding it, with a smattering of other weeds besides. I think the main issue was fertility – the area had been covered by ratty pasture pines the previous year, and the stumping and cultivation I did to remove roots probably dissipated the modest amount of organic matter available in the top few inches of soil – it got lime but no other mineral additions, manure, or other help. Immediately around the young trees where each had received a bucket of well-rotted goat manure, the wheat and barley were much more robust, and looked the way I thought a grain crop ought to look. So my conclusion is that we need to work on soil fertility before we’re going to get any worthwhile crop out of the new ground in the orchard.

Meanwhile, the stand or orchard grass growing between the older rows in the orchard has become amazingly dense and lush, leaping back up from sporadic mowings. Three years ago it was in basically the same condition; we gave it lime and a modest amount of phosphate rock and greensand, and then planted a sequence of grass/legume cover crops. For now, I mowed down the grass and weeds in that row, and seeded it with red clover and winter rye – if the clover does well I’ll mow the rye in the spring and plant pumpkins in that row; if it looks like the weeds have too much a foothold I’ll likely cultivate and repeat the clover/pumpkin routine that worked nicely in the row above.

Down in the middle field, which I cultivated, limed, and planted for the first time in a hundred years, another experiment unfolded. I planted two 2000sf patches of buckwheat (Japanese and Tartary) which were coming along nicely in early August (the Japanese variety was significantly more energetic), but when I returned 3 weeks later the stand was reduced to succulent sticks – deer had discovered the unfenced crop and completely laid waste. Another lesson – just about anything worth planting had better be within a fence. I recalled an earlier lesson from the very first fall when we planted the original small orchard plot in winter rye, which germinated nicely but didn’t seem to go anywhere until the next spring, when we put an electric fence around it and it suddenly leaped up. Looking to stabilize that field until I get around to putting a fence up, I seeded it with red clover and a mix of grasses, and crossed my fingers for a productive hunting season this November.

I also did the annual mowing of the otherwise unmanaged fields on the west side, amounting to around four acres, and helped move some firewood. The orchard will probably get one more mowing, then it will be time to disperse the mulch around the trees, apply the mouse-discouragement spirals, and batten things down for winter. I bought another roll of black plastic deer netting, which I need to put up on the new parts of the fence as a backup to the electric, which becomes less effective in winter. And I need to get going on the (relatively minor) modifications to the pedal grinder in preparation for cider this year. Fall coming on fast and lots to do.


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