pruning, scionwood, chips, syrup, goats

A busy, productive weekend in Five Islands. It’s the season to prune apple trees, so my mom and I pruned my grandfather’s orchard. Per the advice from the MOFGA class on pruning I took last year, we started by making the big decisions, lopping off redundant arm-sized branches with a very handy Stihl ‘chainsaw-on-a-stick’, then climbed around in the trees and on a ladder to lighten up the parts that were left. The goal over all is to open the trees up and let light in, get rid of tired old fruiting wood, and encourage productive new branches. At the end of a good pruning job, you’re supposed to be able to throw a cat through the tree without it hitting any branches (but not a dog). I don’t know if we’re getting any better at pruning, but at least we’re getting more confident. There’s a significant amount of slow-motion strategy involved; since you’re supposed to be looking for promising small branches that can be trained to replace existing branches as they grow tired, while maintaining the older wood while it’s still fruiting. For the smaller trees we experimented with a technique learned from Michael Phillips’ book; we hot-glued clothespins to tennis-ball-sized rocks and used them to weight down watersprouts to give the growing trees the right form. We learned that the secret is to heat the rocks in the oven first, to perhaps 350F, so that the hot glue can stick (if you try to hot glue a cold rock, it just peels right off, even if you wire-brush the rock first). I also collected a couple dozen ziplocs full of scionwood (which is a natural byproduct of pruning), for our own use and for the MOFGA swap next weekend. The scions go in the fridge, which keeps them in a dormant state while the rootstocks wake up in the spring, such that the rootstocks get a couple week jump on healing the graft union before the scionwood wakes up and starts demanding nutrients from below.

In other news, with the growing goat population, larger cider operation, and increasing stable of tractors, my parents and grandparents have decided to build a new barn on the west side, and they’ve been making a clearing for it this winter. Yesterday my dad rented a 12″ Vermeer wood chipper, and we reduced a huge pile of brush and pine chunks to mulch. Stuffing the chipper is serious work, and my arms and back will be a few days getting back to normal.

We also got out the maple sap evaporator, since the weather has been pretty good and my folks have accumulated over a hundred gallons of sap in plastic drums. The evaporator gets fired by cut-up slab wood that’s a byproduct of when the crew comes in the spring with the bandsaw mill to make lumber out of the logs that have accumulated over the winter. The traditional approach to making syrup is frightfully inefficient from a thermodynamic perspective, and I still have it in mind to someday make an optimized evaporator that makes much better use of the thermal energy in the firewood.

The kid goats are rapidly getting larger and more energetic, and at four weeks they have apparently just started to eat hay and chew cud. They still get bottle-fed three times a day, but there is enough extra milk for my folks to drink it at every meal, and in another month they will be weaned, and my folks will have to start making cheese. The goat milk is very rich and tasty, compared to the skim cows’ milk that I’m used to drinking. Dairy is really a remarkable invention, and it’s hard to appreciate how remarkable it is, until you witness first-hand asthese friendly little critters take hay and a bit of crude grain and turn it into top-notch food.

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