Fifth Annual Orchard Weekend

Last weekend marked the fifth year that friends have descended on Five Islands to help with the orchard. After some grocery-type prep on Thursday, the action started Friday, when I went up to Waterville to the annual Fedco tree sale. I arrived right at opening on the first day of the first weekend (which is only for pre-order customers), but the place was already mobbed, with cars parked along the sides of the small dirt road. Besides my tree order I had a pretty long list of stuff that I was supposed to pick up for various people, and it’s a great experience to stroll through their warehouse. I also made an impulse buy – a left-handed pair of Felco pruners. Still, a trip to Waterville is a lot of gas and a half a day that could be otherwise spent. I think from now on I’m going to try to get my act together to do a bulk order earlier in the year, and have UPS deliver the stuff right to our door.

I got back to Five Islands mid-day, where Emily and I got a brush fire going to burn a pile of stuff that was in the way of making a new raspberry patch. Dave and I rigged and dropped a couple more trees that were interfering with our plans, and further fed the fire. Joshua, Ben Wilkins, and his boys arrived, and they helped out as well. We also rigged up a system with the small portable Honda water pump to wet down the surrounding area and keep the fire in check. With the late start the fire was still going strong at dinner time, and Emily kindly brought us a pot of mac and cheese for dinner at the upper cabin, which we followed up with s’mores. Other folks arrived as the evening went on and gathered around the fire, though I turned in, it having been a long day by that point.

Saturday morning we started with blueberry pancakes at #5 for breakfast. We are gradually improving our portable cooking capacity, and I had intended to be able to do breakfast at the upper cabin, but having to stay and tend the fire Friday evening threw me off my game. Joshua and Benedict then used the small Kubota to load up a trailer of rotted chicken manure and rolled it into the orchard, where it was spread in a ring around each tree. The crew also spread lime, and made a run to the shore for seaweed to spread around each tree as well. Cardboard that Dave had accumulated was spread under the fence lines to keep the weeds down, and Joshua, Ben, and co made a great start on a permanent (woven wire) fence at the south side of the orchard. Dave trundled around with the little Bobcat excavator, moving hunks of wood and preparing the way for the fence and the new raspberry beds, where we planted 20 new raspberry plants. For future reference, the northerly row is Kilarney (early summerbearing), and the second row is Polana (everbearing).

Because the newground to the south isn’t ready yet, we nurseryed the 10 or so new trees that I bought or grafted this spring between the rows in the orchard. In some cases we used a new technique that I cooked up that I have high hopes will reduce transplanting shock. We took the bail off a reclaimed 5 gallon drywall bucket, and made vertical cuts all the way down the sides in four places at the quadrants, allowing us to spread the sides apart. We then buried the buckets with the wings well spread apart, simultaneously planting a bench-grafted tree at the usual level inside the bucket and filling with good soil. The concept is that in a year or two, we will be able to tie into the wings of the buckets with rope and lift them with a tractor or excavator and extract them with minimal shovel work or root damage, and transport them to their final home, with less setback than if we transplanted them as bare-root, and significantly less effort than forming up a root ball around each one. I’ll report back in a year or two on whether the technique is worth anything.

Alexis and Joanna made a big mess of enchiladas and fruit salad for Saturday dinner, and I siphoned a keg of last years cider, which though a little blander than usual from the lack of tart apples last fall (owing to the spring frosts a year ago) has become pleasantly drinkable. As is becoming the tradition, dinner was at Joanna and Jake’s, with accompanying tomahawk-throwing contest lasting late into the night. This year’s winner was Ben Wilkins, who took home a pie cherry tree I had picked up for the purpose at Fedco. Saturday evening we also grafted a birthday apple tree for Nola; I bought a nicely feathered tree at Fedco and we grafted four different varieties of eating apple onto it. Hopefully they take and if we prune it carefully she should have a neat multi-flavor tree in a few years.

Sunday morning dawned clear and cool, and we ate fried eggs, bagels etc. on the upper cabin porch. A bunch of folks had to take off, but with a reduced crew we made some more progress on the permanent fence, planted a few more trees, and Eerik and Sara stuck around and did a great job mulching the new raspberries. Then, general cleanup, sorting of tools, etc. All in all a fun, very productive weekend, despite relatively modest and haphazard planning on my part as compared to previous years. By next year I hope to be ready to plant out the trees we’ve nurseryed in the expansion area to the south, and to get a start on the area between the existing orchard and the new raspberry patch behind the upper cabin.

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