Archive for May, 2015

Hanging in there

May 31, 2015

The orchard is hanging in there as another summer leaps into action, despite not having a lot of time to devote to it.  The winter was as hard as could be – no way to get the gate open, but fortunately there was a place where the snow came up close to the top of the fence, so we could climb over and inspect – here’s Emily snowshoeing past trees in snow at least 3 feet deep:

deep snow in orchard

For all that there was surprisingly little damage – a couple of trees lost some bark to mice above the spiral wrap, but nothing fatal:

mouse damage above spiral

Unfortunately both hives of bees failed over the long, cold winter.  Emily has been the main beekeeper, and she was too busy/discouraged to take on another set of hives, so instead Alexis and I made nesting blocks for orchard mason bees using scrap wood and a 5/16″ drill bit.  On some of them Alexis made cool patterns:

bee house

We’ll see how the bee houses work in terms of occupancy and pollination.  Not much in the way of planting (though I did transplant one small pear tree that I grafted a few years ago).  But I did manage to haul a load of composted goat manure to the orchard and spread it.  Here the dogs caught a ride on the loaded dump trailer:

dogs and compost

The orchard is greening up nicely now; soon I’ll have to mow and mulch:

green spring orchard

Back at Stroudwater we have also made small increments of progress.  The winter wreaked havoc with grafting that I’d previously done on wild apple trees in the north side woods, with heavy wet snow dropping pine limbs that smashed a couple of bark grafts that had taken nicely, so I did some rework there.  I also tried something interesting to convert a large wild apple that was savaged by ice.  Over 50% of the top had broken off under the weight of early winter snow:

broken tree

The trunk was damaged by the ripped-off section to the point where it would never heal effectively; also the branches were way too tall and the wild apples of no particular quality.  So I cut a wide notch with a chainsaw below the broken part (face height seems to be the best compromise between ‘above the deer’ and ‘low enough to reach’) and grafted in several scions on the exposed half of the trunk. (I don’t remember what variety, but it’s written on the tag).

notch grafted

With any luck the remaining top will provide enough photosynthesis to keep the roots alive, and the radical pruning of the top courtesy of ma nature will push a lot of energy into the new scions.  Then in a couple of years once the new wood has taken off and is 5-6 feet tall, I’ll delicately dice off the top, trim the trunk flush with the notch, and graft in some sacrificial scionwood to help the wide cut-off stump heal.  Here is the tree as I left it:

finished graft

We also planted some berries in one of the few sunny spots in the yard; a row of 7 Boyne summerbearing raspberries, and some new highbush blueberries – from west to east: Jersey, Northland, Earliblue, Northland.

After the long melt-out the spring started dry but now we have a solid chunk of rain coming; we’ll see how the fruit sets and the season progresses.