Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Impending Doom in the Orchard?

This is our orchard in deep winter snow:

It breaks my heart, this orchard. It's beautiful and needy and slightly rundown. We can't take care of it the way we should. Blame a lack of equipment, know-how, and will. Yet it hasn't quit on us. Every year, the apples are a little less lovely, but they come.

It used to be that we had a bargain with a large, local orchard. They'd care for the trees and take all the apples we didn't use. But their methods were highly conventional. We here at Maggie's farm are flexible, pragmatic even, but we could not abide by herbicide. Or, frequent drenchings of pesticides. We grit our teeth and allowed the fungicide in the spring and that seemed a fair trade off.

But as our flock of Icelandic Sheep grew, we began to use the orchard as pasture. The sheep nibbled the lower branches. But they kept the grass low without herbicides. We were fine with that, but the fencing made it hard for the orchard folks to work and they got sick of all the limitations and just stopped coming.

That was two years ago. Our noble little orchard continues on, apples scabby and small, but still good.

This year, though, feels like a last gasp. How long before the trees give out altogether?

We've tried to find someone to care for the orchard. But we are just a little too remote, and the care is just a little too intensive, I guess.

Spring is coming (Hard to believe in a snowy month like this one).

Any ideas? What would you do?


Alicia Gregoire said...

I have no idea. Start the kids young on tending orchards maybe?

Anonymous said...

Fruit trees do take a lot of care but I think you are doing the right thing for the animals. I also heard (don't know if it's true) that fruit trees don't have that long a productive life span, you might start thinking of other uses for the land. Thanks for stopping by and following me.

Ariel Swan said...

I loved your apples so much that season. I hate to see it all go to waste. I would let them do what they want if would mean they'd come back and care for them. But that's me.If my animals absolutely had to graze there - then I don't know what I would do.

And this makes me realize why we should not plant a set of apple trees in our yard. We couldn't handle the care either.

dogman19552003 said...

where are you lacated? It's a shame to see the orchard in this shape. Maybe we can work something out as far as taking care of the orchard. My wife and I live in north central Ark. Email dogman19552003@yahoo.com

Anna said...
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Perri said...

Alicia-- I wish! I can't even get the kids to make their beds :)

Catherine-- It's a thought. I'd hate to cut the trees just yet. So sad! There's nothing like a fall orchard-- and the applesauce and cider too.

Thanks so much, Ariel, they were terrific that year. I think a few trees might be more manageable. But there is a lot to know in orchard acre, and timing is crucial for much of it.

Dogman-- I wish you were closer. We are in Western Mass, just south of Vermont. Now that'd be a long commute!

Nancy Kay Bowden said...

Oh, I hope the trees pull through again! I know nothing about orchards, although my grandmother had several fruit trees and I grew up eating delicious pies. However, I have the saddest childhood memory of a dead cherry tree grove on a Mississippi River bluff in Illinois... :(

Amateur Yankee said...

At least in VT, the old orchards go and go for a while - certainly not with the best fruit or prettiest branches, but the fruit comes nonetheless, and is good for cider making. We have a small orchard on our property (we have someone prune once a year) but always sneak over to the abandoned orchard over the hill for more cider apples. :)

weathertop said...

I don't think you need to despair over the orchard. Let is rest for a time. Apples, unlike peaches or plums, are long lived trees.

My suggestions:

Pick two or three easily accessible trees and try your hand at caring for them. Use them to learn the art of pruning. Keep the sheep grazing beneath them so the grass doesn't steal nutrients from the trees. Spray them with an organic horticultural oil to keep down overwintering pests.

Then let the rest do for themselves.

Karen said...

I was going to suggest pretty much the same as weathertop did. Even if I couldn't look after them properly, I'd tend to leave them as long as they are producing some apples. Even if the apples are small and ratty, if you knock them off for the sheep, they will benefit.
Just start with pruning a few trees. Even if you do it wrong, you won't kill them. Probably enough information on the internet about pruning etc to get you going.