The orchard’s looking a little different these days: a lot fewer trees and a lot more big holes.
In case you’re wondering — yes, we cut down those trees and dug those holes on purpose. It’s called “orchard renovation” and it’s a step we’re taking for lots of reasons:
- Some of our trees were getting old or not doing very well. We grow a lot of varieties that you don’t find in other orchards in Minnesota and while we can grow them, they’re not optimized for Minnesota, which means that they might live for 30 years instead of 50 (for example).
- We had too much of some varieties and not enough of others. Case in point: we had a lot of Honeygold apples, which tended to ripen after our season ended. We also had a lot of Cortland, which are highly susceptible to apple scab, a spring fungus that is difficult to control without using synthetic pesticides. We got rid of some Honeygold and Cortland and added more fun varieties like Apricot and Cinnamon Spice and we also wanted to plant some hard cider varieties like Yarlington Mill and Ashton Bitter.
- In some cases, we had many, many varieties in a single row, which made managing that row really difficult. Now we’ll have one or two varieties per row, which makes it less likely that we’ll forget to pick the one Ruby Jon tree located on the opposite side of the orchard from the five other Ruby Jon trees.
- The trees were planted pretty far apart from each other and on different rootstocks (the rootstock of a tree controls its size, among other attributes). Planting new trees on the same rootstock means that we can fit about two times as many trees into the same area.
This has been a huge project for us that, so far, has involved cutting down the old trees, digging out their stumps, and grafting new trees. We still have a lot of work to do to finish the work: plant the new trees out in the orchard; create protection from deer, voles, and rabbits for each tiny new tree; plant a cover crop in the new tractor rows between tree rows; and mulch the tree rows.
Although we’ve changed a lot about the whole operation since we bought it in 2010, like the barn and our growing practices, this is the first big step we’ve taken to shape the orchard itself — its trees and its layout — in our own vision. And this, of course, is just the first big step. More changes are on the horizon but when you’re growing trees, you can move only so quickly.
What a long, cold winter it’s been. We haven’t written much here on the website because what was there to say? It was cold. It was even colder. The backhoe won’t start. The backhoe still won’t start. Is there any end to the cold in sight???
It was a ruthless winter and even though it was cold enough to actually keep us indoors, we made it without too much cabin fever. The chickens made it too, along with supplemental heat and straw bales blocking any crack in the coop where wind could get in. Roxy, the outdoor cat made it, snug in her hidey-hole in the garage. The only creatures that didn’t make it through the winter were the bees; they had enough honey stored up, but the temps were just too low for them.
We finally let the chickens out of the coop for the first time in months at the end of last week and they loved it. They’ve started laying eggs, which means that spring really is here, right?
Out in the orchard, it’s a much snowier landscape. Mike is still using snowshoes in the orchard to prune even though the snow around the house has melted way down.
The snow is still far too deep to bring the ladder around for pruning, so Mike’s doing what he can in snowshoes and planning to revisit some of the taller trees after the snow melts a bit more. We’re thankful that spring looks to be nice and normal — not a repeat of 2012′s hot hot hot spring — which will give us ample time to finish pruning.
We’re not planning to have a pruning workshop day like we have in the past, but we’re always happy to look at photos of your trees to give you pruning advice or even to have you out here for a few hands-on lessons. If you’re a home orchardist, you still have time to prune until about mid-April and so if you need some advice or a lesson, get in touch.
It’s the coldest December it’s been in a while. While that’s good for keeping insect pressures down in the orchard, it’s decimating our winter’s supply of wood.
We’re doing our best to keep warm, and send the warmest winter wishes your way.