May/12/2013 07:43 AM
While our apple trees are holding off blossoming for a few more days, our other fruit trees - plum, cherry, peach, pear - are all in full bloom. We are supposed to get frosts in the next few days, though not so cold as to endanger the blossoms. Let’s hope the forecasts are correct. We are relieved to have gotten a few inches of rain in the last number of days. It had not rained since we planted all our new trees, and no matter how well you water plants, real rain does a better job. Nothing makes you attentive to weather like farming! We are thrilled to have really precise weather information with our new weather station. We find the temperatures are really different than those recorded by the Clark Orchard weather station, which is only a few miles away but hundreds of feet lower in elevation. Now we can track our own degree days and wetting periods.
We got labels approved and printed for the sparkling and hopped ciders, and we are now close to contacting retailers to start selling cider. We plan to be at the Ashfield farmer’s market Memorial Day weekend with those two varieties of hard cider. That market is on the town common in the village of Ashfield Saturdays 9-1. We won’t be there every week (unless Ashfield residents turn out to be really thirsty for cider), but expect to attend once a month during the spring and summer. Once the maple, farmhouse, and ice ciders are ready we will add them to the selection.
Apr/20/2013 06:55 AM
We have been so hard at work we have not taken the time to share what we’ve been doing, hence the length of this entry. We pruned all the trees in the orchard, some on top of snow that let us reach high in the trees, some on snowshoes, and some on the ground. The trees are continuing on their path to proper shape, as each year we allow some branches to grow out and eventually can cut the overhanging branches that grow at weird angles. We also grafted new varieties onto rootstock that we collected from our trees or those of neighbors and friends, which are currently in our refrigerator but will soon be in the nursery bed to grow into young trees. We ordered a few new apple varieties from Fedco Trees, namely Redfield, Campfield, Reine de Pomme, as well as a few more peach trees, grape vines, and blueberry bushes, and all but the blueberries are now in the ground. We are also moving all the trees we grafted two years ago into the orchard, filling in areas where trees died and starting to plant in new areas as well. It feels great to have the orchard filled in at last, though these new trees will not fruit for some time to come. Remaining orchard work, before we see blossoms, include planting the apple trees that remain in the nursery bed and the blueberry bushes, pruning of a few of our giant standard sized trees, removing all the big tree trimmings from the orchard, and flail mowing the smaller branches to return them to the soil. It’s amazing how those chopped up branches disappear.
On the hard cider side, we have also been busy. We ordered new bottles, and bottled most of the 2012 cider as Sparkling and Hop hard cider, with the still, Farmhouse hard cider, Maple hard cider, and the Ice cider continuing to age for a bit longer. We decided to bottle-condition the sparkling and hop ciders by adding just a few ml of maple syrup when we fill the bottles. This adds some bubbles as the maple syrup ferments. We also worked with our artist friend Jeff Grader to design some labels for the new varieties, and we are now working through the bureaucracy of getting them approved by the organic certifier and the federal government so we can get them printed. Nothing is quick and easy when dealing with alcohol! We are looking forward to making the hard cider available at a few local retailers in the next month or so. Updates on that as soon as we have them.
This spring has been nice and gradual, with no weird heat waves in March like we had last year. We see no vole damage on any trees this year, perhaps due to the long cold period before we had snow this winter. Hopefully pest insects were knocked down by that cold as well; we are looking forward to seeing whether cold, dry winter periods reduce pest insect pressure. Every year is a new adventure, we’ll have to wait to see what this one will bring.
Mar/19/2013 02:03 PM
On this snowy day, when pruning is not an option, I have been thinking about the orchard as a component of our local habitat. The Northeast Organic Farming Association spring publication focused on the role of organic farms in supporting the biodiversity of our local communities, noting that one goal of the organic standards is to promote biodiversity and ecosystem health beyond the farm.
The notion that our farm is part of the local ecosystem is one of our prime directives as orchard managers. We foster elements of the ecosystem within and around our orchard to integrate our non-native fruit trees into their ecological community, both to gain benefits from that community, and to provide resources in return. For instance, we encourage a healthy soil ecosystem by maintaining a diverse understory, feeding the creatures in the soil with compost and tree trimmings, and avoiding use of materials that might harm those soil inhabitants. Those creatures in turn make nutrients available to our trees, aerate the soil, and keep conditions such as water retention and pH in balance. We also are thrilled to host predators of all shapes and sizes, from the mind-boggling diversity of spiders in and around the orchard, to the mink that spent much of this winter hunting little mammals on our property, to the hundreds of birds that feed their babies with insects from our orchard each spring and summer. Without these helpers we would be overrun with pests that would kill our trees and damage our fruit. And while our property is just a small piece within a large area of forest and other open land, the mix of pasture, orchard, forest, wetlands, and gardens offer resources to a broader range of creatures than one habitat could provide. So, we hope our management strategy is mutually beneficial, to us and every other creature we share space with.
This strategy does sometimes come with costs. That mink killed a chicken before we tightened up the coop. Rodent populations can spike, leaving us with girdled, dead trees. Various insect pests have gotten out of balance, damaging substantial numbers of apples. An orchard is not an intact ecosystem, after all, so we do need to intervene to a degree. But we hope to always improve our capacity to manage the orchard in a way that will improve the health of our trees, the quality of our apples, and the value of our property to everyone else living here.
Feb/09/2013 07:28 AM
So far this winter, we have had a lot of cold weather, some of it when there is snow on the ground but also when the ground was mostly bare. Before we started taking care of the orchard, we noticed that some years insect damage was worse than others, and thought that cold periods when the ground was bare might have some connection to that. Given that many of our pest species overwinter in the top few inches of the ground, cold without snow to insulate the ground could kill a lot of overwintering pests. If this is true, the coming season might have quite low pest pressure. This would impact plum curculio, codling moth, voles, and possibly apple and peach borer. I sure hope it works that way!
As for the mammal pests, we have new fox tracks in the orchard every day, and a big mink has taken up residence, so that should reduce the number of voles and rabbits for next season. I got to see the mink kill a rabbit right in our front yard, and we found another he had probably stashed in a snowbank. I say he, since it is mostly male minks that kill rabbits - they are bigger than females. This mink is very dark sable, almost black, so is very noticeable in a snowy world. He also got into the chicken coop one night and killed one of my chickens, but we buttoned up the coop and he has not gotten in again.
Aug/23/2012 08:05 AM
We have been moving along with the bureaucracy of farming, including the hard cider permits, board of health inspections of our cider mill and kitchen, and making sure we have bags, bottles, etc. so you can take our apples home with you, in one form or another. We are all set to sell jams and baked goods this fall, and we are hoping the paperwork will be in place so you can buy hard cider as well. Apples are looking fantastic - a good crop on all the varieties that fruited, and even the scab-susceptible apples don’t look bad. We are feeling so fortunate given how many regional apple growers were completely wiped out this year.
The apples appear to be ripening on a fairly normal schedule. This means we anticipate being open for pick-your-own the second or third weekend of September, through Columbus Day weekend. We will keep this web site and the Facebook page updated with specifics about that. When you want to pick apples depends on what you are doing with them. Those picked on the early side, when they are really hard, will likely keep better, but if you want sweet apples you wait until the end of their season. Libertys will be ready first, with Freedoms following around the first of October. We haven’t decided about offering pick-your-own on the Cortlands or other varieties, we need to really survey them to decide what shape they are in. We’ll let you know!
Jun/24/2012 09:16 PM
I have been slowly working my way through the pick-your-own varieties. Libertys are finished, and I am halfway through the Freedoms. Once those varieties are thinned I will do a little thinning on the other varieties, but that is not essential given that the season is marching along. We are not seeing much codling moth damage, so we are hopeful that the pheromones we spread throughout the orchard are doing their job disrupting codling moth mating. By the end of the season we’ll see if the moths are just delayed, or whether this method really works for our orchard.
Lots of bird nests and parent birds with beaks full of bugs. The more the merrier! Though they are not very happy with me as I poke around near their nests. I am waiting to get to the tree with the kingbird nest in it with some trepidation - they are territorial and mob anyone who gets to close to their nest. I saw one with bugs in its mouth, so I know they have nestlings to protect. Their tree may not get thinned very well.
Jun/13/2012 09:26 AM
In the last few weeks, we have had good news/bad news show up in the orchard. On the bad side, we learned that the models we use to control the fungal disease scab were not accurately reflecting reality this year, thanks to bursts of warm weather early on. Apparently scab spore release is not actually caused by degree days, but in a normal year they correlate fairly well with degree-day models. This year, however, there were lots of spores active after the models predicted that all spores should have been released and no longer a concern. This means that our scab susceptible varieties have signs of the disease on their leaves, and will likely have poor fruit quality this year. Once again, we are thankful that our primary pick-your-own varieties are still scab immune, so they look just fine.
As for good news, we were worried about plum curculio damage since we had over a week without the kaolin clay (Surround) on our trees due to rain. However, now that we are beginning to thin the trees, we can see that plum curculio damage is not worse than it has been in previous years. The apples have really sized up, which means we had to begin thinning while we still have clay on the trees. Thinning involves pulling off fruit that is damaged, leaving apples evenly spaced on the tree. There are several benefits to this. First, with fewer fruits, the tree can invest more in each, leading to bigger fruit. Second, any place where two apples touch invariably ends up harboring insect pests, generally ruining both fruits. Finally, we selectively take off damaged fruits, many of which have insect pests inside them. Since we keep these thinned fruits in buckets, the insects can’t get to the soil in order to continue their life cycle. Hopefully this reduces pest pressure over time as we prevent some pests from reproducing in our orchard.
May/28/2012 03:39 PM
We are into plum curculio season, so the trees are now white with kaolin clay. The bugs are certainly active now, and given the heat should get through their egg-laying season quickly. That would be really good, since the apples are sizing up very quickly this year, meaning we will have to start thinning soon. Thinning with clay on the trees is difficult and unpleasant, so we usually start thinning when we are done spraying clay. We have already had to mow in the orchard, since the grass has grown long already.
Two of our varieties, Northern Spy and Red Delicious, appear to have lost their blossoms due to frost. All the other trees have plenty of fruit showing, but very close to all the blossoms have fallen off those two susceptible varieties. We don’t offer pick-your-own from those trees, but we do use them in cider, so we are sorry to miss them this year.
May/13/2012 08:02 AM
This morning when I went outside to take care of the animals, it was so warm and beautiful I had to continue up the hill into the orchard. The petals have begun to fall, but there are still a lot of blossoms on the trees, so the orchard is an absurdly pleasant place to be. Birds are everywhere, the Baltimore oriole, kingbird, catbird, and song sparrow the most obvious. No doubt lots of nests are being built right now. We will begin spraying clay on the trees to irritate the plum curculio weevil soon, but right at this moment we don’t have work to do in the orchard so we can just enjoy its beauty.
The infection period for the fungal disease scab is pretty much over. Due to the long period of dry this spring, most of the spores were released in only a few rainy periods, so we were able to spray sulfur on our scab-susceptible trees at those times. If the degree-day models are correct, we should have killed around 90% of the spores this season. We have low scab pressure anyway, thanks to good management in past years, so it will be interesting to see what the scab-susceptible apples, like Cortland and MacIntosh, look like this year.
Some of the young trees we planted are flowering for the first time this year, including Honeycrisp, golden russet, Williams pride, frostbite, baldwin, Cox orange pippin. We won’t get more than a few fruit off each tree, but are excited to find out how these varieties taste when grown here.
Apr/30/2012 07:30 PM
Our orchard is now a cloud of female codling moth pheromones, which will hopefully lead the males so astray they can’t find any females to mate. This weekend we put almost 800 little pheromone dispensers in and around the orchard, with the remainder to go in tomorrow. We are relying on this mating disruption to control this pest rather than the Bt we have relied on in previous years, since a) Bt kills any moth or butterfly caterpillar that eats it, which is not as directed a control method as we would like, and b) Bt is not very effective on codling moth, since they spend most of their time eating inside apples, where there is no way to dose them with the Bt. Mating disruption is well-tested in large, flat expanses of orchard, but some growers with small orchards have had good luck as well. Our site presents a number of challenges - slope, wind, lots of untended apple trees in the neighborhood - but we figure it is worth a try, since the alternative doesn’t work that well. We will continue to pick up and store all damaged apples until the caterpillars die - our thinning buckets always have codling moth larvae in the bottoms when we dump them out.
Some apple blossoms have opened, and we appear to have escaped the cold temperatures of the last few nights with very little damage. This is despite lows of 27-28 degrees, which should kill 10% or more of the blossoms. We have so many flowers on the trees this year, a little frost thinning would be ok. While we still have a month to watch for frost before that danger has passed, we are glad to have gotten through this cold snap with apples still growing.
Apr/14/2012 08:13 PM
With the gift of a beautiful Saturday, we accomplished a lot in the orchard. We moved the big branches we cut off when we were pruning, so we can get through the orchard with a tractor when we need to spray. We also got all the vole cages off the young trees, so we can keep an eye on the trunks to protect them from boring insects. And we are “training” the young trees, tying their branches down so they will fruit rather than continue to grow tall, and form them into a shape that will be good for the future.
We have a few changes in management this season. We are going to use mating disruption for controlling codling moth. To do this, we tie pheromone dispensers throughout the orchard, thereby keeping male moths from finding and mating with females. We hope this method will work in an orchard of our size, but there is no way to find out except to try it. We are also hosting some bees, who belong to a local beekeeper and who will stay here during our blossom season. It was very cheery to have bees flying around the orchard in such numbers while we were working today.
Mar/18/2012 07:22 PM
Given the beautiful weather the last two days, we dropped all other commitments to focus on pruning. We chose to start with our hardest trees this year, the Northern Spys, which continue to grow immense amounts of wood every year. Hopefully now that they are fruiting they will slow down on the wood production. Once we were done with those trees, our other semidwarfs are a breeze! Steve’s parents Rich and Lindy are pitching in too, so we should be done soon. We will have to be, given the crazy warm weather. Buds are swelling already. Last year we had all of April to prune, but I don’t think that will be the case this year. A few more good days and we should be finished.
The orchard fared well this winter, with no vole or deer damage that we have discovered so far. Late last summer and fall were so wet, there is some fungal infections on the trees, but they have recovered before so we hope they will do so again, weather permitting. The trees struggled with fungal infections when we started taking care of the trees. Pruning helps the tree get more air, so the work we are doing now should help the trees dry out and become less hospitable to the fungus.
Nov/05/2011 06:32 AM
We are looking forward to a fun weekend filled with Cider Day events. We will be here at the farm making cider and chatting with those of you who stop by 10-5 Saturday and Sunday; we’ll have cider and donuts, and Michael Phillips (the author of The Apple Grower) will be talking about organic orcharding on Sunday at 10 AM. We are heading to the Cider Salon and Locavore dinner on Saturday night in Deerfield, maybe we’ll see some of you there too. One word of caution - we did get over two feet of snow last weekend, and while a lot of that melted, boots are still a necessity if you want to walk in the orchard.
Oct/25/2011 01:57 PM
We have customers every year who ask us if we offer drops for sale. We do not, despite not using them for cider or anything else, because our drops are full of holes and other damage. The other day I was remembering picking drops in my childhood, and how the ground was littered with perfect quality apples. We never bought tree-picked fruit. The contrast between those apples and the ones we pick up in our orchard is pretty amazing, and makes me realize how sterile those orchards of my childhood must have been. I can’t even imagine what was used on the orchard floors to keep the drops from being eaten. Our drops usually have some kind of damage - most drop off the tree in the first place because they were damaged by an insect pest, so they start their time on the ground with some kind of hole. Then once they are on the ground, they are quickly nibbled on by voles, slugs, and ants. If the ground is wet, fungus can start to grow on the apple almost immediately. We see this in action despite our best efforts to pick up apples within a week of them hitting the ground, to prevent pests in the apples from continuing their life cycle.
To be fair, the apples I picked as a kid were MacIntosh, which drop off the tree the minute they are ripe. Nonetheless, I just don’t remember the underlayer of rotting, nasty apples we would have if we left apples on the ground for a week or more.
Oct/02/2011 05:56 PM
Amazingly, despite the wet weather these last two weekends, our pick-your-own customers have picked all the apples we have available this year. We have probably a third of the apples we had last year. We are saving apples for the venues we have committed to - Ashfield Fall Festival Columbus Day weekend, Cider Days in November, and the Sanderson Academy’s Local Goods fundraiser. We are very sorry to miss those of you who didn’t get to come while we were open; perhaps we will see you at Fall Festival?
Sep/26/2011 07:29 AM
After a season of working on and worrying about our apples, it is reaffirming to have folks come and be happy to pick and eat them. By selling directly, here on the farm, we get to talk with our customers about what they want in their food, what they believe is best for themselves, their kids, and our planet. We also strongly believe people should have the opportunity to know exactly where their food is coming from, and it is great to provide that for the crop we have to offer. This is something we would not get if we sold wholesale, and I’m not sure if we could continue the work and worry part without that sharing of values with the people who eat the apples. So, to all of our customers, thanks for coming!
Sep/13/2011 03:26 PM
There is no arguing with Mother Nature. We have been waiting and watching the apples, hoping they would be ready this weekend as we had planned to open then. However, the apples are delayed and will not be ripe this weekend. We should be all set for next week though, so we plan to be at the Conway market Thursday, Shelburne Falls market Friday, the Ashfield market Saturday, and pick-your-own all weekend, September 24-25.
Sep/04/2011 07:25 PM
We had a satisfying couple of days fitting in orchard work amidst nonstop food preservation and firewood gathering. We picked up drops in a large portion of the orchard, especially under varieties that are susceptible to apple maggot fly (which we control solely via picking up drops). These apples are now sitting in buckets so that if any pests crawl out of the fruit to continue their life cycle, they will not find the soil they need to do so. We also cleared around the young trees and refitted cages around their bases, for protection from voles this fall and winter. We found two trees infected with apple borer, which eat the inside of the tree until it snaps off. Out of a few hundred trees, that is not a bad rate, but sad nonetheless. We will endeavor to be more vigilant about this pest, which must be caught before it can burrow too far into a tree. Our boys helped with these tasks, and we all got to enjoy the many monarch butterfly crysallises we ran into while clearing around the trees. Our dog Watermelon also enjoys orchard work; she alternates between digging giant holes after voles, and running up to the brook for a quick dip.
Aug/31/2011 06:33 AM
The orchard was unharmed by the hurricane. We got 11 inches of rain but little wind, and the trees are perfectly happy to get some rain. Most of it ran off the hill really quickly, forming torrents and eroding any human-shaped areas (such as driveway and road) but the turf-covered orchard just got wet.
We are heading toward orchard season - apples are sizing up and turning red, though they are a ways off from ripe yet. We will be sticking to our pick-your-own schedule from last year of Saturday and Sunday afternoons, and will be at the Ashfield, Shelburne Falls, and Conway farmers markets when the apples come in. Stay tuned for which weekends that will be.
Jul/19/2011 09:53 PM
So this year we decided to get certified as organic growers. Our apples, cider, and cider vinegar are now certified organic, as well as any other tree fruit we decide to sell. We have been hesitant to undertake this process, since it requires some hours in paperwork and annual inspections, but we decided the word organic allows our customers to know something about how we grow apples without each one of them needing to ask us about how we grow apples. Of course this has not changed the way we grow; we have been growing to, and beyond the organic standards since we started. Growing apples organically is certainly a challenging job in many ways, and we want to be able to let folks know without pussyfooting around the “O” word. So, we now have the legal right to say our apples are ORGANIC! We are still more than happy to talk about exactly how we grow apples, since organic growers use many different practices (and there are pesticides allowed under organic certification that we are unwilling to use). So feel free to ask.
There was a really large application, asking many questions that we couldn’t answer, like what our crop rotation practices are. But the certifying agency (Baystate Organic Certifiers) were very helpful, the inspection was thorough but pleasant, and the process went quite smoothly. We are happy to have one more bureaucratic hurdle down. Amazing how good you have to be with legalese, tax law, etc. to be a farmer. Any small business owner needs those same skills I guess.
Jul/08/2011 08:38 AM
Thinning was a wonderful way to start the day yesterday. It was sunny and breezy, the dogs were playing, and it smelled like the wildflowers that grow under the trees. A chipping sparrow yelled at me with a beak full of insects, and when I looked around, there was a delicate little nest with tiny new chicks opening their mouths. I was thinning near the sheep pasture, and they came up and yelled at me until I trimmed some apple greenery for them to eat. They ate a few of the larger apples too, but they really prefer them riper. Thinning of the pick-your-own varieties should be complete today.
Jul/04/2011 07:33 AM
As we started thinning apples, we realized that plum curculio were still active so we had to spray clay once more at the end of June. We have never had to spray clay after the 15th of June, but it has been so rainy and cool I guess the little buggers have been delayed. Thinning with fresh clay on the trees is difficult and unpleasant, as the clay makes the apples hard to see, and of course it rubs off on you as you move through the tree. So, we have taken a short break from thinning. It rained a bit last night, so I will start thinning once again over the next few days. The crop on the Freedoms is certainly thin, but the Libertys look ok (not much hand thinning to do though
, and the Northern Spys look great. Interestingly, the scab-immune varieties seem more attractive to plum curculio - some of the Freedoms and Libertys are really covered with PC-scars and need to be thinned off, but the older varieties - Northern Spys, Golden Delicious - have much less PC damage. I guess there is always a tradeoff; if an apple was immune to scab and unattractive to all insect pests, it would probably taste terrible and have no nutrients.
Soon we will be hanging traps to monitor apple maggot flies. This is mostly to give us an idea of the pressure in the orchard, since we don’t have any way to deal with AMF at this point in the season. We can only hope our orchard sanitation last year was good enough that we don’t have to deal with this pest. Still, it’s satisfying to see those little flies stuck to the traps - each one is one fewer to damage the apples.
Our little ram lamb Gimble is growing incredibly fast. He is fat, fat, fat, despite not having started eating anything yet. His little horns are growing, and we have had to work on keeping him from butting us - not a good habit for him to develop. We are making every effort to keep him tame, unlike the rest of our sheep, so he enjoys lots of petting and getting picked up. We will try him on a halter soon, he is almost big enough for one to stay on I think. I have never seen a Shetland sheep who is well halter trained, even the ones people show tend to lay on their backs when they are led on a halter. Worth a try though.
Jun/21/2011 03:40 PM
We are starting into the thinning season, when we pull off a lot of tiny apples to leave room for the biggest, healthiest ones. Many of our varieties have reduced fruit due to poor pollination this year so we expect this will not be as time-consuming a task as it is most years. Our Northern Spys are fruiting heavily for the first time, so we are watching to see how much of the fruit will fall off without our assistance before we start hand thinning. Some varieties self-thin more than others, and we don’t know the tendencies of the Spys. We have seen a small amount of the fungal disease scab on some of the Cortlands, but not on our other scab-susceptible varieties (the two MacIntoshes we have left have very little fruit on them, so I haven’t checked them very carefully). Over the next few weeks we will gain a much better idea of the fruit we have, or don’t have, on trees this year as we thin. We are approaching the end of spraying trees with clay too, which is always a relief. Since the clay gets washed off when it rains, we have to reapply a lot some years (and this was one of them).
May/31/2011 01:54 PM
We finally have some sunny, warm weather, and most of the trees are done flowering. We had really excellent flowers, but they bloomed right during a period of cold and wet - poor weather for pollinators. It looks like our midseason apples - so the vast majority of our fruit - had lowered rates of pollination, and our fruit set is lower than we’ve ever seen it. We are going to keep taking care of the fruit, but it’s possible that we will have a smaller crop this year. Certainly we have less thinning to do than most years. Our one late season variety, the Northern Spys, were covered with flowers this year - a first for us, and they bloomed later than the other varieties so may very well have fruit. We’ll see how they do this season, maybe we could even sell some! They have been extremely reluctant to fruit, preferring to become giant, impenetrable shrubs, but maybe years of ruthless pruning is finally having an effect.
We have started to spray clay on the trees to ward off plum curculio and other insect pests. The trees will be white for about a month, forcing plum curculio to lay their eggs in the fruit on our trap trees (a few scattered trees in the orchard that are not sprayed with clay). We can then collect the damaged fruit from those trees, reducing the numbers of plum curculio in the process. The clay must be re-applied every time it rains, so our current dry spell is welcome.
So, we will just have to see how things go - at least we have some fruit. We feel particularly grateful as we know another orchardist who has already been hit with heavy hail damage, and of course many orchards had little to no fruit due to a late frost last year. Hope must spring eternal, when you are a farmer.
May/22/2011 07:00 PM
We have had rain, fog, and drizzle almost steady for the last week, right during peak bloom for most of our trees. This leaves us to worry about pollinators - will our hardy native bumblebees, mason bees, and other native species be up to the task in the cold and damp? We are thankful we are not reliant on honeybees, which are not as willing to go out in cold weather. At least some of the blossoms I checked today were pollinated, as the little swollen base of the dying-back flower can attest.
Our other concern is the fungal disease scab, since we are right in the middle of the primary infection period for that disease. Scab spores can only infect the apple leaves when wet for a certain number of hours in a row, so this time of year we spray our scab-susceptible varieties with sulfur when we expect a sufficient wetting period. We are not sure what a week-long wetting period means for scab infection, though it’s quite possible that a higher-than-average percentage of spores were able to infect leaves due to sulfur washing off the trees. Fortunately all of our pick-your-own varieties are scab-immune, so we should have a good crop despite this. Also, last year was an exceptionally low scab year owing to little rain during the infection period, so there should be fewer scab spores available than in many years. We will look for signs of scab infection over the next week or two.
Today I took advantage of a short break in the rain to ruthlessly cut off the flowers growing on our one-year-old trees. We need these tiny trees to invest in roots and wood, not fruit, so must get rid of their flowers before they spend too much energy on them. I was happy to see ladybug larvae and spiders patrolling the trees already. I didn’t see any aphids for the ladybugs to eat, but there were some insects like tarnished plant bugs and one ant for the spider to live on. Go predators go!
May/14/2011 04:38 PM
With some warm weather, the trees are awakening, with flowers that are at the pink stage in most of the orchard. A few apple trees have even opened their blossoms, joining our plum and peach trees which are covered in flowers this year. We finally have accumulated enough degree-days to spray sulfur on our scab-susceptible trees, in preparation for the rain forecasted to fall tonight. With that rain, all the matured spores (like seeds) of the scab fungus will try to grow but the sulfur will prevent them from doing so. Meanwhile, many birds are courting and building nests in the orchard, including the bobolink and Baltimore oriole that we saw in the trees today. The oriole was busy hunting around the blossoms, presumably eating the little caterpillars we have seen that eat some blossoms before they can open. The more birds, the better! Even species that usually eat seeds or nectar feed insects to their young, so we are thrilled to have lots of nesting birds here for many reasons. Every year we see nests padded with wool from our sheep, very fun.
The orchard is in good shape, as we spent last weekend spreading bark mulch around the young trees and removing the big branches we pruned off earlier. Smaller branches remain in the orchard where we mow them to return their nutrients to the soil. Most of the trees are blossoming heavily, even our reluctant fruiters the Northern Spys. We’ll see if that translates into fruit set later on. A good start to the growing season.
Apr/30/2011 12:31 PM
With a smidgen of good weather, we have planted our new trees, set up the nursery bed for newly grafted trees, and should be done pruning this weekend. Just in time, since the trees are showing some green at last. Now we need to begin counting degree days so that we can track disease and insect development. The season begins!
Apr/23/2011 08:48 AM
In 2010 we had 1/4” green tips on April 7th, very early. This year we still had complete snow cover in the orchard on April 7th, and today a winter wonderland. We only have a little left to prune, and a bunch of new trees to get in. However, the weather is not making it easy to wake the orchard up so far this year.
Mar/17/2011 03:26 PM
This week is our pruning week, when Jen has a week off from teaching and we can work together to trim the trees. We have been blessed with two beautiful sunny days so far (and one horrendous slush-fest during which we did indoor tasks), and have pruned a good portion of the orchard. Our work of shaping the trees in previous years is paying off this year, as pruning is far easier than it has been in the past. Part of that might be that we are more clear on what we are trying to accomplish, as well. Steve will need to go back through with a ladder for the tops of some trees when the snow finally melts, but we can get to a good portion of the semi-dwarfs.
This is also our chance to see how the orchard fared during this long, snowy winter. Snow increases the risk of vole damage to trees, since they can stay all cozy and safe under the snow and eat bark off the trees. Indeed, many of our full grown trees show some areas of vole damage, hopefully not enough to hurt most of them. But a few of our new trees were girdled, since the snow was well above the level of the wire cages we surrounded them with. Most of the new trees have avoided damage, though. No sign of damage from cold, ice or other weather, as is usual for apple trees.
Feb/02/2011 09:43 AM
Today I took advantage of the snow day, and the feet of snow in the orchard, to do some orchard management. Each spring, every tree is covered in flowers, and if all goes well most of those flowers turn into tiny fruits. The tree can’t possibly support every fruit, so many are abandoned by the tree. Most varieties of trees drop these abandoned fruits right away, but for some reason Cortlands hold onto these dead fruits by the hundreds. Each one of these dead fruits becomes something like a biobomb - the fungi and other microorganisms that decompose dead fruits are now to be found up in the tree rather than on the ground, and these decomposers can infect living fruit if the dead fruits remain on the tree. We pick off the dead fruits when we thin in July, but we can’t get every one. Every time I go by the trees in summer and fall I pick off dead fruitlets, but I can’t reach those high up in the tree. Right now with feet of snow on the ground I can reach nearly the entire tree. I just have to be careful not to step on and damage branches under the snow, and I don’t want to push into the tree, as branches are much more brittle this time of year. So, thanks to the snow, I can reduce the disease pressure the tree will have to fight this coming season.
We have some help in the orchard with vole management this year, as a fox has been frequenting the orchard. We saw it dig up a rabbit and trot off one morning this week - that doesn’t help the orchard much but is a relief for the kitchen gardens the rabbits discovered last year. Hopefully the fox is eating its share of voles as well. It must be eating well, as it is incredibly healthy looking. We have heard a lot of fox barking and screaming at night, perhaps part of courtship? I hope for a nice den of kits somewhere nearby to work on our vole population. We will have to be careful of the chickens though!
Nov/25/2010 09:11 AM
We spent a beautiful Saturday last weekend feeding compost to all the trees in the orchard, returning some nutrients to them in return for all the apples we have harvested. This compost is leaf and wood based, coming from a local landscaper, which is perfect for trees - all the fungi and bacteria are wood-based species, so they will hopefully continue to be happy and productive in the orchard. Feed the soil, feed the tree.
We have also been surrounding our baby trees with wire cages, to keep the rodents from girdling them. Voles killed most of the trees we have had to replace, so this is an important safety measure. So, the orchard is ready for winter. Our next task will be ordering any new trees or rootstock we can’t resist this winter, and then pruning next March. Thank heavens this is a seasonal venture!
On this day of Thanksgiving, we are thankful for all of you who support our orchard and allow us to keep it in production. A few years ago, we faced the choice of taking care of the trees or chopping them all down, and it’s thanks to you all that we can justify the time and care we put into the orchard. There is nothing more satisfying than growing food.