This morning I was hosing off my shoes after completing a nasty rear hall renovation project on this old house and decided to water the apple trees while I had the water going. One of the trees we presumed had not made it looked like it had a plump terminal bud. I bent down and realized not only did it have a swollen terminal bud, but there was a tiny leaf sprouted off the trunk, well ABOVE the graft. Excitedly, I checked the other tree that we had presumed dead and it was LEAFED OUT! This means EVERY graft we made, apart from the one our dear, sweet son plucked out, is ALIVE!
[[[ For those who know me, the use of all caps is strictly forbidden under nearly every and all circumstances, so this is obviously an extremely momentous occasion… 😉 ]]]
Thirty-nine Shiawassee Beauties brought back from the verge of extinction!
We made a great discovery this morning. While checking on the trees, I discovered new growth on the trees I hadn’t thought made it. I kept them because I can still graft to the rootstock later, and I never imagined those scions would show signs of life at such a late date, but I saw a swollen bud on one and when I examined the trees, found several that had made a resurgence. So, while I thought we had only 29 Shiawassee trees, we now have somewhere in the mid-30s again. Maybe the move to Upstate NY was good for them? I removed the rootstock suckers and Chris is rooting them for future use.
Had the good fortune of traveling to Vermont yesterday for a visit to the Scott Farm. Wow. That’s all I have time to say, but please look up the farm and if you’ve never been to VT, go now. It’s incredible. This week alone, we’ve traveled to CT, VT, MA, and tomorrow we head to Maine for the day. Loving NYS life.
Last year, we bagged ram’s wool and hung from our remaining apple trees. The thought was that prey animals (namely the ones who love to nibble our tree buds) will avoid areas in which prey scent is strong, and likely attracting predators. We didn’t know whether it would be successful, and it’s still a bit anecdotal with only one year under our belt, but… the apple trees show zero sign of bud damage and are thriving! And no need to milk a coyote for its urine…
The seed catalogs are piling up and it’s a constant reminder of how in flux we’ll be as of
June. It’s been a long time since I’ve not put in a large seed order, and frankly, I’m feeling a bit antsy about it this season. So, to take my mind off of what I won’t be doing, I’m thinking ahead to the things this extra time will provide in terms of opportunities for learning. An ever-growing, ever-bearing, zone 1-10 list of things to learn while not farming:
Tend to the travelling orchard
Improve spinning technique
Improve fiber processing set-up and technique
Experiment with natural dyes
Learn about medicinal herbs
Practice grafting techniques
Volunteer at school or public garden
Help a fellow farmer with farm chores, butchering, shearing, etc.
Learn old-fashioned candy-making
Focus on food preservation techniques:
Take a class in business planning for the fiber mill
Maybe, just maybe, learn a new knitting skill
Explore niche or value added markets
Take a botany class
Spend some time with growers using methods outside of your own, including conventional, biodynamic, and other permaculture or organic farmers and gardeners
Cut up seed catalogs to make art with the kids
Cut up seed catalogs to do some companion planting planning
Re-read Edible Forest Gardens
The list continues to grow and hope blooms eternal, so… suggestions are always welcome and may spring shine warm sunlight upon your gardens!
Ten years ago, I was living in the rural outskirts of Traverse City, building garden beds as a leisurely summer activity with my three toddlers. I could never have imagined how much my life would change in the coming decade. By the end of that summer, I began feeling ill with trouble breathing and nightmares about dying. In September of that year I was diagnosed with an aggressive lymphoma and began immediate treatments, lasting into the following year.
Little did I realize that a single event, a phone call that I picked up while standing at the kitchen counter, in which a surgeon very plainly announced the diagnosis with little emotion in his voice, that my life as a farmer would truly begin. Not out of a desire to farm, specifically (although I have always wanted this life), but out of a need to find answers; alternatives to biocides used in fruit production.
This morning, I looked out at the calm waters of Lake Michigan and the sunlight spilling
over the hilltop through the windows, and felt my heart swell for the little apple whips beginning their first full season as individual trees. These trees represent so much more than the salvation of a single apple variety. They are also the culmination of a decade’s long effort toward restorative agriculture. Progressing toward a desire to save not only rare apples, but also to satisfy my own desire to see my children play among the orchard trees the way I once did as a child, but free from the worry of toxins.
Farmers, generally, whether they spray or use alternative growing methods, are some of the best people I’ve ever known. And this little travelling orchard is representative of not only my hope for the future, but of my admiration for my fellow farmers. I know the struggles we each endure regularly, the set-backs and failures that make this business challenging, and the pioneering spirit that keeps it all moving forward. Because this business of growing is as much about growing food as it is growing from within.
It’s winter, though the breath of spring has touched our cheeks the past few days. It’s close. Hang in there.
I have been a worried mama over the apple trees we stored overwinter in a friend’s basement. We felt this was a safer option than risking exposure to voles or deer or bitter temperatures outdoors, after last year’s disastrous orchard failure. The temps in the basement were just warm enough that the trees have begun exiting their dormancy, so today we moved them home for some extra attention in the coming months.
They are looking good and eager to bud out, which is both a
huge relief and exciting. Despite being trees, these little beauties have traversed many miles already and are slated to be planted in New York in the coming years.
What stories we’ll all have to tell tasting these apples some day.
[These 40 trees are Shiawassee Beauties, saved off of a single remaining tree in an orchard in Southern Michigan. As far as we know, only handful of trees exist outside of the “travelling orchard” we currently tend. Our plan is to reintroduce this Michigan-born variety back into the state at a later date to preserve this sweet bit of history and a tasty variety, part of Michigan’s rich cultural landscape.]