Archives for posts with tag: fruit trees

Gone With the Wind

A.V. Walters

It’s pretty quiet now, though the valley thrums with the low hum of generators, punctuated by the occasional whine of a chainsaw.

We live in a place that is blessed with steady winds. While our current impetus is to finish the house enough that we can move into it, Rick and I can’t help but take note of our regular winds and nod at each other. Sooner or later, we’ll do something to harness that power. To my way of thinking, wind power is a better bet than solar in northern regions; you can always count on the wind, summer or winter. Still, most of the alternative energy attention goes to solar. Our neighbor is installing a bank of solar panels now. We’ll watch to see how they perform come winter.

Early last week, we were pre-staining 4X8 panels to use to enclose the soffits. It’s a lot easier to apply the stain when they’re still on the ground. We set up on a series of saw horses–we’d stain on one, and then move the sheets out to dry on the others. Each panel needed first to be perched on its edge and vigorously swept clean of milling crud, before we could apply the stain. While I brushed down the next sheet, a gust of wind behind me picked up one of the stained ones, and pitched it directly at me. It caught me on the backs of my calves; Rick heard my yelped cursing from the basement. Wind power–it can leave you badly bruised.

I shared my story with our builders, who all had construction wind horror stories of their own, with injuries ranging from bruising to quadraplegia. Clearly the lesson was that wind is a powerful, and unpredictable force. When working on a construction site, you must consider the placement of any material that could catch the wind and act like a sail, including (as we learned last winter) tarps and plastic coverings.

Now that the house has a roof, and is partially enclosed (upstairs windows installed) we worry less about the impact of weather. Armed with this new sense of immunity, Rick and I headed north this past weekend, a break to visit my mum. It was a marathon trip, a 900 mile round trip in a three day window. It was a wonderful break–even with the drive. The surprise came on the way home.

Two counties away, we started noticing a number of trees down. Many were snapped, mid-trunk, like toothpicks. Soon, we were obsessed, scanning the sides of the highway, and finding plenty of damage. We were only gone two and a half days–what happened?

In Traverse City there were areas without power, or signal lights. Traffic snaked along, on single lanes squeezed between emergency equipment, cutting downed trees from the roads and from where they’d fallen on homes. We were anxious to get home to check out our new home under construction–where we already know the winds can be fierce.

We didn’t stop at the apartment; we went straight to the house. There it was, safe and sound, without even a leaf out of place. There was no indication that there’d been a storm at our house. Of course most of the county has no power because of the fierce storm that ripped though on Sunday. We missed it. It’s the biggest weather event since we arrived in Michigan, and we were away!

There’s argument as to whether there were tornadoes. Leelanau County doesn’t get tornadoes, or so they say. Yet a number of people swear they saw funnel clouds. The weather service flatly denies that there were tornadoes. At least this is what we hear. We are still at the mercy of the rumor mill, because there’s no power–no internet–and no “hard” news. Wanting to know, I did the next best thing, I went down to our local hardware store. Indeed, the damage was pretty bad. Many cars and houses have been hit with flying trees. At least three pontoon boats were picked up from small lakes, flipped and smashed to bits in shallow waters. We’ll have to wait until the power resumes to get the whole story.

We walked the back woods today, and we’re not completely unscathed. We’ve lost at least thirty trees, many of them fell and took out their neighbors, like dominoes. The unfortunate part is that the standing dead ash trees did not fall. The maples, the basswood, trees laden with summer foliage, those were the ones that caught the winds and came down. There’s a lot of clean up to do, we’ll have to re-open all the trails that we opened when we first arrived. We’re in good company, power company employees are out, surveying the damage and calling in the “tree boys” to free the lines of downed trees. We talked to one of the line surveyors, who warned us it could be days before we see power. We’ll be fine. We can take “flushing” water out of the creek. We have a generator, to keep the refrigerator and lights running. (Too bad it’s not powerful enough to run the well pump.)  We can cook on the propane barbecue. We’ll be just fine. Maybe I’ll even find a way to post this update.

That wind though, it certainly would be nice if we could harness it for the power of good, instead of ….

Posted courtesy of laundromat wifi.

Rethinking Hunting

A.V. Walters

Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water…

It’s been a busy week–construction, completion of the fence, the arrival and installation of the bees, and putting all of the little plant starts into the ground. What a relief when the last yogurt container was empty and we could survey our little garden kingdom without the feeling that something else was needed…immediately. With the fence up, we moved the tomato cages (which had been protecting the new fruit trees) into their positions over the baby tomato plants.

The bees appear to be very happy. Their comings and goings are fun to watch. They have settled in and now they they probably know the neighborhood better than we do. It rained yesterday, and the morning saw a few dead bees on their doorstep. We weren’t alarmed. Bees die everyday. The average worker bee lives no longer than 45 days. By the end of their lives, they’ve done just about every job in the hive, starting with tending the young and moving on to more skill intensive tasks–building comb and maintaining the hive, guarding, foraging and scouting for pollen and nectar, and finally, returning to the hive to again tend to the young (and to teach new bees the ropes.) What was interesting was that we first noticed the dead bees on their doorstep on a rainy day. A rainy day is an opportunity for a little housekeeping. The bees can be crabby when they have to stay inside.

Yesterday was an eye-opener. Rick was up early, anticipating the construction crew. We had a dense and drippy fog–so there was the question of whether or not to start the roof. We’re watching the forecast, hoping for a window of dry, so we can safely pull off all the tarps that have kept the weather out of the house all winter. He wandered over to the garden to get a look at how the bees were handling the fog. Bees are generally early risers.

What he wasn’t expecting was the ravaging of the fruit trees. A deer had come right over our new 5,000 volt electric fence and sampled the leaves of of every single tree! Some she liked better than others. One poor little apple tree was completely denuded. The garden plants were unscathed–probably too small to attract deer attention. Still, we were in shock. Everyone we talked to had said that the deer won’t often jump an electric fence. Once they do, though, they’re trouble. What’s up with our deer? We suspect that the fenced area is so large that it doesn’t post a mental logistics problem for leaping deer. We are reduced to guessing at deer geometry.

We think most of the trees can be saved. I immediately zipped over to our neighboring cherry farmer to buy more small “tree cages.” Now, we have fences within our fences. Today, we’ll have to solve the problem of this deer–who now thinks our garden enclosure is his personal dining room. (Just where are those guard bees when you need them?) We’re debating two options: extend the fence higher with non-electric lines (as Rick pointed out, if they’re not touching the ground, the deer won’t be shocked in the air, even if they touch the fence); or set up a lower, perimeter line to interfere with the “jumping zone.” Maybe we’ll have to do both. (Then we’d have outer fences, to protect our electric fences, which protect our tree fences.) This is getting to be the Fort Knox of gardens.

The day was otherwise so busy that we didn’t have the time to work up a really foul mood about all of this. I did see Rick brooding a bit–asked what it was about. (After all, we have so many fronts on which to fret.) He looked up and said that he might reconsider whether to hunt on the property.

(Sorry, no photos, trouble with internet connection. I don’t have the skills to do pics from an internet cafe!)

Start Here

A.V. Walters

Orchard Dreams

Orchard Dreams

Though the ground is still frozen, we’re planning our “dooryard” orchard. It’s not a big orchard—enough mostly for our own eating and canning use. Fruit trees require some work and planning—and are often done wrong. Most nurseries have the same one-size-fits-all approach as big-box stores. They sell the fruit tree that’s “in” this year. To do it right, first you have to do your homework. Keep in mind that planting a fruit tree is a long-term investment—it will be three years before you see a serious harvest, and a fruit tree can live twenty-five to even hundreds of years

What kind of fruit do you want, and why do you want it? It’s probably not good to save this decision for the time when, cart full of other stuff, you’re standing in the gardening department at the big-box store, squinting at the little, fruit description labels tethered to spindly saplings in tubs. What kind of fruit do you like? What do you eat now? Don’t fixate (yet) on any specific cultivar (tree variety.) Just figure generally what you’d like. Then you can work on specifics and, more importantly, the realities. If you don’t eat fruit now, what makes you think that, three years from now, if this poor tree survives, you’ll want to eat its fruit then?

Let’s throw some other factors into the mix. How much land do you have for fruit trees? (As a general rule-of-thumb, you’ll need to have an area around each tree that is as big as the tree will be tall. And no, you cannot overlap the root space for trees.) Do you have good light? What kind of soil do you have? Are you on a slope—and if so, top or bottom of the slope? (For air movement.) Are you planting in a space where you can water (or are you depending on rain?) Can the tree survive in this area?

This is the big one. Where do you live? Start here.

Find your state and click on it. (My deepest apologies to my non-American readers, but your location will have similar information available.) Yes, the garden department at the big-box store will sell you a banana tree, but should you buy one? Figure out what climate zone you’re in and start from there. (Californians may prefer to use the more detailed microclimate Sunset Magazine zones.) Your temperature range is the single biggest factor in tree choice success. Armed with that, you could go online to find a fruit cultivar that will live in your location.

But wait, there’s more. Go online, armed with your zone and your fruit type, and you’ll find dozens of candidates. Maybe you want an apple that was your favorite as a kid? Maybe an all-around workhorse apple? How will you be using it? There are fruit that are bred for “eating” or market purposes, there are baking and culinary fruit and there are canning fruit. You might be considering drying it. Well, the same apple you use for lunches might not be the one for pie, and not the one for sauce. Especially, if you’re dealing with limited space, you’ll need to make some compromises and choices.

Now that you have a specific fruit type selected (say eating and baking apple,) look at your options and select for size, soil suitability (light or heavy, well draining or clay—though you can amend the soil some at the outset) pH, and disease resistance. Many of the newer hybrids are bred specifically for hardiness and that’s not a bad choice for a beginning gardener. Heirloom varieties are wonderful (and often “open pollinated,” but we’ll get to that) but if grandma’s Spartan is blight susceptible, you’re taking on a long-term project to grow it. I don’t advise against such a selection, only that you do so with your eyes open. Otherwise, several years down the road, you may find yourself opting to remove the tree you chose—losing money and time, in the process. Pick the tree for your conditions. (Note to my sister: If you’re a gypsy, don’t bother planting fruit trees. By the time they’re ready to bear, you’ll be long gone.)

In your selection, make sure you check whether your choice is self-pollinating, or whether you’ll require a companion variety in order to get fruit. Nurseries aren’t very good about warning you about this. (Even my own Mum planted a lovely, exotic French Gage plum, which has never given fruit because it’s not self-fertile and it doesn’t have a compatible pollinating partner.) The catalogs and online listings all look so lush and delicious—who’d think there are so many things to decide? When in doubt, Google your variety, with the words “pollinating partner.” Another fun feature, in today’s nurseries, is that they sell grafted dwarf varieties that solve the pollination issue for you. I used to think this was a gimmick—but it works well for the backyard gardener, and it has the added novelty of producing multiple types of fruit on a single tree.

Taking the time to pick the right tree(s) is more than half the battle, in growing happy fruit. We have a lot of space, and we’ve decided to grow four kinds of fruit trees: apples, pears, cherries and plums (and, probably a hazelnut hedge/windbreak, down the road.) We want them for eating, baking, canning and dehydrating, which we’ve taken into consideration in the types selected. Although there are some heirlooms in our picks, we also have some new, more disease-resistant cultivars in the mix, and we have researched the compatibility of our choices for their pollination partners. We’ve picked a total of fifteen trees—which is a lot for most, but we’ll have local, market outlets for any excess. We’ve even chosen varieties that spread our anticipated harvests throughout the season, so we aren’t overwhelmed at any given time with too much fruit. Now, we just have to wait for them to arrive (after all, the ground is still frozen solid.) Then there’s planting, watering, pruning and worrying, and then waiting again—several years—until we have fruit.

Of course, there’s the easy way. Just go to the farmer’s market (if you’re lucky enough to have one) for fresh and delicious fare, from your area.