Apples are the main focus of our farm. As we are starting a brand new orchard, it requires a huge amount of patience to get
the trees established and growing well. What we are trying to accomplish with our orchard is a bit off of the beaten path as
well, which takes an extra element of Zen-like belief that it will all work out well. In a nutshell we are trying to establish
an organic orchard growing heirloom variety apples in a vertical axe system. Don't worry if some of this sounds strange, it
did to us at first as well. For those who are curious to untangle this, read on!
The concept of organic apples is fairly
straightforward. We are growing our apples by the
USDA National Organic Program standards. We don't
use synthetic chemicals or fertilizers. We don't put
anything on our trees or fruit that is bad for you or
the earth. One of the most frequent questions we get
is "How can you raise apples without spraying?" The
answer is we do spray our trees. The spray arsenal for
organic orchardists has grown considerably in the
last few years. One of our primary applications is a
product called Surround which is a kaolin clay
product, the main ingredient in Kaopectate. It masks
the young fruit from insects looking to damage them.
It also sticks to the insects and makes them very
unhappy, so they prefer to move on.
One of the great things about organic farming is that it is for the birds, literally. Because we are not spraying dangerous
chemicals, and we are encouraging beneficial insects such as pollinators, lady beetles and the like, the live feeding birds
such as bluebirds, wrens and swallows find a happy and bountiful place to raise their young. In return for providing them
a happy home, we get the benefit of having them eat all sorts of insects, help fertilize the plants, and of course provide
beauty to our farm.
This is what got us hooked on doing the apple trees
though, rows of beautiful apple trees in bloom. This is the
second bloom for some of the first group of trees that we
planted in 2008. We have really enjoyed spring blossom in
our orchard! It comes when the weather is usually
absolutely wonderful. The trees are abuzz with activity
from our wild pollinators. We are hoping to establish two
apiaries of domestic honey bees in 2010 to help with the
In addition to the hard working insects we have a half
dozen or so bluebird boxes that usually raise at least two
clutches of bluebirds, house wrens or tree swallows per
box each year. If it wasn't for all of the spring chores, I
could happily spread out a blanket and just sit all day and
watch nature at work!
As wonderful as spring is, there is
something majestic about the orchard in
winter as well. Here is our first row of
trees during the big snowstorm in
December of 2009. While it is chilly to
go out in this sort of weather, it is
important to keep an eye on the trees
during major weather events.
The row of black tape on the polls is a
deer repellent system that we found.
The tape is a simple nylon that you put
out at approximately the nose level of a
deer. You spray it once a month or so
with a mixture of putrid egg solids,
mint and other aromatic herbs. It
doesn't smell great at the time of
application, but after an hour or so we
can't smell it any more. The deer
however can smell it for weeks to come.
We have had very good luck with this
system, except for the baby fawns who
just duck under the tape without even