July – Maybe I should just buy fruit?

Last year I tried plastic bags on my apples and grapes, but they got hot in the sun, created condensation, and the fruit I was trying to protect – rotted.

This year I made little mesh bags with drawstrings to protect our harvest. I made larger ones for the grapes, and little ones for the apples. I didn’t have to make that many though. I have one apple – yes ONE – on each of three apple trees. Despite a nice showing of apple blossoms, a late frost and snow flurries put an end to the apple harvest this year – almost spitefully leaving one apple of each variety so we can taste what we are missing. Before any more mishaps can befall my apples – I put each one in its own drawstring net bag.

I did the same with our crop of grapes – because I have yet to successfully get any grapes from these vines. This year is doubtful as well as we have spotted lantern flies, and they particularly like grapes. I covered each little cluster in its own little bag.

We also have 5 peaches hanging precariously on two peach trees – I covered them too. The raspberries and blueberries are were safely covered with bird netting over PVC frames. We got some blueberries this year, but the plants are still young. The raspberries  have been the star of the fruit show this year – with a bowl full every day, but even they are slowing down in the heat of the summer.

Now all I can do is wait – or go to the grocery store.

Each apple gets its own little bag.
Three apple trees, three little apples.
And some bags for the bunches of grapes too!

April – Making the cut

We’ve been trying to get fruit trees planted since we moved here.  We bought three apple trees a year or so ago at an Amish mud sale and we’re training them to espalier along a fence line in the back yard close to the patio.  However, I still wanted peaches, pears and cherries.  I always seemed to be too late to order them from the Adams County tree farm (seriously, I think you have to order them five years ahead of time — they are ALWAYS sold out).  Then I found out about Kauffman’s Fruit Farm.  They sell bare root fruit trees in the spring.  We picked them up a few days ago — six tall twigs in a big trash bag.

We’ve been preparing space inside the garden fence to protect our new “orchard.”  And I’ve been reading the book “Grow a Little Fruit Tree,” that basically says plant the tree and then chop it off at knee level.  WHAT!?!  The premise is that where you cut it becomes the main trunk, and then the branches grow from there — giving us an orchard that is accessible without climbing ladders or trees.

Chris dug the holes and held the twigs straight while I filled in the dirt and tamped them down all snug in their new garden space.  And then I took the garden clippers — and ruthlessly cut each one down to almost nothing!  I sure hope this works.

And if it does, there is just enough space left for two apricot trees – which we’ve ordered already for next spring.

We brought home a sack of long twigs.
Chris dug nice deep holes for the bare roots.
We made sure they are standing up straight and filled in the holes.
And we cut off the tops of the trees so they are about knee high.  The cat seems to know there will be no climbing up these trees today (or ever!).


November – Sour Grapes

Our experience with grapes on this property has been a bit sour.  First, we planted some grapes and they died.  Then we planted some grapes, and they are still alive, but there are no grapes.  Then… I found wild grapes!  I figured that was the solution — free, wild and growing profusely.

I picked bunches of these tiny gems, washed them, stemmed them, ran them through the food mill to remove their seeds, and made grape jelly!  I’ve been making jams and jellies for years — I know how to do it.  This batch was a flop.  It wouldn’t set up, so I ended up with tiny jars of grape juice.

Not one to give in to failure, I popped open all those little jars of grape juice and tackled making jelly — again — with even more Sure-Jell.  It still didn’t set.  It’s a little thicker, but still not like jelly; it’s more like grape pudding – which sounds disgusting.  Sour grapes.

Tiny little grapes.
Only half a quart of juice, and a batch of jelly that wouldn’t set.  That’s sour grapes.


October – Fruits of our Labor (Part 2)

Planting apple trees started the momentum.  Once we had scoped out where additional fruit trees will go, we realized we had some space on the hillside just below the barn that is perfect for blueberry bushes.  Chris had spent several weeks this summer clearing the hillside in anticipation of my planting plans for the spring.

When we were walking out of the Tractor Supply store the other day – there were blueberry bushes just sitting there looking at me with those puppy-dog eyes, saying take me home.  I bought six of them.  Then I realized that blueberries need a cross-pollinator, so I had to go in search of yet one more blueberry bush of a different variety from a local nursery.  So now we have seven.

Thankfully, this dirt is considerable different than the concrete-hard dirt just 100 feet away.  Chris tilled a path, dug seven holes and planted seven blueberry bushes in no time.  Then he trenched a path just above the blueberries where we plan to transplant our raspberry bushes once they die back this fall.

So now we have a row of apples (three makes a row, doesn’t it)?  A row of blueberries, and a row just waiting for raspberries.  The farm is shaping up.  And in the spring, we’ll be adding pears, peaches and cherries.  Yum!

To get from this over grown mess…
to this bucolic scene…
took a lot of work…
and a professional chipper/shredder to get rid of the mountains of brush.
A trip to Tractor Supply for horse feed and a salt lick turned into a blueberry shopping expedition.
Good thing we have that truck.
Thank goodness this is nice soft dirt — no auger needed for planting these.
The blueberries are planted and a row is tilled and waiting for the raspberries to die back this fall so I can transplant them in the spring.  Then we can have fruit salad!

September – Fruits of our Labor (Part I)

When we bought this farm it was an overgrown mess.  Parts of it still are, but we’ve made tremendous progress – especially clearing out the land around the house.  As we clear away vines, dead trees and brambles, the last thing we want to do is plant more stuff – only to start the cycle again.  So we’ve decided to only plant things that have a purpose and produce something for us to use.

I’ve wanted to get an orchard started, but even with five acres, our space is limited.  The first problem is that the front meadow which has sunlight, is too wet and boggy from the stream that runs through it.  The second problem is that the side yard has several large black walnut trees, and black walnut trees produce a chemical that isn’t compatible with trees with seeds (like apples and pears).  The third problem is that the horses now occupy the sunny, black walnut-free hillside behind the house.  Figuring out where to plant an orchard has been challenging.

Getting the trees has also been a challenge.  In the spring we went on the website for the Adams County nursery and every tree we wanted was already sold out.  The website said check back in July.  I guess they meant it, because by the time I remembered to check back in August – many of the varieties we wanted were sold out again and the ones we did try to order went into some website abyss and the order was never received.

So, at a Mud Sale in Bareville we happened upon some apple trees up for auction.  I’m not very confident with auctions yet.  I’m never sure whether it’s my turn to bid again or even what the price is up to – but I gave it a shot and got three dwarf apple trees (a Gala, a Granny Smith and a Jonagold) – for $28 each – a good price since the ones we tried to order on-line were $30 each.

I must admit, the pick-up truck came in handy.  Bringing home three trees was no problem – but planting them – that WAS a problem.  There is a sunny stretch of land behind the house and adjacent to our patio.  I envision sitting on the patio, in the shade of an apple tree and reaching out to pick a beautiful ripe and juicy apple – in a couple of years.  But the dirt was impenetrable.  My daughter offered to bring over her post-hole auger and her friend Luis.  It took Chris and Luis an hour per hole – manhandling the auger through cement-hard dirt studded with rocks.

Once the trees were in, Chris wrestled with a roll of wire fencing and made nice cages for the trees — after all that work getting them planted, we didn’t want to find them chewed to the quick by the deer.

Finally, our apple trees are in place and I can’t wait to make an apple pie.

The truck came in handy at the mud sale — the trees are loaded.
The ground was so hard, we thought maybe turning it to mud would help with the digging, but it didn’t.
The auger and Luis are what helped Chris to dig the holes.
It was an all day project by the time we wrapped the trees in wire fencing to keep the deer away.
And now our three apple trees just need to grow — and give us apples!