Saturday, February 27, 2016

Emancipation in the Orchard

It's easy to forget that just a few months ago, the orchard looked like this:

A week or so ago, this photo shows the west fence where about a dozen 
espaliered apple trees were wrapped in vines and thorns.
We've made steady progress on freeing those trees along the fence. They are the bulk of our apple crop, and I want them in sun and fresh air before the spring. Today Adam and I rescued four more trees. A fifth tree was dead already.
The fence row today:
Hmm. I was hoping there would be more of an obvious difference between the two photos! There's more blue sky showing at the end of the row. I guess that represents all the work we've done. Sigh!
For what it's worth, we've emancipated about ten trees thus far. My hands hurt from the thorns, in spite of good work gloves. I'm hopeful for our apple prospects.
We decided to put a burn barrel inside the orchard for getting rid of debris. There is so much debris! Branches and vines to kingdom come!
This is a good example of a portion of the fence. Do you see the fence in there? Do you see the pitiful apple tree, whimpering for help? Well, they're in there!
Here is one of the healthier ones we rescued today. But all that mass of weed trees and vines on either side will undoubtedly try to take over again. Constant vigilance is required.
The burn barrel turned white with heat. We barely made a start on all that we need to burn in the orchard.
Update: I counted yesterday. There are 15 emancipated trees around the fence line. We have two more to free. I'm excited about that.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Late February: What's Blooming Now


A crab apple tree

Our one Japanese magnolia
You see we had stormy weather today
The sedum continues to erupt under the straw.
Our southern camellia has been in full bloom for a while. They bloom in January. But a recent deep freeze zapped it.
So many perfect blooms, brown and wasted
 But the flowers that have opened since that freeze look wonderful.
And that daffodil bud I recently showed you ... bloomed overnight.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Getting Busy on the Farm

Spring feels just around the corner, and when I see bulbs just about to burst, I know it's true.

That means we don't have much time to get a lot done on the farm.
Adam's making plans to add boxes to his beehives and feed the bees. This year we will have the bees produce honey to sell. He'll use that money to buy hive frames (the big expense) so he can increase the number of hives next year.
Water collection is still a priority, and the rain is falling as I type. Adam set up our old soft-side swimming pool as a water collection tank. I forget why it's preferable to the red metal tank; perhaps because it has more nozzles and such already installed in it, for siphoning water out.
Maggie helps inflate the top ring using our shop vac.
Adam ran hose all the way from the back of the barn where the water butts are, into the pool.
I go in the orchard about every day to check on the trees. We're pretty sure the tree in the front of the orchard is a peach tree. I found leaves on her today!
And a fat bud:
Adam gave her one last quick pruning:
She's a lonely peach tree. To get fruit, we need two peach trees. Unfortunately the other peach tree looks like this:
It's as dead as the post it's tied to.

Adam is busy preparing all the beds that he'll need, once our seedlings are ready to be set outside. Today he put together a trellis (of sorts) for cucumbers, squash, and other vining veggies. He made it from an old metal frame he found on the back of the property. He attached some chicken wire to it.
Here it is, set up in its bed, attached securely to its posts.

See what he used to join all the chicken wire together? Clever man! One thing's for sure ... grapevine is something we have LOTS of.
We'll have high winds and perhaps tornadoes in the area this afternoon (Wednesday), so Adam is outside battening down the hatches, as they say. Tell me -- do we use the verb "batten" in any other context in our language other than "batten down the hatches"?
Thursday morning -- We survived the stormy weather and strong winds. The greenhouse is intact!

Monday, February 22, 2016

Around the Greenhouse

 Adam built the greenhouse on the highest, driest part of our property. He then proceeded to dig beds for our spring/summer crops quite near it.
The bed with poles on the left is for tomatoes, but it will start with sweet snow peas. The bed in front of it will have general vegetables. Right behind Sandy you see the potato bin with cardboard boxes lining it. Additional poles are there for future beds.
 Down by the truck is another bed with poles for tomatoes and English peas (or maybe broccoli). Behind it (and barely visible) is a bed with hoops and white plastic over it. Adam has just put our garlic in there, plus some buttercruch lettuce seeds and Romaine. He can cover it when needed.
hoop bed in back, pole bed in front
In front of the greenhouse is the newest bed he dug (it's dark brown) with the tiller at its far end. That bed is also for tomatoes. It's the longest bed yet.
At the far end, just behind the truck bed, Adam also dug mounds for Blue Lake green beans (my favorite). The mounds surround a center pole to which strings are attached and the beans grow up the strings. It ends up looking rather like a teepee of green vines.
Adam's latest tomato bed, complete with compost and organic fertilizer:
This morning was vaguely cool and overcast and we tended another burn pile in the field. There is so much to burn! In addition, in the greenhouse this morning, the parsley is up quite nicely. Our herbs seem to be early risers.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Rescuing Apple Trees

For the last week we've been working in the orchard. I enjoy pruning trees. I like using my clippers; I dislike using the loppers; I detest trying to use a saw. Here's the view looking along the Scuppernong grapevines. Adam has them pretty much cleared out.
Here are two of the first espaliered apple trees I pruned.
As you can see, they've been neglected a long time and their form has suffered
I worked a couple of hours today on this line of trees again. So many were strangled in vines -- grapevine, poison ivy, Virginia creeper, honeysuckle, and others whose names I don't know. One of the apple trees was dead.
This one looks a bit better:
 I'll give you a before-and-after series:
This tree was pathetically overgrown and wrapped in vines. It had been trained initially along the fence but then allowed to grow untended for years.
The trunk, instead of having a primary leader, has crossed competition from multiple branches -- water sprouts that shot up and suck energy from the tree.
 There was even a big dead branch from another tree, hung up in its branches!
However, examination of its tip ends showed me that beautiful buds were still there - the tree was alive.
live branch wrapped in a thick vine
After significant pruning and clearing out, she looks like this:
still a little more work to do on her top
Before and after:
I enjoy this kind of work very much.  I find it relaxing and rewarding. I feel I am rescuing the trees from the grips of despair and death! I like to think that this is redemptive work -- intervening in a desperate situation, removing the evil, keeping the living, nurturing and helping it toward productivity. And even if the trees don't survive, at least it's good exercise!

Friday, February 19, 2016

Growing Things in February

Many packets of tomato seeds came in the mail last week. Adam's been planting some of them in little pots. They're being nursed along under grow lights in the barn office, up on shelves.
The worms are doing well. Yesterday we gave them the rotting pumpkin from Halloween. Adam's philosophy of worms is similar to his philosophy of bees: don't bother them much and they'll do better.
But I did get him to uncover a few for you to see. They're called Red Wigglers. 
The potatoes suffered a little in our cold, windy weather. (Thankfully, the greenhouse stayed intact!) After this experiment, I think we'll go back to growing them in bins full of compost.
Some of the eye sprouts got zapped.
Others did better.
Some of the wax beans that had sprouted also got nipped, but only a few.

 Adam put a light and then a heater in the greenhouse to keep things a little warmer.

However, the broccoli is doing very well!
And the cilantro is up!
And the garlic is so high and big that the greenhouse is aromatic with it.
We also have one Juliet tomato, a lot of dill, thyme, and many pearl onions that are showing through the soil. Spring is on its way!