While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks

It’s mid July and the apples are getting larger every day; some are beginning to show a pink blush, and the Hudson’s, Ashmead’s and Reine des Reinettes are developing their cinnamon colored russeting. The Calville Blanc d’Hiver are becoming lobed and the noses of Sheep’s Nose are becoming pronounced. We’ll begin to pick the first of our plum varieties any day now and peaches will begin to ripen before the end of the month. The Red Astrakans, Duchess of Oldenburg and Yellow Transparents will be the first apples we pick early in August.

At this time of year, the few weeks before the harvest comes on, I think of my job as an orchardist as being very much like that of a shepherd. I spend much of my days walking amongst our flock of trees, watching them graze on the sunlight, their branches beginning to bend low under the weight of fruit becoming plump and bright. The trees seem content and well fed as though the summer might last forever. But as I walk I’ve got my eye out for the wolves lurking amongst the leaves – Apple Maggot Flies lay their eggs in fruit, the larva eat their way through the flesh, the apple drops to the ground and the larva emerges to pupate in the soil under the tree. We hang sticky red croquet balls in the trees and they look like the largest, juiciest red apples at this time of season. The flies land on these hoping to meet apple maggot flies of the opposite sex, mate and lay eggs and become stuck fast.

Over the years I’ve been doing this work I’ve learned that the less I muddle around with my flock of trees the more content and happy they will be, just like my actual flock of sheep at home. In a few more weeks we’ll do one last mowing in the orchard, dust off the picking buckets, bring out the ladders from storage in the barn and begin harvesting the first apples of the new harvest season.