The mountains will sing and the trees clap their hands……..

Everyday now it is a little greener, all the different shades of green on the hillsides and fields, the lushness of Spring. At home we’re just about to let the sheep and their new lambs out on pasture with the just hatched goslings waddling in between.

I’m almost finished planting new trees, more quince, Elephant Heart and Ume plums, St. Cecillia, Reinette Clochard, Pomme Gris, Irish Peach and Blehiem Orange apples. I’ve grafted more Opalescent and added James Grieve apples. The beekeepers, Jodi and Dean Turner have brought the first hives into the orchard just as the plums and peaches reach full bloom; apricots have already bloomed, the last petals still attracting bees. The apples are trembling on the edge of bloom with Hewes Virginia and Duchess of Oldenburg, Astrakan and Roxbury Russet leading the way. The bees will work in a frenzy from now until close to the end of May when the Northern Spy, Kingston Blacks, D’Arcy Spice apples, the quince and medlars bloom. This season we’ll have a snowball bloom, the trees will be completely covered in blossoms, the air will be saturated with their fragrance and the bees intoxicated with the abundance of nectar. When you walk into the orchard on a warm afternoon during bloom you’ll hear buzzing all around as the bees, both honey bees and our wild bees race from blossom to blossom. The air will be thick with bees; they are so intent on their work they often crash into me as I’m walking – no one’s hurt, they pick themselves up and head back to the hive or the blossoms. Everyone’s in good spirits during the bloom.

Just as the bloom winds down and white and pink petals cover the ground like confetti, as I walk I keep one eye on the trees and the new fruit and the other on the ground under the trees. I’m looking for morel mushrooms! It’s a wonderful time to be in the orchard.


How to plant your new tree

We are getting ready at the Scott Farm for our annual spring tree sale, May 4 & 5, from 9 – 3 both days.  Each year in early May we offer peach, plum, pear, cherry and apples trees along with lots of advice to customers that come to the farm. We usually have a few surprises, this year we’ll also have figs, beach plums, blueberries and rhubarb. We choose varieties that we know will grow well in our area. We sell most of the trees “bare root” and the shrubs are in pots.

When choosing a site to plant a new fruit tree, there are several important considerations. First, the soil; most fruit trees don’t do well in wet soils. If the hole you dig fills with water or your shovel makes a sucking sound as you dig it is too wet, find another dryer site. Next on the checklist: the site should get full sun for most, if not all of the day. Fruit trees grown in the shade of larger trees or buildings simply won’t be able to produce as many fruit buds. Although your new trees may be small now, be sure to leave enough space from driveways, buildings, walkways and the road. Most of the trees we sell are on semi-dwarf rootstock; we leave at least 16’ of space between trees.

When I am planting a new fruit tree I dig a hole only large enough to accommodate the roots. I seldom dig a hole larger than a five-gallon bucket. Whatever soil comes out of the hole is what goes back in; I don’t add compost or fertilizers. It has been found that if you enrich the soil in the hole the roots tend to stay put and become “pot-bound”. The roots need to spread out and grow to provide anchorage and nutrients for the tree. I spread the roots out as I fill in the hole taking care to work the soil in and around the roots. It is important that the “graft union” be 3 to 4 inches above the final level of the soil. The graft union is easy to find; start at the top of the root system and go a few to several inches up the trunk and you will come to a “bend”. That is where the cultivar or variety was grafted onto the rootstock. Once I have filled in the hole I firm the soil with my foot and then slowly, really slowly, water the tree. I usually water a couple times during the week for the first few weeks. After the tree has leafed out, I top-dress the soil with a fertilizer; something that has some nitrogen. It can be a manure tea, composted manure, a granular mix from the garden supply store, your choice. Never, never, never use the compressed fertilizer “stakes”. I also try to keep a two foot circle around the tree clear of weeds and grasses.

Take a look at our website to see the tress and plants we’ll have available for sale this year and we’ll post an article on taking care of your new trees in a few weeks.


Another Pruning and Grafting Workshop

 

On Sunday, April 14th, Scott Farm will host a pruning and grafting workshop for back yard fruit growers from 9 am – Noon.  Participants will receive instruction while pruning a variety of old and young fruit trees from 9 -11 and practice grafting apple trees from 11 -12.  This class will discuss caring for their trees, the proper tools to use and will give participants the knowledge, confidence and skills needed to work on their own fruit trees at home.  The fee is $40.00 and reservations are necessary. For more information, directions, and to reserve a space, call (802) 254-6868 or email scottfrm@sover.net.


Waiting for Red Winged Black Birds by Zeke Goodband

It’s sugaring season in in Vermont  now.  The maple trees surrounding The
Scott Farm orchard have been tapped by our neighbors and the sugary steam
and smoke drifts from the sugar houses out over the orchard where Ben and
I have been pruning since November.
We have 6000 trees to prune with hand and pole saws.  We trim or remove
braches to allow more sunlight into the trees – more sunlight means
stronger fruit buds and more flavorful apples.  We also have to keep in
mind where ladders can be placed so that our harvest crew can climb to the
top of every tree and leave room for the tractor to crawl up and down the
rows, ferrying bins full of apples to the packing barn.
After about 40 years of pruning each winter, I don’t need to think about
which branches to cut.  In the time it takes to turn from one tree to the
next, I know exactly how I will shape that trees branches.  It gives my
mind free range to wander – will the sheep in my barn start lambing
tonight, Town Meeting business, a novel I’m reading – I get a lot of
thinking done.
This winter has been an especially good pruning/pondering season.  With a
new Executive Director at The Landmark Trust, we’ve been brainstorming
fresh ideas and directions for The Scott Farm.  While pruning this winter
I’ve been thinking about the new plantings going in this spring and
planning ahead for renovating the orchard with new varieties of fruit
trees over the next several years.  We’ve been reaching out to our
community and inviting them to the farm, and making plans for new
marketing and educational programs.
So, each morning when I walk out into the orchard, I now notice a little
more melted know, muddier roads and deeper ruts.  Just yesterday the geese
were flying overhead, but I’m still waiting to hear the harbinger of
spring:  the conk-la-ree of the red winged black birds.  When I hear them
I know we have to pick up the pace of pruning, as our time is almost
through.  Spring will be here soon and there will be no more winter day
dreaming.  It will soon be time to put away the saws and take out our
shovels – it’s time to plant the new trees!

 


Grafting in the orchard at Scott Farm by Zeke Goodband

Late winter is a great time for grafting new varieties in the orchard. Most of the pruning is finished and the weather is usually milder; for grafting I need to be able to work without gloves on.

Apples do not grow “true to seed”, so if I plant a seed from a Baldwin apple I’ll get an apple tree to grow but because the seeds are a result of cross pollination, the apples my new seedling tree produces won’t be exactly like the original Baldwin I started with. There could be a family resemblance, but the new apples could also be completely different. So to get a new tree that will produce Baldwin apples we have to clone the tree. I take a cutting from the Baldwin tree and splice it into the cambium of another apple tree. The photos in this article will help you see the process.

The first step is collecting dormant “scion” wood. This year I’ll be taking some cuttings from trees I’ve grown at my home. James Grieve is the name of a Scottish apple from the late 1800’s and may be an offspring of Cox’s Orange Pippin. I’ll also take some cuttings of Blenheim Orange, a large English apple used for both cooking and eating out of hand.

After I’ve collected and labeled my scion wood, I’ll go to the trees in the orchard where I will graft these new varieties onto my “stock”. If the stock tree is young enough, I will cut the top of the tree right off at about the height of my waist, leaving a few nurse branches below the cut to continue to feed the tree while the grafts grow out.

If I am grafting in mid to late winter I take a blade and hammer and split the trunk a few inches as though I was splitting firewood. I hold that “split” open with a wedge while I slice the bottom of my scion into a long “V” shape. I insert the scion into the split taking great care to line up the cambium of the scion with the cambium of the stock. I can put two scions in the split I’ve made. I then take out the wedge and the trunk of the tree closes tight around the scions. I wax the cut surfaces to hold in moisture and the tree and scion begin to mend together.

In the spring, the buds on the scions begin to grow new shoots, I’ll use twine to bend and train these new branches to form a new top to the tree. The grafted tree will continue to produce McIntosh apples on the branches below the graft union and the branches and trunk that grow out from the grafted scions will produce James Grieve apples.


Pruning and Grafting Workshop

On Saturday, March 16th, Scott Farm will host a pruning and grafting workshop for back yard fruit growers from 9 am – Noon.  Participants will receive instruction while pruning a variety of old and young fruit trees from 9 -11 and practice grafting apple trees from 11 -12.  This class will discuss caring for their trees, the proper tools to use and will give participants the knowledge, confidence and skills needed to work on their own fruit trees at home.  The fee is $40.00 and reservations are necessary. For more information, directions, and to reserve a space, call (802) 254-6868 or email scottfrm@sover.net.


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.