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.