Category Archives: Orchard

Let The Yardfun Begin!

This past week was the first totally beautiful week of the year that wasn’t weirdly out-of-season, and we had high hopes for spending our evenings approaching the spring yardfun at a leisurely pace. Of course, I developed a cold on Monday, and since our yardfun was going to be a three-person job, we ended up spending our evenings taking long, restorative naps instead. Sadly, this meant that we had tons of yardfun to do this weekend, with no leisure to be found anywhere. The life of the gentlewoman farmer is hard, yo!

So, what was on the docket? First up, we had to take the straw off all the beds in the garden.

State of the Garden April 3 2010

You can see a big black garbage bin in among our herb pots between the beds in that picture; that’s where we’re growing potatoes this summer. We’ve got two bins, and they needed to be prepped for planting. That meant poking holes in them, putting in a layer of rocks (or, in our case, the bits of pots that broke this winter), putting in a layer of straw for drainage, then putting in a shallow layer of soil for planting. Then we opened up our shipment of potatoes that arrived this week from Seed Savers Exchange and our hearts fell. There were about eight medium-sized potatoes in the box, two of which were rotten. Stupid potatoes! (This was shocking to us — normally SSE is utterly reliable.) And the instructions suggested we needed to cut the potatoes into plantable pieces (about two inches square, with at least two eyes each) and let the cut sides get callused a bit, after sitting for a day or two. D’oh! We were doing yardfun today! Stupid potatoes. Well, we did the cutting, and will do the planting in a few days, assuming they don’t rot. Grumble, grumble, grumble…

Next up, it was time to do some transplanting.

Lettuce Before Transplanting

The Imbolc lettuce was rarin’ to go, and we figured it could live in the bed the peppers will be moving into later this summer.

Imbolc Lettuce Planted

It looks so happy now that it’s got room to spread out!

Onions Before Transplanting

The onions, which we never bothered thinning, were a tangled snarl of ready-to-not-be-in-the-crowded-little-tray seedlings.

Transplanted Onions

After a little wrestling them apart, a little manhandling them into a bed, a little cussing about how much we hate transplanting onion seedlings, and then a little remembering that the year we direct-sowed them, none of our onions grew, we were done. Transplanted onions are always the least impressive sight of the entire garden season. They look all hearty and oniony in the seedling trays, then pathetic and wimpy in the big beds. Good thing we’ve got the garlic to gaze upon happily, until the onions can get their act together and start looking like real plants.

Garlic As Of April 3rd 2010

The other big yardfun job we had to take care of was tidying up the orchard. All of our beloved fruit trees live in unsightly playpens of temporary deer netting held up by six-foot stakes. (Our motto about this ugly landscaping treatment is, “If the township would let us put up real deer fencing, our neighbors wouldn’t have to look at this crap.” Ball’s in your court, Township.) Once a year, we have to straighten the stakes, which spend the next 364 days leaning and drooping and falling over, and then reset the deer netting. We generally have to expand the playpen borders, too, since the trees have this wacky tendency to get bigger. This year we even did some pruning, because, amazingly, some of the trees are too big.

Leaves On Sticks

The apple trees are always the first ones in our yard to get green leaves, and some of them were already well on their way today. And meanwhile, the peach trees are practically bustin’ out with blossoms.

Promise Of Pink

We’ve still got two more new trees to plant (a Pineapple quince in a spot we’re expanding the orchard into, and a Whitney crabapple to put into the spot where the Spitzenburg apple died last year), but you know what? That’s going to have to wait until tomorrow. We’re pooped.

[Posted by Schnookie]

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Filed under 4. April, Can't Wait To Eat That Monkey, Garden, Orchard

The Works and Other Maple Hoo Blooms

A few years ago, Schnookie and Boomer spent a Saturday planting “The Works” — hundreds of bulbs for a variety of daffodils. The majority of them ended up around the base of the locust tree out front; they looked so spectacular the first year they bloomed that our neighbor asked if she could copy us! This year I decided to take the 100mm out to take a tour of some of the different kinds we have growing. While I was there, I stopped to take a few shots of other blooming wonders in the yard.

White and Orange Daffodil

Bicolor Daffodil

White Daffodil Petals

Daffodil Petal

Sunny Daffodils 3

Azalea

Little White Flowers

Peach Blossoms 5

Peach Blossoms 8

Posted by Pookie

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Maple Hoo Orchard: The Trees, Part 2

Today we re-fenced the remainder of our orchard, and took formal portraits of the trees while they were in the nude. If you look at Part 1 of this series, you can see what a difference a week makes for the leafing-out of these little guys. It never ceases to amaze me how quickly Spring just happens. Anyway, here’s the skinny on the rest of the orchard:

Rome Beauty

When we were perusing Trees of Antiquity for our second wave of apples, we thought we were going to go in for the flashy pink types, with the showy blossoms and bells and whistles. But on closer review, we ended up falling in love with the modest charms of the Rome Beauty. It’s said to originate in Ohio around 1848 and its fruit is “medium to very large with handsomely striped to almost solid red, thick skin”.

I imagine someday this tree looking like a picture a little kid would draw of an apple tree: a green circle on a brown line of a trunk, with bright red dots all over it.

It’s self-pollinating, and last year it claimed the honor of being the first tree in our orchard to bear fruit that the squirrels didn’t get to before us.

As you can see, those apples are not bright, solid red. We were totally squirrel-shy after the Peach harvest debacle, so we picked those way too early. They were, um, not very good. Should the Rome Beauty produce fruit this year, we’re going to consider letting them ripen before eating them this year.

White Pearmain

According to Trees of Antiquity, this is the oldest known English apple, dating back to the 13th century. How could we not choose to plant a type of tree that people have been cultivating and enjoying the fruits from for over 800 years? That is just beyond cool. We really don’t care what the fruits taste like (although this one allegedly is good for just about everything from eating fresh, to desserts, to making cider) — we just like that it’s been around for so long.

I should point out that we took some “artsy” shots of this one to show off Pookie’s favorite thing about our baby apple trees: the color and texture of their trunks.

Ashmead’s Kernel

The description of this from Trees of Antiquity’s catalog is like something out of an apple tree soft-porn romance novel:

“An old English winter russet, medium size, golden-brown skin with a crisp nutty snap, exploding with champagne-sherbet juice infused with a lingering scent of orange blossom.”

We’re not expecting any champagne-sherbet juice explosions this Autumn, thanks to the fact that Ash here has opted not to blossom this Spring.

For some reason, I suffer under the impression that this tree is actually the Ashmead’s Colonel, not Kernel, so I kind of feel like it should be some kind of Confederate gentleman officer from the Civil War, not an apple tree from 1700’s England. Clearly, this tree is a constant source of disappointment for me.

Cox’s Orange Pippin

This is kind of the apple tree. It’s supposed to be finicky, temperamental, and generally difficult, yet everyone who plants heirloom apples seems to want one. We also are operating under the belief that it originates somewhere near Blenheim, so we’ve decided it’s the same apple as the ones we fell in love with during that cheese dinner from Neal’s Yard.

Our tree here has yet to demonstrate even the slightest inclination toward blossoming, even now in its third Spring in our orchard, but he has managed to become our most resplendent tree by far. When we planted him he was less than waist high, then got ravaged by marauding deer, and somehow, in just two years, is now a towering, branchy behemoth.

Someday it will be a towering, branchy behemoth covered with the most delectable fruits we could ever imagine.

Alexander

We have one spot in the middle of our front row of trees that is the Hole of Death. Two years running now, we’ve had that one tree get completely devoured by deer. The first year it was a cherry tree from our nursery co-op, and the second year it was some now-forgotten apple variety. This year we plugged the hole with an Alexander, a Russian variety dating back before 1817. We don’t have a picture of him just yet because he is literally a three-foot-tall stick with one branch shooting off it. It has one tiny little proto-leaf. If it’s anything like the other trees in our orchard, though, next year it’ll be four times the size it is now.

So that’s all of them — the trees of Maple Hoo Orchard. They’re remarkably lovely, even in their unsightly cages of deer netting:

And maybe someday we’ll have to open to the public to let people pick their own bushels of apples, as we struggle to keep up with them.

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Maple Hoo Orchard: The Trees, Part 1

For most of our lives, we were not big apple-eaters. I spent most of my youth thinking that I just flat-out didn’t like apples, but I’ve since come to realize the problem is that apples from the grocery store taste like ass. They’re cloying, one-dimensional, and often mealy. We’re lucky enough to live very close to a big orchard, with the pick-your-own, and a wide array of apples to choose from, but even with that resource at hand, I’ve had a hard time finding apples I actually wanted to eat. Then, one glorious day in London, we stopped in at Neal’s Yard Dairy to pick out a sampling of cheeses for a picnic dinner. While basking in the fairy-tale wondrousness that is Neal’s Yard, we added some farmhouse loaves to our picnic, and then noticed the crates of farm-fresh produce in front of the store. There was a handful of varieties of apples and pears, and one apple caught our eyes. It was called a “Blenheim apple”, and the description said they had come from a old orchard in Blenheim and had the most crisp, superior flavor of any apple ever. Or something like that. At any rate, it was no lie. That cheese dinner still stands as the single best meal I’ve ever had, and those Blenheim apples stand as the single finest fruitstuff I’ve ever eaten.

We moved into Maple Hoo almost immediately after returning from England, and suddenly fell under the sway of the magical gardening vibe here. Along with our unprecedented (in our lives) urge to plant vegetables, we decided the front lawn needed to be augmented with a bunch of apple trees. Not because we love apples, but because we love those gnarly old rambling apple trees that live in so many of the yards around here. Pookie started researching heirloom apples, then, and found Trees of Antiquity, which is, if you’re even remotely interested in planting fruit trees or bushes of any kind, total porn. We never found exactly what the “Blenheim apple” is, but after poring over the catalogue, we developed an obsession. Twelve fruit trees later, these are the apples on which we’re pinning our hopes and dreams of making us learn to love apples.

Enterprise

This guy isn’t actually from Trees of Antiquity, as we were antsy to get planting, and they were mostly sold out when we got around to ordering from them our first year here. We picked him up on a “let’s see how many saplings and shrubs we can fit into the hatchback of one Prius” shopping spree at a nursery co-op. According to google, these are its traits: “Large fruit; red glossy skin; good for fresh eating and cooking; scab resistant. Mid to late bloom; late apples.” We haven’t expected much from this tree, other than just being gnarled and autumnal, and maybe standing in the mist occasionally like a picture in a Martha Stewart magazine.

And then this Spring happened.

It is covered with glorious blossoms. They were just a riot of little pink buds when we were restaking his cage of deer fencing and took that full portrait above, and then a few days later, they became a riot of huge, white, beautiful, fluffy, graceful blossoms.

The Enterprise tree has gone from bobo to crown jewel in just one Spring!

Spitzenburg

It seems like this is one of those status trees for apple snobs. It was Thomas Jefferson’s favorite, is “unexcelled in flavor or quality” (according to Trees of Antiquity), and is fussy to get cross-pollinated, because it needs three other trees’ pollen.

We figure we’ll never get an apple from him, but what kind of heirloom orchardists are we if we’re not cowing to the pressure to have this “unexcelled” tree in our collection? (You might be able to see in that picture taken during his deer-fencing restaking that Spitzy was sans buds or blossoms, when almost all the other trees had at least one attempt at a flower going on. It’s like Thomas Jefferson’s favorite remedial apple tree.)

Calville Blanc d’Hiver

We bought our orchard denizens in two waves, with the first year’s trees mainly just the dregs of what Trees of Antiquity still had in stock, and the second year’s trees selected in a glut of impulse-buy, “hey, we totally have room for a bunch more trees, right?” early ordering. The catalog description of this one is, “This is the gourmet culinary apple of France, excellent for tarts. Uniquely shaped medium to large size fruit, skin yellow with light red flush. Flesh is tender, sweet, spicy, flavorful, with a banana-like aroma. Fine-textured, yellowish-white flesh is also higher in Vitamin C than an orange! Grown by Le Lectier, procureur for Louis XIII. Continues to be served in fine Parisian Restaurants.” We can’t have a home orchard that isn’t growing Louis XIII’s apples, can we? It’s a touch of French aristocracy to balance out all that Spitzenburg Jeffersonianism.

And unlike Spitzy, Cal was sporting some lovely blossoms on class picture day:

Granny Smith

Also picked up at the nursery co-op, at the same time as the Enterprise. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but now that we’ve got all these fancy-pantsy trees, poor Smitty probably thinks she’s there just to produce grocery store-grade apples to make the other fruits look that much better by comparison. She was the first of our trees to ever blossom, though, an event that surprised us to no end. It was her first summer after being planted, and she produced two tiny, mutant proto-apples that did nothing but attract weird, creepy ants.

For all that she seems kind of mundane, she’s got the lushest, thickest foliage of all the apple trees in the orchard.

Northern Spy

When we planted our first wave of trees, we stupidly decided that we don’t often see any deer in our front yard, and anyways, there were lots of other green things budding and leafing out all over the place, so surely our new babies would be safe from those rapacious creatures. We were wrong. Every day we’d say to ourselves, “We should probably fence those…” and then we’d decide, “Eh, we’ll do it tomorrow.” Finally one morning we woke up and asked each other, “Do the trees look a lot smaller today?” Yes. Yes they did look a lot smaller. The deer had devoured them. The one that got it worst was our poor little Northern Spy. He was basically left for dead, just a lame little stick poking up out of the ground where there had once been a perky, leafy sapling. We were confident the other trees would rebound from what turned out to just be a really invigorating pruning, but we had serious doubts about the Spy.

Two years later, he is a towering beacon of hope for plants all over the world that have been ravaged by pests:

It is absolutely stunning to us that this tree, that had been nibbled down to a waist-high twig, is now significantly taller than we are, with leaves and blossoms, and, we hope this fall, delicious, crisp apples. It’ll be the feel-good story of Maple Hoo orchard.

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So… What’s In Bloom?

We have recently taken to perusing other people’s garden blogs, and discovered a delightful blogosphere-wide activity called Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day. The gist of it seems to be that you venture forth into your garden on the 15th of every month, catalog everything that’s blooming, and post about it. Despite the fact that we’re not flower gardeners, this seems like a really fun venture. And despite the fact that we missed the 15th, so we’re not going to go posting this anywhere else, it seemed like it would be fun to take a look around the grounds of Maple Hoo today to see what’s looking bloom-y.

The most obvious place to start is the daffodil bed under our black locust tree.

Two years ago, Boomer decided to buy two 100-count bags of “The Works” from one of those specialty daffodil bulb nurseries. We spent a giggling Autumn afternoon randomly planting the bulbs in the comma-shaped swirls that I’d read occur in nature, and then promptly forgot all about them. The following Spring, we were delighted to be reminded of them; this Spring, then, has brought double the joy, because these daffodils are dividing like mofos. I have no idea what specific types of bulbs were included with “The Works”, and a lot of them have already passed their peaks, but here’s a closer look at some of the brightest lights in bloom today:

Elsewhere in the front yard, the orchard is starting to look gorgeously pink. The most resplendent of the apple trees today is the Enterprise:

I suppose as a so-called gardener, I should be repulsed by all things “weed”, but you know what? I love dandelions. Look at how cheerful and bright they are!

Probably the biggest surprise of the day, though, came when we trooped around back and happened upon the grapevines we planted during our first Spring at Maple Hoo. These are pretty low-priority plants for us, but they persevere in their little bed behind our garage. And today, they offered a nice little picture:

It’s not quite a bloom, but it’ll do.

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Filed under 4. April, Garden, Orchard, Pommerdoodling

Backbreaking Toil In The Orchard

We have, over the last couple of years, planted twelve fruit trees in our front yard “orchard”. This year we decided to add two more peach trees, after last summer yielded a hefty crop of fruits from Peachy, the lone peach tree. (Of course, we decided, like idiots, to let the peaches ripen on the branch, so every last one of them was eaten by squirrels. But we’ve learned. Oh yes, we’ve learned.)

We’ve gotten our trees from Trees of Antiquity, with the exception of a Granny Smith and an Enterprise apple and Peachy himself, which we impulse-bought at a nearby nursery co-op. Our two newest additions, a Peregrine (or “Perry”) and a Rio Oso Gem (or “Rio”), are both from Trees of Antiquity and were delivered to us about three weeks ago. They came in a bundle with the six blueberry bushes we’re putting along the base of the deck out back (we got Blue Crop and O’Neal varieties) and the Alexander apple we needed to fill the spot of death with at the front of the orchard (the deer keep getting to the tree at the center of the yard along the street and eating it down to nothing. We’ve put a new tree in that hole every Spring), with the roots of all the plants smushed together and tied up into a plastic bag. It was gold and gray and gloomy and miserable this past Monday after work, but the trees couldn’t really stand being in that bag much longer. With no hockey on during the interminable break between regular season and playoffs, we figured we didn’t have anything better to do, so we got out the sod cutter and shovels, and got digging.

Even though it was dreadful outside, there was a spot of joy — in his little cage of deer netting, Peachy is starting to bud!

Buds!

Before long, he is going to be a riot of glorious, fluffy pink blossoms!

After cutting a big circle of sod to make room for the eventual mulching we’ve promised the trees (but have yet to deliver), we pulled Perry out of the bag and were delighted to discover we wouldn’t need to dig much of a hole for him.

That\'s it?

That’s not the world’s most inspiring rootball, but someday, as the peach juices are running down our chins as we loll in the shade of his mighty canopy (in as much as a semidwarf tree can have a mighty canopy), we’ll look back at this picture and laugh and laugh. Or something.

After cutting through roots and chipping out rocks and laboring to create a sufficient pit in the clay that passes for soil in our yard, we nestled Perry in and filled around him with some nice garden soil. Look at what a towering giant he is!

So cute!

Sufficiently exhausted, it was time to repeat the process with Rio, who had a much bigger rootball. Of course. With tempers starting to run short, we finally got him settled into his own spot, ready to start producing a hefty bumper crop.

So many branches!

Okay, yeah, neither one of these trees is even waist high. So, no, we don’t expect any fruits for at least three years. But in our experience with the apples, these buggers grow like weeds. By this time next year, both these trees will be taller than we are.

The last step of the planting on Monday was to cage Perry and Rio in their own deer netting safety enclaves, and by the time we finished we were all too drained to even bother taking a picture. The lesson we’ve all learned from this venture is that tree-planting is way more work than we want to do on a worknight.

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The Greening Of Maple Hoo

This morning we woke up to the excited news from Boomer that there was a daffodil blooming in our yard. Abuzz with excitement, we put on our shoes, grabbed the camera, and ran outside, ready to soak up the glorious Springness.

firstdaffodilsmall.jpg

Ummm… okay. Well, it is, undeniably, a daffodil. It is also minuscule. In case you can’t tell from that picture, here it is next to one of those sugargum ball things:

firstdaffodilscalesmall.jpg

Maple Hoo’s first daffodil of the year is the size of a quarter. At best. We’re not even sure how Boomer noticed it in the first place.

A bit disappointed, we went in search of other signs of the burgeoning season around the grounds. As we turned the corner of the deck and made our way along the side yard, we came across the famed gooseberry bush of Maple Hoo. This is a plant that Boomer brought home from a Master Gardeners sale last summer; it had been free for the taking because it was so extravagantly pathetic that the Master Gardeners felt bad charging anything for it. It makes Charlie Brown Christmas trees look resplendent. When it arrived home it was no more than a stick in a pot, and now that it’s “thriving” in its new home, it’s really no more than a stick in the ground. But it’s allegedly a cutting from a massive heirloom gooseberry stock from some nearby estate, so while it might not look like much, it’s said to be from great bloodlines.

gooseberrygreenedsmall.jpg

And it’s also getting leaves.

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