For a couple of weeks, now, the apples have really been ripening. Two weeks ago, we took a week off to have a 25 mile kayak camping trip and we came back to buckets and buckets of windfall apples. Too bad, too, because we had to compost them or throw them in a pile out of the orchard since we can’t use them even for cider due to concerns about acetobactor and E. coli bacteria. It just killed me when we hauled all those apples out of the orchard in five gallon buckets and tossed them in a pile to keep deer traffic down in the orchard as well as to lessen the risk of insect pests in next year’s crop. We have some problems with codling moths, apple sawflies and curculios. Some people have told us that you can’t grow organic apples. I won’t waste my time arguing with them, but yes. Yes, we can. This year’s crop is significantly better than last year’s crop, partially due to weather. Indeed, the statewide predictions for Wisconsin’s apple harvest suggest that this year’s crop will be nearly 17% larger than in 2010. So a lot of our luck this year can be attributed to good rainfall and the fact that it hasn’t been as hot and moist as it was last year. Some of the credit, however has to go to our pruning of the trees and mowing under the trees to keep the moisture down. We’ll also remove all the downed apples from the orchard as well as any dead wood. Next spring, we’ll use pheromone traps for the codling moths shortly after the trees bloom as well sticky traps and cider vinegar traps for some of the other pests. We’ll also prune a bit more aggressively this fall after it gets cooler. In addition to the apple trees, we found that there are two pear trees in the orchard that are producing small yields at this point. One of those trees is crowded by a wild plum tree which the birds love, but are bad for orchards, so we’ll take that tree down this fall as well. About half the trees we planted for the windbreak on the northwest side of the newer orchard have survived and we’re preparing the tree nursery so that we can watch the newest trees more carefully and so we won’t have to haul a wagon full of 5 gallon buckets up the hill to water seedlings. We’re really encouraged about the potential of the orchard and how much better it looks this year than last year.
Potatoes also turned out well for us. In the spring I’d purchased French Fingerling and Yellow Finn seed potatoes from Seedsavers. I think I purchased the smallest amount available for both and between the potatoes that we grew and the potatoes we’ll receive in our CSA share, I think it’ll be a good long time before we have to buy any potatoes. I dug them all between Friday afternoon and Saturday. We didn’t weigh them, so I can’t really quantify them, but given the two small bags of seed potatoes, I’m really happy with the yield. The other really good thing about the potatoes is while we planted them in newly tilled soil in the spring, it wasn’t really possible to keep up with the weeds after a point without stepping on the plants. I’d say that between shovel and digging fork (which maimed far fewer potatoes) I pretty thoroughly turned over all of this ground again and had the opportunity to pull out, roots and all, any thistles, burdock or wild parsnip that had managed to sprout there. Next week, I’ll rake in some winter rye seeds for a cover crop, both to keep weeds down and to enrich the soil and we’ll till that back in next spring before it goes to seed. We’ll also put the potatoes elsewhere next year and I’m flirting with the idea of weed barrier cloth between the rows for next year.
Leeks and onions were a bit more of a challenge for us this year. I’d started them all from seeds as I’ve done before and the onions lost the battle with the weeds. The leeks fared a bit better, but it’s certainly going to take more than one growing season to turn a long ignored garden which had filled up with invasive weeds into a normal, productive garden area with more routine weed problems. I’ll probably grow leeks from seeds again next year, but we’ll buy onion sets at the local grocery or hardware store so that we have a better chance of a successful onion crop next year. Garlic did great and we’ll grow more of that next year, planting, probably some time next month. Some will come from our own stock and a couple of varieties from Seedsavers. I probably need to temper my desire to grow garlic, or I need to find a market for it. Or give it away…
Lastly, the orchard dog keeps showing up. Sometimes with a second dog, sometimes not. Now I’m pretty sure they have a home. I’m also pretty sure that the neighbors whose place is in front of ours on the road consider these dogs a nuisance. I like dogs and these dogs are fairly friendly. They generally don’t bark when they’re around, though I’ve heard them bark and howl out in the soybean field beyond our land. And I think they got scared on Friday night when we were disposing of some pine limbs from the tree that broke earlier in the spring with a fire that for a while shot at least 12 feet into the air. I really, really want to have a dog. I’d also like to live at the farm full-time. I never want to leave when it is time to go home and when things happen there in between our weekends and workdays there, I always feel cheated by what we missed. The time just isn’t quite right either for the dog or for a change of residence.