Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Adventures in Fruit Trees

 Well, it was last year, at almost exactly this time, we took the plunge into planting our own orchard of bare root apple and pear trees.  Nine in all!  If you know anything about NH soil, and even if you don't, trust me, NINE trees is a MAJOR undertaking!!  Unfortunately, I wasn't even in the realm of thinking I would be blogging about that adventure so, I don't have too many wonderful pictures.  I will share what I have.
Beyond the pigs are our trees with their water buckets.
The orchard is surrounded by solar powered
electric fence to TRY to keep our the deer.

Let's start at the beginning.  Why grow our own fruit trees?  In an effort to be self-sufficient, why not grow (or try to grow) what you eat the most of?  We eat A LOT of apples and pears.  Plus, my mind is set on ORGANIC apples which are in short supply locally.  Overall, with not an over abundance of long term effort, we decided to grow our own organic fruit trees.  Plus, we were getting bees.  Bees LOVE apple blossoms and apple blossoms LOVE bees!  What a love affair!!!

Anyway, not knowing a thing about how to grow fruit trees I was lucky enough to be able to attend a local workshop with the Seacoast Permaculture group on "Orchard Installation (with bare root trees and shrubs).  I was so grateful for that opportunity!  Surely my trees had little hope of making it into the ground properly let alone surviving without that gathering.  While I do enjoy 'trying' to read through educational books I am very much a hands on learner.  This was the perfect scenario for me.

So, what are "bare root" fruit trees you might ask?  Well, they are just that, trees and/or shrubs with the root virtually fully exposed waiting to be planted.  This is how they will come to you from most orchards/suppliers.  We are lucky enough to have a fabulous orchard not far from us where we were able to get our trees.  Obviously, because their roots are bare/exposed it is very important to keep them moist at all times.  This is easily solved by keeping them wrapped in some sort of wet towel or covering in a cool dark place until you are ready to plant, easy peasy.  They can stay this way up to a week or even two.  As was explained to me, the roots of fruit trees have virtually microscopic branches off of the larger roots.  These will basically die off if left to dry out uncovered which can potentially compromise the health of your tree.  Keep your roots COVERED!

Now it's time to dig your hole.  We actually ended up having to borrow a friend's motorized post hole digger.  Every hole we dug would yield more rocks and actual boulders than dirt.  We'd STILL be digging without that digger.  The hole needs to me much wider than you would think, more than likely at least 3' across or larger.  The roots need to lay out flat and not curl around themselves for best results.  You also want to try and avoid trimming the roots if possible.  Again, we are always keeping in mind what we can do to ensure the trees grow strong and healthy.    Roughing up the sides of the hole is also important to give the roots the best opportunity to actually be able to break through the hard ground.  Flat sides are like concrete to small tree roots.  The instructor at my workshop would actually cut pathways into the sides of the holes for roots that were longer than the hole was wide.  It's a labor of love I tell you!

Unwrap your trees 3-6 hours before planting and soak in a bucket of water.  This will help them get a good drink before planting.  Try to position the tree in the hole so that it is as deep in the ground as it was in the nursery.  This will mean no more than 3" below where the tree was grafted.  Spread the roots out following their natural growth pattern.  Remember, don't curl the roots in to fit the hole.  Always fit the hole to the roots.  Ultimately, you will have a stronger healthier tree with a larger root system, YAY!

Back fill the hole slightly with the native soil that came out of the hole when you dug it and water heavy to basically create a mud pit.  Then, fill in with the rest of the soil.  Really get in there and distribute the soil/mud into and around the roots.  Try to avoid amending your soil with compost, peat, or fertilizers.  The tree needs to acclimate to it's new soil surroundings.  A hole filled with, say, 100% compost will have a root system that stays compact and will not spread out.  Unfortunately, because our holes were filled with, AT MINIMUM, 50% ROCK, we had to do some amending with compost.  So far our trees seem to be fairing well.

When the water has fully soaked in we put a layer about 6 sheets deep of black ink newspaper all the way around the tree.  This really helps keep the area at the base of the tree weed free.  Then apply 2"-3" of mulch in a 3' diameter circle around the tree.  It's important here to NOT bury the base of the trunk of the tree with mulch.  Would you like FREE MULCH???  We were very lucky because the trees all around the power lines up and down our road were being cut back last year.  The tree trimmers were more than happy to drop their chipped ramial wood off at our house for FREE!!  I've also recently discovered that if you have a local arborist/tree service or the like they may also be more than willing to drop off their excess of wood chips.  What are you waiting for???  Call them NOW!

Now, on to watering.  The soil around the tree needs to be kept moist but, not soggy.  A great tip that I learned is to get a 5 gal bucket for each tree.  Put one nail hole close to the edge of the very bottom of your bucket.  Place the bucket at the base of the tree with the hole closest to the tree.  Put a somewhat sizable rock or weight of some sort in the bottom of the bucket.  Don't plug the hole.  This will prevent the buckets from blowing away when they are empty.  Fill the bucket every couple of days and it will drip slowly out over a couple of hours vs. flooding your trees with a hose.  Also, remember to move the bucket one quarter turn around the base of the tree each time you water.  Keeps things even, you know.  Your tree and its roots will thank you for not drowning it.  Keep watering this way the entire 1st season your trees are in the ground.

Watering a newly planted apple tree
We used pea stone around the base of the tree.
Next time I will only use mulch.

Lovely blooms!
Can you see the baby Comfrey plant
peeking out from behind the water

In an effort to try and keep permaculture principles in mind I planted Comfrey and Horseradish between my trees last year.  We'll see soon what actually survived however, both Comfrey and Horseradish have very long tap roots which helps to bring nutrients up from the depths.  This will only benefit your trees.  Comfrey is also great as a green mulch and as fodder for your livestock.  Take caution, though, if you can't afford to have invasive plants in your orchard for some reason or another, comfrey can take over.  Either don't plant any or don't disturb the root system of the plant at all.  When the roots are cut or injured spreading is sure to begin.

I'm no expert at fertilizing.  From what I gather, a good thick layer of good compost at the base of the tree every year should provide enough nutrients.  However, fruit trees need a lot of Nitrogen so, scratching some bone meal into the soil as well probably won't hurt.

This is what happens when the snow is so deep
that the deer can just step over the fence!

Casualty of the winter of 2014-2015
I did, however, see a bud below the break.
I cut off the break above the bud.
Maybe it will survive after all?

My go to fruit tree bible is:

The Holistic Orchard: Tree Fruits and Berries the Biological Way
by: Michael Phillips

Holistic Orchard link to Amazon
(I do not, at this time, have any affiliation with Amazon)

Thank you also to: Patty Laughlin and the Seacoast Permaculture Group for sponsoring the bare root fruit tree workshop.

I can't wait to hear about all or your fruit tree planting experiences!!!

Monday, April 13, 2015

Let the Spring Projects Begin!!

I apologize for my being tardy with this post, I managed to end up with a bit of the flu and had no inspiration for writing.  Well, I’m back and raring to tell you about all the spring projects we have going and are on the To Do List!

Project #1: Seed Starting

So far I’ve planted:

Tomatoes: Various varieties.  Slicing tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, paste tomatoes (essentially a Roma but, not quite as juicy.  Cooks down to make great tomato paste, or so that’s what I’ve been told.) Then, I have Tomatillos because I LOVE salsa verde.  Although, I suppose it won’t be salsa ‘verde’ when made with purple tomatillos.  Last but not least I was introduced to Ground Cherries last year so, I HAD to add them to my garden this year, yum!!  They look like a small tomatillo only orangy/yellow and much sweeter.

Peppers:  Red Bell peppers, Jalapenos and Poblanos.

Broccoli:  For some reason I’ve never gotten the hang of broccoli but, I keep trying.  I might get 1 crown of broccoli per plant but, it never gets that big.  

Cabbage (Green and Red) and Brussels Sprouts:  Because my record keeping tends to be lax and my plant markers never seem to last long or never even make it to the row they should be marking, I may or may not have dug up and composted Brussels Sprouts in the past not remembering what the plant actually was.  Note to self, Brussels Sprouts are cool weather plants needing 120 days to mature!  They won’t look like much for a LONG TIME!!!

Cucumbers:  Lots and Lots of cucumbers.  I’m over planting this year partly to see if seeds from last year and even the year before will still sprout and partly because cucumbers are one of the few vegetables that Farm Kid #2 will actually eat!!!

Eggplants: I tried them for the 1st time last year with not much luck.  So, trying again with my leftover seeds.

Kohlrabi:  What’s that you might ask?  Well, I’m really only vaguely familiar with it myself  However, yet again, I have a friend whose kids love it so, because I’m trying to find anything my kids might eat I’m giving it a go.  High Mowing Organic Seeds says: Creamy white bulbs with crisp texture and attractive dark green leaves. “It’s a root, it’s a tuber… no, it’s a super stem!” says Mother Earth News. Interior flesh quality holds well in the spring and fall, but is not recommended for summer harvest. Shred for a sensational coleslaw. Spring/fall crop • 3-5” bulbs. (Brassica oleracea var. gongylodes)

Summer squash:  Just zucchini for me this year.  We are the weirdos who don’t really eat a lot of summer squashes.  I’d love some inspired recipes if anyone is so inclined to send some my way to make me really re-think summer squash.  

Watermelon: Sugar Baby is a small dark skinned watermelon, very sweet.  The way watermelon should be!

Winter squash: Butternuts, spaghetti squash and sugar pumpkins.  Every year I vow to can my own pumpkin and have yet to do it.  Will 2015 be my year?  We’ll have to wait and see.

Parsley, cilanto and basil of course.  Summer isn’t complete without herbs in the garden.  We already have Oregano, Sage and thyme as those are pretty hardy perennials, at least at my house.

Calendula: I hope to harvest some to make tinctures and salves this year.  Unfortunately, I say that every year and it has yet to happen.  Can you see the trend?

I think that’s it for seed starting.  I will plant directly outside seeds for beets, spinach, lettuce, kale, carrots, green beans (take note Lucy and Becky), and corn.

Project #2: Clean Up

The small hoop houses on the side of the house need a little sprucing up.  We’ll get some plastic over the tops of these so that we can get some spinach, lettuces, and kale into the ground soon.

The greenhouse Farm Dad made, on the other hand, needs a bit more serious overhaul.  We had heavy duty plastic covering this frame and, obviously, it did not make it through the winter.  But, we had two years of use before the plastic was shredded so, that’s not bad.

Then, on the short list of things to do is general maintenance of landscaping around the house.  This winter was not kind to our boxwood.  They were due to be cut back some anyway along with, the princess spirea in the foreground.

This is what I’m looking at on Sunday April 12, 2015 from my computer desk.  While there are quite a number of projects we need to get going on there are still those that have to wait until the snow really does melt!

What’s on your short list of projects this spring?  

Friday, April 3, 2015

Chick Files #2, They Are Here

The new chicks have arrived...

Can you handle the cuteness???

Here is our experience with having chicks shipped to Ruby Lane Farm. 

We got notification that our 15 Light Brahma Chicks had been shipped out on Thursday March 26th.  Great!  I was given a tracking number for the USPS, which I was not (ever) able to track via the USPS website.  No problem, I assumed that the package number was not entered into the system yet.  I was instructed to call the Post Office to let them know that I would be receiving an order of chicks and to hold the box so that I could pick them up directly.

Since my shipping notification came after the Post Office had closed for the day I decided to call them first thing Friday morning.  On Friday, I spoke with Postmaster who stated that they had not received any chicks in that morning.  At this point, I was a little worried but being unsure of the shipping schedules I just assumed that they would come in later in the day, which according to the post office could happen, although it's not typical.  

Later, that day, I did notify the hatchery that I was not able to track the USPS number thinking that maybe I had gotten it wrong.  Well the number was correct but it still was not logged into the system. So, I was getting a bit worried.  Friday came and went with no news from the Post Office.  

The phone rang at 7:00 Saturday morning, our chicks were waiting for us and off I went.  Having a discussion with the Postmaster she seemed concerned for the health of the chicks.  She had obviously seen packages like these come through and, to her, there wasn't too much noise coming from the box although, there certainly was noise coming from the box.  The box seemed, from the outside, in good condition overall.

The chick box before opening
The chick box, emptied
You can see the warmer and food.
I think there should have been two warmers.

Unfortunately, as soon as I opened the box when I got home, there was obvious loss.  At second (third, fourth, fifth) glance I realized there were actually 7, SEVEN, dead chicks!  Ugh!  I had expected one or two, but SEVEN, no.  I immediately began transferring the live ones to our brooder box already set up and warmed up for them.  Trying to assure them that they would never have to go through that kind of stress ever again!  Amazingly, the remaining eight chicks seemed healthy and no worse for wear.  They were VERY quick to find the food and water and have been eating machines ever since.  Now, cross your fingers that they are NOT all Roosters!!!

Yes, we did call the Hatchery and they have a policy of replacing any dead chicks from shipping. So we are expecting to get our 7 chicks as soon as they hatch, whenever that will be.  Unfortunately, they feel the loss was due to the actual shipping and will make us pay the postage of the next shipment.

Anyway, if and when you order chicks through the mail, especially during winter months, they should be packed with heating pads, similar to hand warmers for your gloves, and, of course, food packets as above.  I now realize, that shipping live chicks is (or should be) typically done at the beginning of the week.  Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday shipments, I gather, have a better chance of a true, overnight shipping time.

Finding food

Very hungry!
Now to explain our chicks' new living arrangements...

This is our brooder box, a large plastic tub from Home Depot covered with a left over piece of lattice.  Farm Dad, ever mindful of potential fire hazards, has never been a fan of heating bulbs. Enter the ceramic heat lamp.  Significantly less likely to break when a chick is testing it's wings and flies straight into it!

Brooder box
Ceramic Heat Lamp
   We will provide the chicks with heat until they have all of their feathers.  We will raise the heat lamp up a bit each week to provide more space for growing chicks as well as decrease the overall temperature a bit so they don't get too hot as their feathers are growing in.

They are also fed an organic chick starter, which is a much finer feed for little beaks.  When they are old enough to be able to handle grain crumbles and then pellets we will switch them over to our barley fodder that we sprout with a supplement of organic chicken pellets.

Chicks today, getting more feathers.
They were not day old chicks when we got them.
Whatcha doin'?

Happy Friday, stay tuned for another chick update. Enjoy your weekend!