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Saving the Orchard

Updated: Dec 24, 2020

The Orchard

I have dreamed

of accomplishment

I have fed


I have traded

nights of sleep

for a length of work.

Lo, and I have discovered

how soft bloom

turns to green fruit,

which turns to sweet fruit.

Lo, and I have discovered

all winds blow cold

at last,

and the leaves,

so pretty, so many,


in the great, black

packet of time,

in the great, black

packet of ambition,

and the ripeness

of the apple

is its downfall.

(Mary Oliver)

Bob's grandfather planted the apple orchard over 30 years ago, knowing the value of a crisp, sweet apple. Apple trees can be things of beauty, with snowy flowers whose fragrance summons bees en masse. A healthy apple orchard literally buzzes in springtime.

A man of enterprise, Bob's grandfather decided to intercrop the apples with grape vines. Initially staked and trellised, over time and without maintenance, the grapes slowly took over. After his passing, his vision for the grapes has become lost in their reality: they have grown their tough woody vines into the apples and are slowly but surely choking the life and health out of them.

One of our first tasks has been to try and clean out the orchard and save the apple trees. We are unsure of their variety and anticipate they will be wormy for a while. But the dream of an apple pie made from the fruit picked not 100 feet from our kitchen door has a pull too strong to resist.

So we sprayed ourselves copiously with DEET and braved the orchard. Years of neglect have allowed all sorts of really crappy weeds and shrubs to grow. My personal favorite is one that loosely resembles a rose in its prickers but offers none of the rose's flowers or fragrance. This weed is just an asshole, clinging to life so ferociously that Bob had to use the tractor to rip out the larger ones. 3 days of intense work, clearing the underbrush foot by foot ensued. At times delirious from sunburn and low blood sugar, I made up a little ditty about the weeds, which in reality was just a bunch of swear words I'd strung together and would chant to myself like a kindergartner. .

Bob and I hit a snag in terms of our differing levels of appreciation for the grape vines. Bob has a sentimental attachment to the grapes, wanting to rehabilitate his grandfather's vision for them. I quickly came to hate them as they attempted to trip me repeatedly. Fearing for my eyes (lots of sharp branches and things in that underbrush), and convinced I could just buy grapes whenever I wanted, I suggested we cut them out and eventually plant new ones in a better spot, in his grandfather's honor. In the end, or because of fatigue, we came to the compromise of clipping them back with the intention to check on them later this summer. If they are putting out new growth, we'll stake and trellis them. If not, I get to set a bonfire.

As we take on this project and live into it, the work involved can be overwhelming. We're taking every single family member or friend up on their offer to help. Every corner of the farm needs work. So we've found wisdom in that joke about how to eat an elephant: one bite at a time. The orchard is emblematic of this. For three days we worked on just clearing the next few inches of underbrush, occasionally looking up to judge overall progress, but quickly realizing that can be disempowering. Focusing on clearing the next few inches, making sure to stay hydrated, checking each other for ticks each night... that's how an orchard is cleared.

And hopefully saved.

UPDATE: We harvested a small batch of apples this fall. Though small and pretty weirdly shaped, the apples were surprisingly not-wormy. We canned applesauce and apple butter. Though a small batch, it felt significant as our first output from the farm. We're researching what we need to do to get a better crop of apple-shaped, healthy fruit next fall, and hope to try our hand at making cider.

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