Archive for the ‘apple trees’ category

mob mentality

February 28, 2010

From today’s New York Times:

 The Crop Mob, a monthly word-of-mouth (and -Web) event in which landless farmers and the agricurious descend on a farm for an afternoon, has taken its traveling work party to 15 small, sustainable farms. Together, volunteers have contributed more than 2,000 person-hours, doing tasks like mulching, building greenhouses and pulling rocks out of fields.

 “The more tedious the work we have, the better,” Jones said, smiling. “Because part of Crop Mob is about community and camaraderie, you find there’s nothing like picking rocks out of fields to bring people together.”

In a rural hamlet like Roseboom, community and camaraderie are naturally occurring phenomena. One neighbor can be counted on to come by with his tractor and till up my plot in May; another is happy to share some old manure. Last year, I left town for a few days not long after planting some apple trees. When I got home my hose had been unspooled and stretched to their site; not knowing how long I was going to be away, my next-door neighbor walked across the lawn each day to give the saplings a healthy soaking. 

Next to these sweet habits of small-town life, the internet-based pop-up communities of today’s fashionable farmophiles might appear vaguely artificial. But this is the time in which we live, and it’s as much a part of our ecology as the climate in which we garden. The smart farmer gets to know his dirt and works with it, not against it. 

This weekend a big snowstorm hit Roseboom, so I stayed in New York. (We had snow here, too, but I didn’t have to drive in it.) And yesterday–via facebook–one of my neighbors offered  to pick up her shovel and attack the pile of snow at the end of my driveway. Good fences may or may not make good neighbors, but good communication is key, and we’re lucky to have so many ways of doing it.

monday evening

September 8, 2009


how d’ya like them apples?

July 11, 2009


and the verticals of trees

May 20, 2009

000_0652When I finally closed on my house, my first thought was of fruit trees. I figured I would spend the first fall/winter doing research, plant the next spring, and enjoy the fruits of my labors…. about now.

That didn’t happen. In fact, until this year’s asparagus, my only permanent plantings have been pretty un-noteworthy—a few bunches of sorrel, a couple of clumps of lavender. 

How I got stuck: I started my apple research at the farmers’ market in DC (where I mostly lived at the time). I found a few varieties I liked. Then I started reading, and quickly learned that none of my favorite cultivars would survive Otsego County winters. I also started to read about garden design. And light and soil requirements. And pruning. And disease. To top it all off, my lovely large yard is on the side of my house, so not only were my orcharding efforts going to be fraught with peril, any failures were going to be very public.

But this spring I was determined to plunge in my shovel and make a mark. I lost someone very close to me a year ago, and a few of my friends got me a gift certificate to a local nursery “to get something lovely for the garden.” I couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate his life than with a tree—something that would live on, perhaps even longer than me, while at the same time illustrating life’s glorious and heartbreaking cycle with the turning of the seasons, year after year.

As it happened, the days leading to the tree-planting adventure brought more sad news. And while my sweet brother was foremost in my heart as I worked on Tuesday, I also thought about two others who had touched my life in very different ways. One I had never met in person, but his teachings (as master of Ashtanga yoga) have had a profound effect on me, particularly in this year. Another was a musician I didn’t know very well, but who had been a regular part of my landscape for the past 16 summers; it is hard to believe we will no longer exchange hellos on the hill behind the wardrobe house.

You never plant a single apple tree, nor do you plant your property with a single cultivar. In order for any one apple tree to bear fruit, it needs to be around other apple trees, and it needs to be around other kinds of apple trees. And here’s a cool thing: every apple seed will grow up (if it can) to be completely unique. The idea is that, of the thousands of varieties thrown off by the hundreds of apples that fall from any one tree in any one season, a few just might have the right qualities to thrive where they land. (For more on this, see Michael Pollan’s The Botany of Desire.)  And if two or more different trees grow up near enough each other, they will likely bear fruit, beginning the wildly creative cycle again.000_0645

Unfortunately, survival is no predictor of palatability. So when we humans discover that one-in-billion tree that produces an apple that tastes good to us, we clone it. Every MacIntosh is descended from a single tree, as is every Winesap, every Gala, every Newton Pippin.

I chose Macoun, Cortlandt and Honeycrisp. I moved them around the yard for awhile in their heavy pots until I found a configuration that felt right. I gave them luxurious holes, plenty of manure, a good soaking, thick rings of mulch. And now they’re settled into what I think of as their permanent spots. Nothing is permanent, of course, but it is nice to imagine some of our labors will bear fruit even after we’re gone.