Planting Apple Trees

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

There's something nice about breaking ground to plant a tree. It seems like a bit bigger of a deal than planting a tomato plant. The idea that these trees will be around for our kids' kids to eat is pretty exciting.

We planted the four varieties we picked up on a field trip next to our perennial garden. After mixing in a lot of manure and topsoil, we mulched them. We gave the trees about fifteen feet of space, as the Canadian Encyclopaedia of Gardening recommended for their M26 root stock. We don't fully understand root stocks, but the M26 allows the tree to grow to a larger size than some dwarf varieties.

It's incredible that you can graft a specific variety onto a rootstock and have it remain true-to-type, yet the rootstock still dictates the size of the overall tree. Feel free to enlighten us on how this balance works.

You can see (above left) where the original rootstock tree was severed to allow the grafted bud become the new tree. It's crazy to think how that tiny piece of genetics can take hold. On the right is one of the two, larger, three-year-old Tolman Sweet trees we got for my dad's birthday. They'll be producing delicious apples soon-long before the small one-year-old "whips" at the top.

Things have been really busy for us. We're renovating a new house, moving, and I've been doing lots of freelance work, so the garden is a little behind. It's really hard to keep it in mind when there seem to be more "important" things. (I even forgot my camera for these apple posts, so fittingly had to use my own Apple iPhone...)

Planting trees is a great feeling, and we've got the rest of the garden slowly coming along. As always, we don't want it to become negative or a burden, so we do what we can, and so should you.

Field Trip: Siloam Orchards

Friday, April 13, 2012

"I have never seen a reason why every farmer should not have a sugar orchard, as well as an apple orchard" . Thomas Jefferson, July 15, 1808

Since we started growing food on my parents' land, we've kicked ourselves for not planting more permanent sources of food. Each year, our garden at the farm has been annuals, until last year when we planted asparagus and strawberries. We took it a step further this year and ordered some apple trees.

Google helped me find Siloam Orchards in Uxbridge, Ontario. They have Canada's largest selection of heirloom apple trees. Eric and Sharon who operate the orchard are the apple equivalent to what our friend Linda from Tree & Twig Heirloom farm is doing for tomatoes.

I got in touch with Siloam looking for Tolman Sweet apples. They're an old variety that has always been my dad's favourite, and are increasingly hard to find. I thought it'd be a good idea to get him a couple trees for his birthday. They're little yellowish-green apples with a very unique taste that are good for baking and cider, or how we always used them-eating! I also picked up a variety called Seek-No-Further upon their suggestion for another eating apple.

Looking for a couple (hard) cider varieties they suggested a pairing of Bilodeau and Douce de Charlevoix. The descriptions at the very bottom of their immense apple listing page sound amazing, and I can't wait to press and taste them... in a few years.

Apples are not true to type when you propagate them from seed. Their tendency is to go sour, so it's a gamble that takes a heck of a long time to simply find out if it pays off or not... up to a decade, and it generally doesn't end up tasty.

So when a good variety is discovered, it is "preserved" by taking cuttings and grafting them onto hardy rootstock. If you look at the image at the top of the post, you can see a bud grafted into the side of a rootstock. Once the bud is well established, the rootstock is trimmed above the bud that becomes the "new" tree.

If you have property that you don't see leaving any time soon, or have a family property, think about growing something that generations can enjoy and that generations have already enjoyed. Buy the tree that Thomas Jefferson raved about (Hewes Crab). The three to four years it takes for one of Siloam's trees to bear fruit seems like a long time, but that it'll pass before you know it.

Siloam Orchards
7300 3RD Concession
Uxbridge, Ontario, Canada
905-852-9418 (recommended)

Spring Planting

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

My dad's seeder. He uses it to seed his sweet corn every spring.

This year is a great illustration of how unpredictable mother nature is. Last year, the ground was terribly wet all the way into June. Planting was messy, and nothing really liked getting its feet wet. This year, after a incredibly warm March, with no snow melt or much rain, the ground is dry two months earlier than last year. It's a little unnerving to be driving down to the farm and to have dust clouds blowing across the fields.

Since the ground in the garden has been workable now for a while, I decided to plant some early vegetables to start feeding ourselves early this year. We never really realized how early you can plant until last year. We just always had the May long weekend in our minds as the official garden start date. But that can't be further from the truth. I envied everyone else's frost-tolerant early peas, greens, and especially radishes last year, so I made a mission to get them in early this year.

I pulled the tiller out, made some beds, and got to work seeding. The radishes only take about four weeks to grow, and they suggest planting every ten days to have a constant supply. I've put a reminder in my computer's calendar to tell me when to plant again.

Other perennials are growing well, like the hops above. Hops are one of the few ingredients in beer making, which I'd love to attempt. I have a good selection of varieties that are slowly getting established.

I also planted a bit of malting barley. Maybe enough to actually brew something this fall, but I'll probably keep it for next year as seed. I tried to use my dad's old seeder to plant it, but couldn't figure out how to use it properly, and didn't want to bug him on the first overnight vacation my parents have taken since I can remember. So I just took my time and seeded by hand.

Thyme and parsley that have over-wintered well

The main task of the day was to transplant a bunch of perennial herbs to where we're establishing our perennial garden. We moved thyme, parsley, fennel, lovage, and sorrel next to our asparagus patch which is still getting established, and at the end of our strawberry patch which we'll get to enjoy this year.

In our world of speculative home buying and rental living, having a garden to plan for beyond just one season is a special thing. We're so blessed to have access to our family's land that remains year after year and see perennials actually become comfortable and established. We're happy to be picking up apple trees that will be the first apples planted on the farm since the pioneer days. Some of the trees are old, but others won't produce fruit for a few years, but that's ok, because that time will come before we know it.