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The ManyTracks Orchard


 
with Sue Robishaw

 

Organic - Healthy - Happy - Infinite

Apples, Cherries, Plums, Pears
Strawberries, Blueberries, Raspberries, Grapes
and a lot more!

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photo apple trees full bloom

 

Four decades of Growing Good Food in the Northwoods of Michigan's Upper Peninsula
~ ~ ~
Down to Earth Information, Experiences, Thoughts

Almost the first thing we did when we got our future homestead property was to put up a fence for the garden and orchard, before we had even moved there. The next summer we tilled up an area for the garden and planted some fruit trees in the farmed out sandy-loam soil. 1978, almost forty years ago, and we are still putting up fence and planting trees! But now we are enjoying the fruit as well as the labor. It's been, and continues to be, a great adventure, a great amount of learning, and a whole lot of fun.

My notes are a little sketchy from those first years; we were busy with working out, building the cabin and house, creating our homestead. We planted those first trees with love but little knowledge. Thankfully some of the trees had strong inclinations to not only survive but grow and produce, and they did, eventually, more in spite of us than because of. The only record I have of that first momentous occasion of the "First Fruit" was a note in my canning notebook, 1987, "70 apples, mostly spys but some macs, good." I assume we were more excited and appreciative than that sounds!

Only a few of those original trees, apples, are still with us (the "spys" that we were told were Prairie Spys but turned out not to be) but they have been joined by many more now, with new arrivals every year. The orchard has become my great passion, with Steve's support, help and encouragement. The additions were sporadic and occasional through the years until six years ago when we discovered grafting, and had more time to spend in the orchard. In the summer of 2016 we had 21 apples, 2 pears, 3 cherry, 9 plums/chums, many rootstocks waiting for grafts, plus a nice contingent of small fruits, happily surrounding the vegetable garden. Many of the trees are not bearing yet but the anticipation is there.

photo orchard map 2016

Now, finally, the orchard is getting its well deserved spot on the website. It might now be called a food forest or permaculture or eco orchard, in current terms. But for us it is just our ever growing, ever expanding homestead orchard which includes so much more than fruit trees. It grew organically and naturally over the years (decades!) and is grown organically and naturally. We like it a lot. It's a bit daunting to think of how to share so much experience with our readers, in some reasonable order, in some useful fashion. The rest of our website was built piece by piece over the last twenty years, not all at once. So I think that is how I will begin sharing our orchard, piece by piece, as it occurs to me. Some will be new articles, some will be posts from our Blog, some (the berries and small fruit) are already on the website in the Garden section (also in the menu above), some photos, some words. However it arrives I hope you will enjoy and be inspired to do whatever suits you and yours, as I have done in my orchard, with great joy in being a part of that wonderfully eclectic dynamic world.

(p.s. Some of the sections in the Menu (in italic) are simply placeholders without content yet, to remind me they are waiting for me to add something. The pages with content are in Bold.)



Post by Sue ORCHARD - Expanded - 12-16-2016   (blog post)

It feels like we went from two months of Octobers right into January, skipping November and December this year. I think Nature just gets bored and enjoys having a little fun with us. But lows of zero with highs barely into the teens means many cheery sunny days, and a happy solar homestead. The snow cover is a bit light for those low temps but it’s snowing this evening with promise of several more inches. That will be good, not only for insulation on the house but for the orchard and garden. All of the younger fruit trees, berries, shrubs, plants are well mulched but I always feel more comfortable when they have that extra blanket of natural insulation to get them through the winter. And this year there are a group of seedlings that were transplanted late (because I could, thanks to the very mild November) who will especially appreciate that comfort as they go into winter in their new homes in the “new” orchard. On paper there isn’t much distinction between old and new but for that all important item -- the fence.

A couple of fruit trees had already settled beyond the current fenced half acre of land where about 30 fruit trees plus various shrubs, berries and large garden are nicely protected from deer and raccoons. But there just wasn’t room for all the plantings of my dreams to fit in there. We have already grafted onto a number of wild crab/apple seedlings out and about but they will require individual fences for many years to come to keep the deer from “pruning” them to stubs. Then they’ll need to be grown tall enough to keep at least some of the fruit out of their reach if I want to harvest any for us. That’s fine for a handful of trees but not for the number I’m planning. Plus I want to grow my trees shorter than “above deer reach”. It was obvious -- the fenced in orchard needs to expand. Happily, just east of our current set-up makes sense. We roughly outlined where the new fence could go, given the terrain and the existing white pines, wild black cherries and other wild growth. The fairly open area was full of dewberry brambles and rough field so we mowed it with sickle bar and hardy, overworked gas “lawn” mower, and Steve cut down a few trees. I spent many a happy hour with PhotoShop moving little circles around and imagining what might go where. Then back and forth to the “real” plot to re-organize and re-arrange based on what felt and looked right in person. I wanted groups of fruit trees with room for lower growing shrubs and plants.

It was fall but thanks to the extended mild weather it didn’t take long to fill in most of the spots with transplanted crab and apple seedlings to be grafted next spring or later. Plus several already grafted seedling made their way to the new orchard to join the ten year old Summercrisp Pear that has been living outside the fence for so many years. Our old pear rootstock which is a beautiful 35 ft tree with inedible fruit (to us--the deer love them) will end up inside the new fence where it doesn’t need to be for any reason except that’s where it’ll end up if I run the new fence where I want to. Which means I’ll be picking up a lot of those little 1” choke-pears and tossing them over the fence for the deer in the future. But that will be easier than angling the fence around the tree. I think. The new fence for the new orchard expansion won't happen until next summer so I put temporary individual fences around all the newly transplanted seedlings.

So why am I writing about this is the moderately deep freeze of a cold December evening? Because this is a great time to dream and fantasize, research and collect ideas, wonder about growing this or that, make plans, order rootstocks, plan which scions to buy, decide whether to try an apricot now or wait until the third orchard expansion is ready...

Yep, already we’re looking at another new area. See, I've been reading the experiences of a number of creative folks who don’t pay much attention to what others say they can’t do, they just go ahead and dream, building on what other pioneers have done, add their own ideas, and push the limits to grow apricots and peaches and sweet cherries and less hardy apples and pears and who knows what else in those cold chilly zones where people never store away their long-johns and wool mittens and knitted toques. The mind is a fascinating creature. Maybe it doesn’t make sense to try to grow sweet cherries here, but that doesn’t stop my mind from heading off immediately into ideas of how I MIGHT grow sweet cherries here. Which means more room, which means an addition expansion to the expansion that hasn't even made it beyond paper. This is fine because it's easier to move things around on paper than to dig up and reset fence posts and fencing.

Meantime, I’ve been promised scions from a wonderfully very old pear tree growing in L’Anse up near Lake Superior and have room for two pears in the expanded orchard area. Now, to decide what to graft them to... Someone has promised me 5 Harbin/Siberian/Ussuriensis Pear rootstocks in the spring. Then I read about trials in Canada with grafting to common hedge plant cotoneaster lucidus. Mmmmm. BTW, it’s not pronounced “cotton easter” as I have been doing (in case you are wondering, which likely you aren’t, but...) it is properly, apparently, pronounced “ko-tony-aster”. It’s not common to me (being woods oriented not town landscape oriented) but I may try to find a few seedlings come spring. This type of thing keeps me well occupied and the computer humming these cold, dark, cozy winter evenings. And I haven’t even started researching what plums I want to graft next spring. Plus I need to pare my list of 22 apple varieties down to 6. Now that’s some hard work, especially since I keep adding instead of subtracting.

Some have sugar plums dancing in their heads this time of year, I have apples and pears and cherries... Such is the lot of a semi-practical homesteader.




    


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Have you read  "Frost Dancing - Tips from a Northern Gardener" ? A fun short read.

or "Homesteading Adventures"    Creating our backwoods homestead--the first 20 years.

and "Growing Berries for Food and Fun"   A journey you can use in your own garden.

updated 01/16/2017

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