Category Archives: Orchard Reclamation

How to Trim a Fruit Tree

Just like when trimming grapes, there is a good way to trim a fruit tree and a bad way to trim one. If your goal is to trim your fruit tree for optimum fruit production, there are a few key things to consider while pruning.

How to Trim a Fruit Tree.

Apple trees and plum trees are the most forgiving if you heavily prune them. They readily produce sucker growth and water shoots. More delicate fruit trees, such as peaches and apricots should be pruned less aggressively. Take too much off and you will stunt the tree’s growth and production. There are a few very basic rules for all fruit trees.

  • Start with the right equipment and don’t stint on price. You’ll want good-quality 18-inch loppers, pruners and handsaw. There are many different styles, lengths and price ranges on pruning equipment. The trick is to not buy more than you need but be sure to buy what you do need. Make sure it is sharp enough, long enough, sturdy enough and easy to sharpen for what you will be pruning.  If you need to use a ladder, be sure it’s a sturdy one in good condition.
  • The best time to prune is late fall after leaves are off, but any time from December through February before they start to bud again will work.
  • Remove dead, dying and diseased limbs first.
  • Take out crossing limbs and remove limbs that grow down or straight up.
  • Clear out the center of the tree, and prune the top of the tree more heavily than the lower portion.
  • Only take out one-third of the limbs at once, and for a peach or apricot, only take out about one-quarter every 3-4 years and only if necessary to promote better fruiting.

How a branch should be trimmed.On young trees, pruning encourages a strong, solid framework for future fruit and picking; on mature trees, pruning encourages fruit production to continue at high yields if so desired. The final cut on each unwanted branch needs to be alongside the “branch collar”, a raised ring of bark where the branch intersects with another branch. Growth cells concentrate in these nodes, causing fast bark regrowth which seals the cuts. The idea is to leaf a slight nob where the cut is as shown in the photo.

Usually when you purchase fruit trees from a nursery, they are already trimmed the way they should be to get them through the first 3-4 years. Once they start getting a lot of new growth, that’s the time to tame the beast a bit.

Step by step how to prune apple trees.

1. Clean up

Start by pruning away branches that are diseased, damaged or dead. If there are any sprouts coming from the base of the trunk, prune those out too. These are known as suckers and they originate from the rootstock rather than the fruiting tree grafted onto it. Prune away any straight stems sprouting from main branches – these are water shoots and are often a sign of over vigorous pruning over one season.

2. Thin out

Aim for the open goblet-shaped canopy which opens up the crown to allow light in and air to move around freely. It boosts fruit production and reduces disease. To create this shape, prune out upward growing interior branches, especially those that rub against each other or criss-cross other branches.

You can also remove leading branches that compete with each other or points where two or more branches grow from the same point and seem to compete with each other. Retain the healthiest branch that’s in the best position. When you’re doing this, keep stopping, stand back and check your work and overall shape of the tree. Make sure you’re working towards evenly spaced branches and the open goblet shape.

3. Make heading back cuts

Heading back means pruning the outside branches of the tree to shorten and thicken them, especially in young trees. It stops branches from getting long and gangly and at risk of snapping. Heading cuts are necessary when pruning young trees, but you’ll make fewer heading cuts as trees mature. It generally involves cutting away 20 to 30 percent of last year’s growth. You can tell which growth is last year’s growth – look for the wrinkly ring of bark encircling each stem. This could be a few centimeters to over a meter back from the tip of the stem. But it depends on the vigor of the tree.

Unlike the previous steps, these cuts will be made part way along each branch. But where you make the cut is really important. Make the cut just above an outward-facing bud.  It will cause a new shoot to grow from the direction the bud is facing in the coming year. It will stimulate growth and encourage branches to grow in the direction you want.

Heading cuts should be avoided once the initial shaping of the tree has been completed as it can cause the tree to become overcrowded. In mature trees, if you need to use a heading cut to shorten a long and thin branch make the cut in old wood as this causes less new growth.

How to Repair Tree Bark Damage

How to Trim and Repair Damaged Trees.

We haven’t posted any news about our orchard reclamation lately, mostly due to the fact that it’s winter, but work goes on. About all we can doing during the winter months is trim trees, and since this orchard was not properly kept up by the previous owners, we have a great deal of trimming to do. Which prompted us to writer an article on the proper way to repair tree damage.

It’s a double whammy for my orchard because not only were the trees not properly trimmed by the previous owners, they turned the apple orchard into a pasture for their horses…and anyone who has horses knows…they chew up everything. Almost every single tree of the 45 or more in the main orchard has severe bark damage due to the horses chewing off the bark. Some of the trees are already dead or near dead, others look like they will recover in time, which will take about 4-5 years to start to recover from the damage. Others will have to be cut down and started all over. If there is enough undamaged bark left at the base of the tree to cut the top off and start new water shoots from what’s left, we are doing that. There are several options when trimming and repairing tree bark damage depending on each individual tree.

tree bark completely gone. Girdled
This tree is completely girdled all the way around. It is dead.

It’s a crying shame that anybody would let their horses destroy such a beautiful orchard and one that is mature with 80 year old heirloom apple varieties. Clearly the previous owners of the property were ignorant to the damage horses cause to trees, or didn’t care. I’ve had horses, and the only way to curb their appetite for chewing on wood is to give them some they are allowed to chew on. I gave my horses firewood that had bark on it and they would chew that off instead of eating my barn or stalls. Never, and I mean never, allow horses around any trees you plan to keep or consider valuable. They will destroy them.

I have brought trees back from the brink of death before. I once purchased a property with a crabapple tree in the front yard that had sustained severe bark damage and had only 3 leaves on the entire tree when we closed on the property. I immediately set to work protecting the tree in hopes it would come back. And come back it did! In just 4-5 years, you would not know it was the same tree. It grew to a beautiful round shape full of leaves and new branches and blossoms that surpassed all the other crabapples in the yard. I was so glad I had taken the time and effort to try and save it, and it rewarded me with beautiful blossoms every spring thereafter.

How Does One Go About Bringing Back a Damaged Tree?

Repairing bark damage on trees is a very slow process: 3-4 years before you might see significant signs of healing and a good 10-12 years for total repair of a severely damaged trunk. Before starting any work on it, you have to take a good look at the tree and see if you believe it actually might recover before deciding to put in the time and effort, or, to just cut it down and plant a new one. The reason being that the outer bark of the trunk is what nourishes the tree. The inner tree,  the trunk inside the outer bark, is just for support purposes only. It does not take up water or nutrients. This is why you want to be so careful with weed trimmers and lawn equipment around young trees with soft bark. It is the outer 1/16th to 1/8th inch of bark that supplies water and nutrients to the entire tree.

If a tree is “girdled” – meaning the outer bark is stripped all the way around the perimeter of the trunk – the tree will die. If a tree is even three quarters girdled around the trunk, it will likely die and is not worth saving. If a tree still has at least half of it’s outer bark around the perimeter of the trunk, it may come back but it will need a lot of TLC. A tree with this much damage will usually die completely on the side of the tree that is missing the bark. All the branches on that side of the tree will die as well. However, the wonderful thing about apple trees is they are extremely prolific. They send out lots of suckers and water shoots, usually to the dismay of any orchardist, however, if you need to bring back a damaged tree, these strays are a God’s send, just make sure you save the ones above any grafts and get rid of the ones below a graft if you want to maintain the true variety of the tree. If you have trees as old and large as mine, you will have to stay a good 2-3 feet off the ground before saving any new growth if you want to preserve the variety of the original tree since there is no evidence of a graft node to go by.

You have two choices with a severely damaged apple tree: You can dead-head it, that is cut off the top and let the lower branches and new growth take off from what’s left of the trunk and create a new canopy, or, if your tree has bark damage and you see new growth anywhere on it (what is called “water shoots or whips), you can preserve them and let them take over by cutting off what’s dead and thinning new growth to allow room. If you chose to do either, you must protect that tender new growth from deer who love to eat it by covering it with bird netting permanently until the growth gets too tall for the deer to reach. Otherwise it will be time and effort wasted. Believe me.

This tree is a mess.
All the trees look like this. A mess with sucker branches, mature trees that are near dead and severely chewed up by horses and deer.

DO NOT USE TREE SEALERS OR WRAPS.

There are a couple different kinds of “tree sealer” for bark damage. One is for grafting and promotes growth but can only be used in small areas such as where branches have been removed. It will do nothing on bark damage.

The other is an asphalt or paint that claims to protect your tree from insects and rot. This part of their statement is true, it will seal the inner bark from insects and mold, however, it may also prevent any new bark from growing in the area where it is applied. If you have severe bark damage, the only way to save the tree is to allow it to grow back the outer bark. If you seal the damaged area, it might stop the outer bark that is left on the tree from growing over that area if the sealant is too thick, which is why people stopped using tar to seal trees with. Besides, tree sealers are a waste of money when a coat of paint will achieve the same thing. But don’t do that either unless you have a very small area of bark damage and are just trying to keep bugs and mold out.

Do not wrap the tree with any kind of tape or tree wraps. Tree wraps just promote insect infestations because it gives the bugs somewhere to hide where the birds and other natural predators can’t find them. Wraps create insect infestations.

If You Think There’s Hope for Your Tree.

If you examine a tree and decide you see enough new growth or potential to save it, now the work begins. Start by cutting off any old dead branches. Next, decide what of the new growth should be saved. If there are a lot of new shoots, thin them out to the strongest looking ones making sure to allow enough room for that branch as it matures. In other words, only keep the water shoots that have the room to grow into 3-5 inch diameter branches. Leave enough room between shoots for such growth. Ideally, try to keep the shoots and new branches down to about 5 or 6 really nice ones. You can always thin them out in years to come once you see how the tree does. Best to give it enough new growth to keep it alive and doing well and thin out any excess as years go by. Also, you will want to trim those water shoots as they grow by cutting the tops off of them before they get too long and gangly to encourage side branches on them and a stronger tree system.

Mature sucker will eventually produce fruit.
Mature sucker will eventually produce fruit.

In some cases, it may be beneficial to cut down the main tree and leave a mature sucker instead if the main tree is a lost cause, such as in the photo to the left. As you can see, the main tree sustained some pretty severe bark damage. We left it only because it may come back with some luck because it’s only about half girdled around the base, however, we also left this mature sucker alongside it in case the main tree does not make it. We will then cut it down and let the sucker take over. With this tree, since we do not know if it was ever a grafted tree or not due to it’s age and large size, we will not know if the sucker will produce apples true to the mature tree. If you are very particular about the variety of your apples, you may not want to start a new tree from a sucker such as this one. This sucker is large enough that it may produce apples this year or next, and then I will decide if it is worth keeping or not.

If the damage is farther up from the base of the tree, you may be able to leave the main tree as a stump, dead-head it, and let the new growth start a new canopy. In very old orchards where the trees have stopped producing, or in the case of severe tree damage, many orchardists cut off the entire tree about 4-5 feet off the ground and let the water shoots that sprout along the sides grow into a new tree. The advantage to this over simply cutting down the entire tree and replacing it is that there is nothing wrong with the root system, and since it is a mature root system, the new growth will take off quickly and often produce fruit much sooner than a young sapling would.

Stump with new growth
Stump with new growth

As you can see in the photo to the right, we completely cut off some of the worst trees and left nothing but a stump with a few water shoots to start taking over. This tree was a small sapling but had broken off right where we cut it. The only option to save this one is to let the water shoots start a new tree. I am confident at least one of the shoot is high enough to be above any graft that might have been used to start this tree, although I cannot see any evidence of one. I suspect this sapling was started from fallen fruit and won’t be true to a variety I want. But we’ll see. It may be large enough to produce fruit in about 5-7 years. Notice we immediately covered the stump and any new growth with bird netting. The deer have already been patrolling the orchard and nibbling on new spring buds. We want to give this poor tree every chance we can or it won’t make it at all.

After All the Pruning is Done.

Last, but certainly not least. After all the pruning is done and any short tree stock is protected with netting, make sure to give your damaged tree a big, healthy dose of organic compost in the spring. A damaged tree needs a lot of nutrients to get it going again and repair itself. Take advantage of the heavier spring rains to drive that compost tea deep into the root base for your recovering tree. Put a thick layer about 2-3 inches deep and at least  3-4 feet wide around the base of the tree. Do not put it up against the base of the tree or it will cause rot. Leave a good 5-6 inches around the base. Every time it rains, the water seeping through the compost will make a nutrient-rich compost tea to feed your tree. It will take off with vigor having a new lease on life. If you live in a drought area, be sure to also mulch this tree well. The last thing you want is for that new growth to dry out or not grow due to lack of moisture.

“What a shame.” I say this every time I walk out to this orchard. For the previous owners to allow their horses to create such damage is a travesty. However, I am confident I can restore it somewhat and what can’t be restored I will replace with grafts. This orchard is at least 80 years old with apple varieties that cannot be bought these days. So, with enough good root stock, we can start to rebuild and restore this once beautiful orchard.

Fifteen Foot Tall Weeds: You Got to be Kidding me.

In the early summer when I took possession of the orchard, I saw a plant growing in various areas around the grounds that I had never seen before. It had pretty shaped leaves so I decided to let it go for a while and see what it would look like when it got bigger. Big, and bigger mistake! It literally turned into a dense jungle next to the barn that was so thick you could not walk through it and the plants grew to be 12-15 feet tall. They literally engulfed the entire side of the barn. I decided I had to find out what it was. Much to my dismay, after doing some research, I found out it was giant ragweed. Giant is right. And after reading up on it, it is apparently the bane of every farmer’s existence in this area. One farmer wrote that it could not be destroyed even by the most powerful farm machinery. After reading that, I wondered if I even stood a chance at conquering this foe.

I had never seen ragweed like this before, but I did know that a great many people are allergic to ragweed, and since this was going to be a public place for my bed and breakfast guests to enjoy, it had to go! I also knew it was about to flower and go  to seed, and my reaction to that thought was, “oh hell no.” As summer continued on, the giant ragweed was taking over entire hillsides and acres. It was a battle I immediately knew could not be won in a single season, so I had to prioritize which areas I could make a dent in that were the most necessary to do so.

Trying to Control Giant Ragweed:

After spending literally days cutting down ragweed that had stalks up to 2 inches in diameter with a tree branch trimmer, I had barely made a dent in it. I went after the smaller stalks of younger ragweed with my new, amazing, Stihl weed wacker which can handle stalks up to about an inch in diameter and say, “give me more”. The bigger stuff had to be cut by hand, one stalk at a time, and there were approximately 20-30 stalks per square foot of this prolific and extremely invasive weed threatening to take over my entire orchard if let go to seed. It was a massive, thick jungle next to the barn making it’s way down the hill and starting to establish itself in the orchard and vegetable garden area. THAT I was not going to let happen.

It took me three solid days of cutting to get rid of the thickest patch of ragweed alongside the barn and to try to reduce the numbers in the orchard. Every time I went for a walk and came across a ragweed plant, I saw red and went after it, tearing it up by the roots if possible, and cutting it down if not. After about a month of this insanity, I realized I was probably beating my head against a brick wall by even thinking I could stop this intruder from taking over the entire grounds.

The funny thing was, after I slowed down my military efforts against the weed, I stumbled on an article saying that this much-hated weedy adversary actually has a positive attribute. The seeds are a very good source of protein that chickens especially like. If I had a mind to, I could harvest the seeds for a very good plant protein source.

Now I had a conundrum.

Since I was planning to start chickens the following spring, should I let the ragweed go for feed for the chickens or continue my seemingly hopeless attempt to eradicate it? I ultimately decided it still had to be controlled because it was in danger of engulfing the entire property if I let it. However, it was too daunting of a task to accomplish in one summer. So, I tackled the biggest, thickest patch, and the infestations closest to the bed and breakfast guest house, and decided it would require the least amount of hard, physical labor if I let the rest go until next spring and was diligent from that time forward of just mowing it down and pulling it where I could. At least I had a plan of attack. It was all I could hope to attain. The giant ragweed kicked my butt once it was allowed to take over the entire property by the previous owners who obviously didn’t weed at all.

 

Welcome to the Jungle: Best Weed Trimmer

It’s a jungle out there doesn’t even begin to describe the grounds surrounding the orchard. I have never lived in a place where the weeds are taller than I am, let alone had to deal with 10 foot tall, very invasive weeds like the ones along side my barn in the photo above.

Nobody in this area seems to know what these weeds are called, only that if you don’t pull them when they are small, you are in for a battle. As this photo shows, the barn wall is 8 feet tall, which means these weeds are a good 10 feet tall. The stems are about an inch in diameter, so well beyond the scope of even my heavy duty Stihl weed trimmer – which I must add was money well spent. I am amazed what this Stihl weed trimmer will cut. I’ve cut 1/4 inch sumac and blackberry canes with this little work horse. My Stihl blows my previous Troy Built right out of the water, which won’t start anymore, leaks gas, needs parts and I decided was not worth fixing.

Let me say, when it came time to buy another weed trimmer, I put a great deal of research and thought into. First of all, I despise power equipment that is difficult to start, so I always look for a gas priming bulb on everything I buy. This one feature will save you countless hours yanking your arm off to try and get a piece of equipment to start. Either a priming bulb, or some manufacturers are now getting wise and designing their equipment with a gas on and off switch which will also get gas to the engine right away and save yanking on that dang engine cord – one of my biggest pet peeves.

Stihl FS 56 R trimmerSecondly, I’ve had several weed trimmers (weed whackers in the slang commonly used), that just aren’t worth the metal and plastic they are made of because the string constantly breaks or runs out – because it ends up a tangled mess on the spool by some mystery only known to weed whackers – and they can’t cut anything bigger than a blade of grass. So you have to ask yourself: “Why bother?” I decided this time around, I wasn’t going to waste my money on useless, inept weed trimmers anymore, and especially not with the jungle I now have to whack through.

An effective weed trimmer can’t be had for less than $150; so for just another $50, the Stihl is a true bargain. Stihl is American-made which helps if you ever do need parts or service, and Stihl is also proud of their reputation for producing quality equipment, so when I found a high horsepower Stihl gas string trimmer for $200, I jumped on it. I had also read reviews before deciding whether the model I bought would do the job I needed it to, and after reading a couple comparison tests and reviews on the Stihl FS 56R, I decided it was the best machine for my budget and I wasn’t wrong. It was a pleasant surprise to have a piece of lawn and garden equipment that actually does what it’s suppose to with ease.

I picked up my Stihl FS 56 RC-E trimmer fully assembled from a local dealer. Dealers provide customers with a “serviced out” unit, meaning it’s fueled, fully assembled, including handle, and ready to go. My dealer even started it up for me and made sure it worked before I left the store with it. Don’t get that kinda service anymore.
STIHL does not retail products in a box, and I for one am getting really tired of “some assembly required” on everything I buy these days. It’s not so bad if you purchase something once or twice a year, but since I just moved and had to either sell or donate almost everything I owned because I was moving all by myself, I have a great many things I now have to replace. After the fifth or sixth piece of furniture or equipment I’ve had to put together myself, I’m done. Not just because it’s a pain to have to assemble everything you buy these days, but also because most instructions are now nothing more than diagrams without any text and you have to play Pictionary with them in order to figure them out half the time, and then, you can bet at least one in 3 or 4 units will be missing parts. It’s aggravating enough to have to build something yourself that you are paying good money for, but twice as aggravating to get half way through the process only to find you are missing that one crucial part in order to even use the thing.

Once I got my Stihl weed trimmer home, I was even more impressed. Not only will it tackle blackberry canes and 1/4 inch sumac and other big weeds, it’s foolproof to start. Stihl purposely made it easy to start by building their starting switches and mechanisms to be idiot proof and a breeze. For one thing, they built a safety feature into the choke switch so that during the break-in period the operator is not allowed to rev up the engine or use it at full speed until the motor is safely broken in first. So if you are wondering why you can’t get the choke lever to go to full speed the first couple times you use this model, that would be why. But Stihl didn’t stop there, they made it so the choke lever will automatically set itself where it needs to be for cold and hot startups, not only that, but the engine ON switch will automatically switch back to ON after you shut off the unit. Meaning, Stihl has tried to make this weed trimmer as easy to start as mechanically possible – as if the company would really rather put a little extra effort into protecting their equipment than to have you wreck it and have to replace it. Imagine that: in today’s day in age? A company that builds their equipment to last rather than making it cheap and unreliable so Joe Consumer has to replace it every couple of years? I wonder if Stihl’s marketing department knows about this little secret.

Of course, I’m no trimmer expert, I am only going by my past experiences with other brands of trimmers, so do your research to find what’s best for your use, but I am more than happy with my Stihl FS 56 and would highly recommend it to anybody. Some reviews say it’s bulky or heavy, but I say who cares if it gets the job done well and is easy to start. What else can you want in a trimmer anyway? All my friends say, “You need a brush cutter.” In reality, I have too many small areas I need to get into and can’t with a big piece of equipment like a brush cutter, and its often just not convenient after mowing to weed wack and also drag out a brush cutter. If I were cutting anything bigger than the stuff my Stihl is able to handle, I would really need a chainsaw. I consider this little gem a good compromise between a brush cutter and a trimmer that didn’t break my budget by having to buy 2 pieces of equipment to do the job because most weed trimmers are inadequate.

Here we go ’round the…

The whole goal of my purchasing this abandoned orchard is to one day get it to the point where it will at least pay for itself. Realizing that the first year will be a wash – due to having to do so much work just to get the property back to where it should be had it been properly maintained by the previous owners, and having to purchase and set up all the equipment needed to operate an orchard.  However, I still managed to produce a few orchard products within the first month of being here thanks to a rather large tree I had no idea of, and a couple very prolific cherry bushes.

Mulberry tree
Mulberry trees are the largest trees to produce berries that are edible. Most berries grow on bushes.

While mowing the lawn one day and getting slapped in the face by low hanging branches on one tree in particular, by about the third pass under it I noticed it was full of berries. I have never seen a full sized tree – about 20 to 25 feet tall – get berries, so I had to find out what kind it was and were the berries edible. I also did not recognize the multi-colored berries that looked similar to blackberries but definitely were not.

It turns out it is a mulberry tree. Once I found out it was edible, I tasted a few berries. Nothing to brag about in my opinion, but I was determined to find something useful to make out of it because it was just loaded with berries, and after all, this was suppose to be a producing orchard, which meant that anything on it should be utilized commercially somehow. I also was experienced enough with canning to know that you can make jelly out of just about anything if you add enough sugar to it.

Mulberries are very high in antioxidants, vitamin K, potassium and some trace minerals. Of course, once you cook any food, these wonderful nutrients are lost.

Making mulberry syrup
Cooking down the mulberry syrup takes almost as much time and work as making maple syrup

Jelly is not a commodity I myself use very much at all. One jar of jelly will last me 6 months and usually gets moldy before I have a chance to use it all up. I predicted that most people are like myself and are not big jelly consumers, so I put my advertising and marketing employment experience into action and thought of a product I could make out of mulberries that would be more marketable. Mulberry syrup sounded like a better option to me, and once I made a batch, it turned out so wonderful I’ve decided syrup will be this big berry tree’s calling.

There is a bit of a trick to harvesting the berries though, and I’ve also discovered raccoons and bears think the berries are quite yummy as well, especially if someone else picks them for them. Birds of course are always an issue with berries of any kind. Beating them to the harvest is always a challenge.

I wouldn’t say mulberries are as tasty or juicy as most berries, but they do make a very unique and delicious syrup along with a few other ingredients we added to it at the orchard. We also managed to harvest enough cherries to make a batch of cherry sauce to sell at the farmer’s markets.

While making this entire discovery was fun and interesting, I also discovered a problem with the old childhood nursery rhyme “Here we go ’round the Mulberry Bush.” Every time I mow around that darn tree now, I have that nursery rhyme running through my head. That’s when I realized an inherent blooper in the age-old children’s rhyme. If you’ve read this entire article, you have probably figured it out yourself, and that is that any plant 20-30 feet tall can hardly be called a bush. (I know…I’m being too technical. They aren’t about to change the rhyme.)

A Beautiful Secret Uncovered

Wild rose bush
Wild rose was overcome by the tree next to it and chickweed.

Although not the main reason I purchased this property, the huge flower garden is an added bonus for sure. However, it has not been weeded for years. The previous owners obviously weren’t into weeding: which in Colorado I can understand, because the dirt is so hard you actually have to get it wet before you can dig in it or pull weeds. Weeding in Colorado clay that’s like concrete is a real chore, but here in Wisconsin, where the soil is a nice sandy loam, or at least more loose, pulling weeds is a breeze. Therefore, I really don’t understand why the previous owners of this property didn’t keep up the flower garden. The person who planted it originally clearly put a lot of work into it, and planted several varieties of flowers, shrubs, vines, herbs and bushes. From the little bit I could see of it through all the huge weeds that had taken it over, it looked pretty impressive.

yellow coreopsis uncovered
Coreopsis trying to bloom through a tangled mesh of chickweed

Oops. I’m committed now, or, I should be committed.

One day, I was looking at that overgrown, badly neglected mess and just decided to pull a couple weeds to see what was under them. Two hours later, I had about a quarter of the flower garden area weeded and had uncovered all kinds of surprises. It was even more impressive than I thought, and another pleasant bonus was that the creator of the flower garden and I had the same taste in flowers. They had planted at least 7-8 different colors of lilies, which happen to be my favorite flower. I had started beekeeping in Colorado – although not successfully – and after uncovering a bit of the flowers beneath the weeds, I also found many herbs had been planted there and a great many flowers that bees like.

a lily of every color
A lily of every color delighted me to no end

Luckily, I had a little foresight before leaving Colorado and I brought my beehive equipment with me in hopes I could get a hive established on the orchard. That will be another set of trials and tribulations to write about later, but uncovering even just a small portion of the flower garden revealed a great many useful plants, gorgeous, well-stablished flowers and shrubs and even a stone walkway and sitting area. This colorful array must have been glorious at one time, and I am determined it will be again with just a little TLC. It really blows my mind that someone would not take care of it just a little and reap it’s beauty. I mean, it was already there, it just needed to be weeded. Oh well, their loss is not my gain. The more I uncover of the flower garden, the more I am rewarded with beautiful surprises.

For more photos of what I have uncovered so far, follow The Flower Garden category of posts.

Orchard Transformation Day Two, Three, Four

Okay, is it ever going to stop raining?

Welcome to Wisconsin where it rains almost all spring. But hey, the entire reason I moved from Colorado to Southern Wisconsin is because you simply cannot grow anything in Colorado with any success. And if you do manage to keep anything (and I mean anything) green, it’s because you took out a second mortgage on your house to pay your water bill. Growing an orchard on Colorado’s Eastern slope? Forget about it. Not enough rain and you have to irrigate constantly to grow anything along the front range.
The summers there are brutally hot and dry: which of course, as anyone knows, is not conducive to having a good garden, or a green lawn, or any plants at all. I eventually realized that while I (and unfortunately most people) love the climate in Colorado, it simply is not what plants like. Plants like lots of moisture, some humidity, and not to be baked by Colorado’s intense sun 300 days a year and choked out in it’s hard-as-concrete clay.

So, while Wisconsin’s climate is not always people-friendly, it is most definitely plant-friendly, and I knew when I decided to move back to my roots that I was going to have to suck it up, endure the humidity (which I am so not used to after living in the Southwest for over 27 years), and the days and days of rain in the spring if I wanted to be any kind of serious grower.

Therefore….I listen to the rain hitting the barnhouse roof and try to patiently work on my plan of attack the second the sun comes out and the grass dries enough to be mowed. And if that isn’t soon, I will need a machete just to mow the lawn, for it is already a good 6-7 inches high and so thick it’s like carpeting. I tried to mow it with my push mower just to keep it manageable until I could get a riding mower, but after spending an hour and a half and barely making a dent in the 1.5 acre lawn, I knew that wasn’t happening.

Wisconsin was sort of a compromise for me: not as humid as more Southern states, and just enough rain to make things grow. I chose the Southern part of the state because it gets a bit more sun than the Northern half, even if just by a few days, and it’s a scant 5 degrees warmer in the winter. I knew what Wisconsin winters were like having grown up in Northern Wisconsin. My philosophy in moving back was that any extra degree of warmth in the winter was a must in order for me to survive, so I looked for property as far South as I could find.

Trying to make the most productive use out of even the least productive (rainy) days, I figured at least I could get my new toy delivered while I’m fantasizing about the sunshine I left behind in Colorado. In between rain storms (literally) the local homesteading store delivered my newest and most necessary piece of reclamation equipment: the biggest, most powerful riding lawnmower (garden tractor to be precise) that I could find. When that Cub Cadet GX 54D rolled off the trailer and into my garage I knew I bought the only riding lawn mower that could handle the jungle I just purchased. Why a “D” model you may ask? Because the very-knowledgable owner of the homesteading supply store that I spoke with for 20 minutes convinced me that I could probably used the model with the more powerful transmission so I could also use it to haul apples in a cart during harvest time and make my life easier for various other orchard chores. My property is too crowded with trees, buildings, and other remnants of previous owners to use a big tractor, and we both agreed (myself and the store owner) that an actual tractor may be overkill for what I would really need. Besides, you always have to get diesel gas for a tractor, and I can just use regular gas for my “cubbie.”

I would highly recommend this Cub Cadet for backyard orchards and small farms or orchards like mine that just don’t have the room to manuevre a large tractor due to all the trees etc.

Now….” Rain, rain go away, so I can mow my lawn before it becomes hay.”

Cub Cadet GX 54D riding lawn mower
Ain’t she a beauty.

Reclaiming the Orchard: Day One

Well, now that I am finally unpacked and settled into the giant renovated barn-house at the orchard, the real work begins. As if moving all the way from Colorado to Southern Wisconsin in my beat-up F150 with my huge mastiff puppy scrunched up in the front seat for 1500 miles was not arduous enough, I have mornings like today when I wake up and say to myself, “What the heck did I get myself into this time?” An orchard? Really? What was I thinking. Orchards are not typically a great deal of work if they are cared for properly, but the orchard I purchased has suffered years of neglect from the previous owners who had no interest in working it so they just let it go. The trees are in bad need of pruning and thinning to reclaim their former glory of production, and the weeds….don’t even get me started.

It’s impossible until the apples get much bigger to tell what variety they are. So I wait patiently for them to get big enough to tell if I even have any apple varieties that are marketable. They could all be crabapples for all I know at this point.

orchard reclamation begins
Welcome to the jungle…

Reclaiming this overgrown and neglected orchard has to be approached one day at a time. To think about everything that must be done to make the orchard productive again after years of neglect is much too overwhelming, therefore, I try to approach this mountainous task just one day at a time. Or as one of my favorite sayings goes, “Brick by brick my citizens; brick by brick..”

First brick: I need a REALLY big lawn mower and one heck of a good weed wacker!

Photo: That is my 130 lb mastiff standing in a path I mowed. Which shows you just how long the grass and weeds are already and it’s just the beginning of June!

Stay tuned to see the progress and transformation this orchard takes.