I ain’t no Johnny Appleseed

The spell is over, the curse is lifted.

Scroll down to Monday’s entry and you’ll find the following rant: people always point out what needs fixing on the farm, but never tell you how to do it.

Well, that’s true no more. Finally, someone answered our plea.

That person was Chet, our neighbor, local vet and unofficial mayor of these-here parts, who was probably greatly relieved that this time, I didn’t call him to shoot a sick fox found in a stall. Or to make sure a snake we found wasn’t poisonous. Or to meet me at the local market to retrieve and save an injured dog in the road.

This time, I only asked for a reference: an apple tree expert who would provide some guidance on what to plant, when and how.

No doubt Chet and his wife are sick of driving past our unruly and unkempt sheep-gnawed trees. He was happy to help and came through with local orchard owner, Gene Kingsbury. We met him last Sunday morning in a chilly, misty rain as he merrily pruned row upon row upon row of his fruit trees. Gene was undaunted by our litany of questions and saved me from a future series of “I don’t know” answers.

When I thought about planting our new trees, I envisioned a Johnny Appleseed scenario: shove a seed into the dirt, dangle a watering can above it, and about the time that the kids leave for college, we’d have apples.

Not so. Assuming we don’t plant the treelings (is that a word?) upside down, we don’t let the sheep or deer or rabbits or field mice devour them, and we prune them, talk to them and love them, and cross our fingers, we’ll have fruit. Next year! Talk about a fast turn around.

Not only can you select the apple species (autumn gala, autumn rose, buckeye gala, and so on), but you can pick the size — or “rootstock” in tree-speak, which dictates the size of the tree.
They (the plant people) graft the variety into the rootstock and ta-da, you have a small, medium or large fruit tree. Sort of like ordering a shake at MickeyD’s. What we wanted, said Gene, was an M-9 — code for dwarf tree — a size that would be easier to prune than our existing monstrosities.

Gene offered further advice to spare us from instant failure: select a pest and disease resistant tree, stake each one right away, prune often, spray often, and don’t use RoundUp.

I called a Pennsylvania-based nursery and ordered 6 trees recommended by Gene — 2 crimson galas, 2 daybreak fujis and 2 late season fujis. They’ll be shipped via UPS, but exactly how, I don’t know. Do they travel in a box with air holes like an animal crate? Or perhaps wrapped in a burlap sack sitting shotgun beside the UPS driver? I didn’t dare ask. I didn’t want to seem like a newbie apple grower.

But the guy on the phone was wise. Before we hung up, he took over where Gene left off: “once they’re planted, cut them back to 34 inches in height and as the buds begin to swell…”

“wait, what’s going to be swelling?”

“The buds. The buds swell. You’ll know. Just rub off the second and third from the top so the single leader will grow tall.”

At this point, I stopped taking notes.

If the trees make it to 2010, it’ll be a miracle.