Fruit Census

Martin and I care for kids and fruit trees in much the same fashion:

We get them started, monitor them for a few weeks, and then leave them to fend for themselves.

We subscribe to a hands-off approach.

We planted apple trees in April ’09 and since then, I’ve probably checked them three times. Maybe that’s why they haven’t been fruitful. Wicked weather and wildlife haven’t helped, either.

In their first full year, summer of 2010, they were stunted by droughty weather. (We planted them beyond the reaches of our longest garden hose.)

And in 2011 Martin pulled down their protective chicken wire to mow the high grass. Apparently that signaled every deer in 10 miles; they chewed off any shred of green. What they left were knobby, naked branches.

This year is different. Most days I roar up the driveway, spitting gravel and raising a cloudy plume that mars a view of the orchard. But the other day I was nearly out of gas so I crept along, telling the car to sip fuel. And while I was killing time at this glacial pace, I glanced out the window. Was that a glint of red in those trees? That night I ventured out. Yes, them’s apples growing.

We should prune the trees and spray against insects but let’s be real: those apples are on their own.

The berries and grapevines grow by the barn and a convenient water source, so we treat them better than the trees banished in the sheep field.

In 2011 the black raspberries shriveled in a stretch of hot, dry days but this year, they’re flourishing. Darkening up and soon ready to pick.

The blueberries would be doing well, except the damn kids keep picking them before they’re ripe. “We like them tart!” they say.

The raspberries did wonderfully last year — they earn the drought-tolerant award — but this season they’re struggling. Perhaps it’s too much rain, or else they’re suffering from fallout from the grapevine spray. We’ve been at war against blackrot — it claimed the grapes two years in a row. As a result, Martin’s been dousing the vines and it’s possible that the neighboring raspberries got caught in the crossfire.

There’s only one other plant to acknowledge and that’s our teacher’s pet: the¬†strawberries. They’re the newest addition and so far they’re impervious to wacky weather, neglect and constant trampling of kids and cats. Gold star for you guys.

I see hand-churned ice cream in the future….

The real word on willows

At the risk of sounding like I’m 100 years old — and getting stoned to death for being unAmerican — I’m going to clue you all into something. So lean close to your screen and read the following:

Google doesn’t have all the answers.

“What!?” you sputter. “That’s just crazy talk!”

Yea, it’s nutty. And admittedly, I’m not setting the tech world on fire. (I swear if one more person asks “Are you on twitter yet?” I will jump out of a window… or break one of these tiny basement panes and wriggle out.)

I know the web’s got the corner market on every single thing you could possibly imagine. I get it. (Quick.. google “dust bunnies.” Oh look, 624,000 hits.)

But good luck trying to find an actual opinion on something. Much less one that you trust.

After the recent success of our new apple trees — meaning none are dead yet — I’ve been wondering what else can I plant? Specifically, what can I plant that requires little to no work?

We have a swampy area in our back pasture — a wannabe pond. In fact, I think it was a pond in a previous life before other owners drained it. When it rains it gets marshy. And it’s an ideal spot for a weeping willow.

Why a weeping willow? Well, they thrive in wet areas, and whenever I’ve seen them on TV they look perfectly pretty and shady and symmetrical. Beyond that, I’m clueless.

The reviews on google were not favorable. The basic gist: weeping willows are invasive, weedy things that burrow into water and sewer lines, and drop leaves and branches all over the place.

Not the feedback I was looking for. But this was the web speaking. What do real people think?

Last weekend at a garden festival, I queried a tree guy. He scrunched up his face. “A weeping willow…?” Like I’d just announced plans to cultivate poison ivy and a pool of piranhas.

“Well…I don’t carry them. But I’ll tell you this,” he said, recovering his composure. “They’re really invasive. They get into pipes and are a real hassle.”

This sounded familiar.
me: “Well, we’re thinking of putting one in a field, so it wouldn’t be near the house.”

the guy: “They’re messy and they shed alot.”

me: “It would be in a horse pasture, so that wouldn’t matter.”

the guy: “It does if you don’t want your pasture to look messy.”

me: “Horses poop in there. It always looks messy.”

Finally, he threw up his hands. “Well, if you really want one, get a golden weeping willow. They’re the best of the lot.”

Screw that guy, I thought, as I smiled and walked away. He’s only here to push his own stupid trees. And why waste time on him when I could be tap a real source of information.

Our next door neighbor, Chet. Local veterinarian and all-around good-guy.

Chet is ever positive, but he’ll still give it to you straight. And he knows about most everything.

vet problems, of course:
“Chet, can you look at this cat’s tooth?” (I brandished the cat at his car on the drive.)
Chet: “Lemmie see this old rascal.” (raises cat’s lip, yanks tooth). “There you go. He’ll be fine in 2 days.”

home care:
“Should we do something about our septic system?”
Chet: “Leave it alone. It’s not bothering you, don’t go bothering it.”

farm expansion
martin: “I was thinking about getting goats…”
chet: “Goats are nice…when other people own them. You don’t need any.”

local history:
“Ever seen this much rain?”
“Well, I’ll check my records, but I recall it was in ’86 when the river crested the bridge….”

So of course I had to ask what he thought of weeping willow trees.

chet: “Well, I grew up with them…”

“i’m thinking of getting one in the field.”

chet: “They’re soft, meaning that when a big storm comes, they can split or blow down. But they’re nice trees. They’re used to be a couple in your field.”

“Really? What happened to them?”

“They came down in a storm.”


“But go ahead and plant a couple,” he says with smile. “For fun. There’s no harm in it. And when your kids have their own kids, the trees, if they’re still standing, will be big and shady.”

Out with the old trees….

If you read the entry “johnny appleseed” then you know of the plans to remove our over-the-hill apple trees and plant replacements.

And the new trees arrived two weeks ago, wrapped not in burlap bags sitting shotgun beside a UPS driver. But simply in a long cardboard box marked “Fragile. Live Trees. Rush Delivery!”

“Where you want em?” the FedEx guy called out, eyeing my lop-eared dog.

I didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t know where to put them.

“Well, I’m not going to plant them for you,” he finally shouted.


“In the driveway by the pickup,” I finally said. I helped him with the box and we lowered it to the ground like it was a ticking time bomb. It seemed a sensible location — in the sun where the trees would be warm, but out of the way and less likely to be run over. Once the FedEx truck left I bolted for the house and pulled up the nursery website.

If planting cannot be done immediately, fruit trees can be stored in their shipping container for two weeks.


Store them in a cool place. Do NOT leave them in the sun.


Within a week we’d found a tree removal service and they arrived one afternoon like a scene out of the Dr. Suess book The Lorax, armed with a Super-Axe-Hacker, which “whacked off our trees with one big smacker.”

Actually, they came with a chain saw. But results were the same. Trees were chopped, stumps ground up, and I stacked the logs for fire wood.

That was about a week ago and by Sunday afternoon, time was up on the boxed trees. Another couple days they’d be shriveled like prunes. We dragged out our splintered shovel and our rusted post hole digger and cracked open the box. Then got to work.

The official unveiling. You’d think they’d be a little more….substantial.

I expected this project to be a real pain in the butt and it didn’t disappoint. Each plant required an 18-inch hole, but dwarf trees like these must be staked for support. And the posts needed more than a foot and half to survive our hurricane winds.

The first hole wasn’t too bad. Sure, there was a bit of huffing and sighing, and trips to the barn for gloves and additional tools to loosen the dirt. But we got it done.

“this isn’t so bad.”

15 minutes later: “okay, this sucks.”

one down, five to go

The weird thing is that the dirt was manageable in one place, then full of rocks and hard pan clay just 10 feet away. How did we know? We planted the trees 10 ft apart. Other lesson: the earth is softer down the slope and rockiest near the gate. If only we’d known that before we started.

It was a gorgeous afternoon and people zoomed by in convertibles, on motorcycles, and clicking away on bikes. I cursed everyone of them.

Of course the last hole proved the rockiest. I think Martin spent more time chipping away at that one than the other five combined.

the cursed sixth hole

About that time, the flu I’d been ignoring for 2 days had caught up. But I offered moral support.

By 5 pm we’d planted the twigs…I mean, trees. And we did it without unearthing any dead animals (past and present owners have used the orchard as a pet cemetery).

So, barring deer, sheep, high winds and our ineptitude, these fuji and crimson gala twigs will bear fruit as early as 2010. Lovely, aren’t they?