Rain barrels and apple trees

Rain barrels can be used to apply water where it is most useful — in the garden, not along a building's foundation. — Photo courtesy of Lagoon Pond Assoc.

We are mighty ready for spring, which officially arrived yesterday, March 20, when the sun crossed the Tropic of Cancer at the vernal equinox. It remains unclear whether spring was accompanied by spring weather.

The Agricultural Hall will be a busy place this Saturday. The Farm Institute presents Derek Christianson, of Brix Bounty Farm in Dartmouth, with Part 2 of his Bionutrient Crop Production Course, from 9 am to 12 noon, potluck lunch to follow. In the evening the M.V. Agricultural Society holds its annual spring potluck and social, a zero waste event, at 6 pm. Please bring an ample dish for six to share and your own place setting. The after-dinner entertainment is the film “Fresh,”(2009, 72 mins) a look at ways to improve farming, eating, and living. MVAS welcomes all members, friends, and supporters.

Rain barrel campaign

The Lagoon Pond Association is working to “Help our ponds 50 gallons at a time.” To that end LPA is making available the Ivy 50-gallon rain barrel for homeowners and gardeners to capture and store their own roof run-off at a great price of $75.

Since “the hand washes the hand,” there are a number of advantages for homeowners and gardeners, while protecting Island ponds and water resources from contamination and run-off. The barrels provide water for emergency use during storms and power outages; non-metered water for yard and garden use; and water free of chlorine and other additives harmful to plants.

To learn about its features and to order an Ivy rain barrel, go to rainbarrelprogram.org/lagoonpond. Orders must be placed by April 8. The barrels will be distributed on Earth Day, April 20, at SBS, between 10 am and 2 pm.

Apple trees

Polly Hill Arboretum brought the Maine pomologist, John Bunker of Fedco Trees, to the Island on March 9 for an apple pruning workshop. Funny thing about apple trees: they captivate people, almost as if an apple nymph-muse had been embodied in them, leading the enchanted on a lifelong quest.

In my twenties, I was entranced by the heritage fruit tree list of Southmeadow Fruit Gardens (Grootendorst’s). With 400 gift dollars (equivalent to a couple of thousand today) I purchased apples, pears, and peaches and planted them at my family home. How was I to know that my investment in the future was to be brutally destroyed by ugly family politics and developers’ landscapers? The ghost of that orchard still haunts.

The apple muse has smiled upon two of her captives, John Bunker and Tom Burford, who have become her paladins in their apple quests. Burford of Vintage Virginia Apples represents the apple’s influence in the great apple-producing state of Virginia. He is fortunate, having achieved lifetime goals of reviving traditional cidering and succeeded in finding the legendary, long-lost ‘Harrison’ cider apple.

John Bunker too is fortunate. Younger, he might be considered the northern analog to Burford, and, as if to underscore the shared passion, asserts that traditional cidering today is where micro brewing was 15 years ago: ready to take off! As well as being an apple historian and artist, Bunker’s quest is locating, identifying, and propagating Maine’s hundreds of antique apple varieties, which he makes widely available through Fedco Trees. Naturally, he brought all this expertise to the workshop, where his knowledge and enthusiasm were infectious.

Apple ABCs

Virtually all modern apples are grafted, apart from wildlife-sown trees; plant with the graft union well above the soil line. Protect trunks with guards of plastic or hardware cloth against damage by deer, string trimmers, mowers, and, especially, rodents.

Consider the tree as a solar panel converting sunlight into fruit and sugars: each leafy branch needs light penetration as well as good air circulation. A pair of pruners (secateurs, ” felcos”), a sharp pruning saw for tight spots, and a sharp bow saw for larger cuts, constitute the basic tool set.

Make pruning cuts at the branch collar (not flush with the trunk.) Train the tree to a sturdy branch structure, either an open vase shape or single leader with evenly spaced laterals, eliminating vee-crotches and acute angles when pruning and shaping. Remove any dead, diseased, crossing, or broken branches.

Learn to recognize the growth made in the previous season and the difference between leaf and flower/fruit buds. Shorten each branch leader by one third of the previous year’s growth, to a bud facing in the right direction. Mulch with composts of primarily fungal composition, i.e. branches, brush, sticks, or use crushed shell.

With very overgrown or broken-over trees, preservation and renewal is completely feasible. Look for branch leaders sprouting from low down on the trunk, and plan a program of renewal pruning that aims to redirect future growth to that point. Grafting preserves the cultivar if the tree is beyond repair. Many points of apple pruning are shown in this video link.

In the Garden

Cleanup continues. In my location, the wind seems to undo a certain amount of effort, but branchlets, leaves, and debris is all biomass when composted. Find and take advantage of those wind-driven collection points.

Raccoons and deer ticks are about. A tick bite I received recently has been dramatically nasty, despite the adult tick’s having been minimally attached, time-wise.

Soils are drying out, although still cold, and over-wintering weeds are small and easily pulled. (Exceptions are dandelions and dock — dig them.) Avoid cultivating if your soil is still wet. Sowing seeds — eggplants, celery, and peppers — inside has begun. Beware of creating gridlock: as seedlings grow on they must be up-sized and stowed somewhere to grow on until last frost dates. Share, if you have started more than you have room for.

Prick out seedlings into cells when they are large enough to handle. Fertilize with water fortified with one tablespoon each liquid fish and liquid seaweed per gallon. Seedlings started indoors, even cold-hardy ones, avoid setbacks if hardened off before in-ground planting. Do this in a coldframe, or schlep trays back and forth outside in a protected spot to acclimate to direct sunshine. Radish, arugula, lettuce, carrot, and brassicas will handle direct-seeding now, and onion sets (very small bulbs) may be planted out as soon as the ground can be worked.