The overcast skies today and warm temperatures led to two things: several trees in the orchard finally began blooming, and the lighting provided an interesting contrast. I love to take nature pictures and I hope you enjoy my photos taken today in the garden....
Each year around Thanksgiving we measure the trees in the orchard. When we planted them in late fall 2007 - spring 2008, they were just pitiful sticks with a twist of root (if we were lucky!). They ranged in size from 18" to 2'.
Now three years later, our trees have soared. The tallest tree is Bartlett pear tree that is now over 11 feet tall. We have four pear trees in all - two Bartletts and two Orients. Among the four, three are over 10 feet tall, but one Orient pear remains about 6 feet tall.
The peach trees had quite a growth spurt this year, each one gaining at least two feet or more. Some of the apple trees gained a foot or more in height, but not all.
We keep examining the measurements, the location, and the variety of tree to see a pattern, but none emerges. At first we thought that perhaps the trees in the second row received more sun and thus grew taller, but no - in some cases, the trees closer to the woods, which receive slightly less sunlight than the other trees, grew the fastest.
Water may be a factor, or it may not be. All of the trees receive rain water and obviously, it's about equal, although the orchard is planted on a slight slope. The apple trees are at the top of the slope, then the peach trees, the pears, the plums, cherries and apricot trees. We supplement rainwater with hand-watering during the hottest periods of the summer and in times of drought. Considering the discrepancies among the growth rate of the trees, I'd say it is not really a question of growing conditions, but more a factor of the differences in individual trees themselves. Two trees of the same variety planted side by side, receiving nearly identical soil, fertilizer, sunlight and water can be very different.
Nature never fails to surprise me. The differences among the trees remind me that even plants are individuals, each with unique qualities. Sometimes when I look out across the orchards, the woods or the garden, I see the plants as one big mass of the same; there's my spread of day lilies, the iris, the peonies, the roses, the coneflower, the herbs, the apple trees. Yet when we measure them and inspect each one individually, we note many differences. The trees take on personalities of their own. They are as unique as we are.
We have 17 acres total here at Seven Oaks, but only 3 are cleared, and of the three acres that are cleared, about 1/2 an acre is dedicated to the fruit orchard. We ordered and planted 26 trees from the Arbor Day Society, carefully noting which varieties needed pollinators and how far to space them and what not. We have 10 apple trees, 4 pears, 4 peaches, 4 plums, 2 cherries and 2 apricots. One peach tree that looked as if it was dying was moved to an ornamental flower bed behind the house; we expected it to die, but were astonished when it regained its vigor. Now it's the largest peach tree on the entire property.
One lonely pear, but it's a start!
Peaches starting to ripen
When we planted the trees, we knew we were in for a long wait before we'd harvest the first fruits. All of the gardening books said that standard size trees (which the apples are, for example) and semi dwarf and dwarf (all the rest) take 5 to 7 years before reaching a size capable of bearing fruit. So we wait, and tend them lovingly. Each year we spray them with organic oil sprays and weed around the bases. We trim off the suckers growing near the base and we trim up the branches. John hauls the hose out to each one during the annual summer drought, watering them carefully. It was while watering the apple trees this weekend that he noticed a lovely surprise visitor; a bird's nest in the lower branches of the apple tree. A quick search online and putting two and two together identified the eggs as mockingbird eggs.
In the mornings when I sit on the front porch with Shadow, I often see the mockingbirds fly from the flower garden on my right across the empty field to the orchard on the left. We've heard crows and mockingbirds battling near the orchard, but I assumed the mockingbirds had nested among the pines. They've chosen the apple tree to raise their young, and this morning, the mother bird was guarding the nest. John was careful not to disturb her; the poor apple tree will have to wait and let nature water it.
Another lovely surprise was finding fruit on the trees! Given all that we'd read, we were ready to wait another year or two before looking for fruit, but we have one pear maturing on a tree; about 6 odd looking peaches on another; and 2 peaches on the tree in the back of the house. The peaches seem to be exuding some kind of sap, and one is rotted at the bottom, but the others are turning peachy-shades; I have no idea if we'll get to enjoy them or if the squirrels and deer will beat us to them. My sister has an apple tree growing in a pot on her back deck and waited patiently for the lone apple to mature, but just as it turned ripe, she found it abandoned on the deck with telltale teethmarks and one chomp taken out of it. The squirrels had found it.
One of the joys of living in the country now is finding wildlife like the bird's nest. Oh sure, you can see birds' nests in suburbia; my friend Janet, whose apartment is near Central Park, even had hawks nesting on a door lintel near her apartment building, and she used binoculars to watch them. You can find birds everywhere! My brother on Long Island had cardinals nesting in his front bushes, and when my brother and sister were little, they watched a robin raise her young on a maple tree branch right outside their bedroom window. But I love attracting birds to the garden, and it is finding little surprises, like the nest in the orchard and the few first fruits of the season, that make country living so much fun.
That's not a typo. We bought 430 spring bulbs to plant around Seven Oaks.
Many years ago, I got a book out of the library filled with landscaping ideas. One glossy color photo captured our attention. It showed an orchard of apple trees. Planted among the floweirng apples trees were daffodils, grape hyacinth, crocus...a living carpet of yellow, purple, white, buzzing with bees while the dainty pink apple blossoms swayed above.
We were absolutely captivated by that image, and we wanted to recreate it when we finally could. Now's our chance...
Last year, I planted just about a dozen King Alfred bulbs in the orchard. A few came up. This photo is from last year (the one above is from Morguefile - but what we aspire to!)
According to the book, the spring flowers flourish in the orchard. Sunlight nurtures them until the trees leaf out, and by the time the grass grows high enough to need mowing, the bulbs are finished for the year.
So that is what was are doing here.
We bought 100 King Alfred Daffodils, and 100 of a professional landscaping mix for naturalizing. We bought 100 crocus and another 100 grape hyacinths.
And the remaining 30?
I love tulips. I can't be without them. Fifteen mixed pastel tulips will be planted near the deck, alongside 15 mixed color hyacinths for their heavenly smell.
The deer love to graze in our orchard, and ever night, the mama deer with the crooked leg and her two almost-grown fawns graze among the apple trees. We picked the daffodils for the wide open areas for the most important reason: they're deer resistant!
Now on to planting them....I wonder how long that's going to take?!
Our Burbank Plum tree has set fruit! This is only its second year in the garden. We bought it as a three-foot tall whips (stick-like baby trees) from the Arbor Day Society.
The Burbank Plum (Prunus salicina) is a no-fuss plum tree that bears reddish-purple fruit with a bit of yellow in the skin. It's supposed to grow 10 to 35 feet tall.
According to the Arbor Day Society website, it prefers "non alkaline, sandy loam soils" which is exactly what we've got. Luther Burbank developed it in 1883 from Chinese and Japanese plums.
We planted two Methly plums nearby, and the pollinating flies were going crazy on the white blossoms. Looks like they did their job. The little plums look like olives.
These are pictures from our orchard. We have about half an acre planted with thirty fruit trees. The plums and apricots are doing the best. The cherry trees look the worst. The cages aren't to keep the trees in - they aren't that badly behaved - but to keep deer and other critters out.
We were told that it would take 5-7 years from the time we planted the immature trees until we harvested some fruit. It looks like these plums must REALLY like it here!
Today is the first gardening day of spring! We plan to work in the orchard today. We have tiny fruit trees we planted last year. They are just starting to leaf out. We need to spray them, and we are going to spread the wonderful rich compost around each one, and re-mulch them. I also found pansies on sale at Lowe's for just $1 and $3 for a flat of 24 - I'm not kidding, I got 48 pansies for $3! They were on the discount rack since they looked wilted, but they are fine and perked right up. I'm going to add them around the front of the house. We also have forsythia, azaleas and rhododendrons to add to the front of the house. And don't forget the vegetables! I've got cool weather annuals that will begin to harden off today, and seeds to go in this week - lettuce, spinach, swiss chard. I think I'm behind on this, but I still can't get the New York/Long Island gardening calendar out of my head. This week in the newspaper they had an article on harvesting potatoes. I thought John was going to leap up from the living room chair. "You can grow POTATOES?" he demanded, waving the paper at me. I shrugged. I had no idea! Now he's already talking about growing potatoes over next winter. Where I'm not sure, but I have a feeling more of the yard is going to get dug up. I can't wait :)
Our latest scheme is to add grape vines...and I have my eye on raspberry bushes, but since my husband loathes raspberries, in every way shape and form, I'm going to have to sneak them in somehow....
And strawberries. Back to Lowe's this week to pick up some strawberry plants.