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Friday, June 28, 2013

First Planting of the Cider Apples

On April 27, our team of twelve planted the first 150 trees in our first cider apple orchard in the northwest field above the farmstead. Procured from a seller in New York, there are 10 individuals of 15 varieties, each dominantly expressing one of the three major components of Wessex style cider: acid, bitter, and sweet. In the Wessex style, ciders are made from each variety of apple and three or more of these blended to produce the commercial product. The varieties were selected not only for flavor but for flowering and harvest season, roughly a third each of early, middle, and late. This should help ensure against crop loss due to vagaries of weather, reduce labor requirements in a given period, and facilitate the production of "seasonal" ciders.

This was a remarkable day. The team quickly bonded, and self-organized into groups responsible for digging the holes, distributing supplies, placing the trees and replacing the soil, watering, and installing the stakes and protective geotextile mulch and translucent tree guards. The work groups cross-trained one another, and traded tasks to prevent burnout. We'd estimated the whole job would take ten to twelve hours but together we got it done in less than five. Yay team!

Here's a little video that Debbie made of Derith & Dave digging a hole with the big tractor and PTO-driven auger.

All of the photos that follow were made by Derith Vogt at D&G Photography in Anamosa, Iowa.

Here are some of the big tractor's hydraulic and mechanical controls. Grr.

Here's the whole operation in one shot. We began at the top of the hill and worked our way down. In the bed of the truck were water barrels we filled from the pond with a sump pump. The little tractor pulled the utility trailer loaded with the bare-root trees and supplies.

Debbie prepares to water just-planted trees.

Derith & Gary strike an American Gothic pose.

After the trees were planted, difficult as it was to do, we pruned away all the side branches, and cut back the central leader to a height of three feet. Eventually the trees, which are on dwarfing rootstock, will be trained to trellises and kept to a maximum height of eight feet. Here, Jeff assists Alan while Mary looks on.

Gary does the initial half-fill of soil. Water was applied next to consolidate the soil and ensure good contact with the roots, then the rest of the soil, and more water.

Scot and Donna complete a planting.

Your faithful, if erratic, correspondent, ready to set a stake and secure the sleeve with zip ties. The fabric mulch is primarily to keep the base of the tree free of other vegetation that would compete for water, sunlight, and soil nutrients.

Team portrait at the end of the job.

From these trees we should be able to clone as many others as we like, by cultivating shoots from the rootstock, harvesting scion wood from the top growth, and grafting the two together. It's a long-term project.

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