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The ManyTracks Orchard
Organic - Healthy - Happy - Infinite
Four decades of Growing
in the Northwoods of Michigan's Upper Peninsula
Almost the first thing we did when we got our future homestead property was to put up a fence for the garden and orchard, before we had even moved there. The next summer we tilled up an area for the garden and planted some fruit trees in the farmed out sandy-loam soil. 1978, almost forty years ago, and we are still putting up fence and planting trees! But now we are enjoying the fruit as well as the labor. It's been, and continues to be, a great adventure, a great amount of learning, and a whole lot of fun.
My notes are a little sketchy from those first years; we were busy with working out, building the cabin and house, creating our homestead. We planted those first trees with love but little knowledge. Thankfully some of the trees had strong inclinations to not only survive but grow and produce, and they did, eventually, more in spite of us than because of. The only record I have of that first momentous occasion of the "First Fruit" was a note in my canning notebook, 1987, "70 apples, mostly spys but some macs, good." I assume we were more excited and appreciative than that sounds!
Only a few of those original trees, apples, are still with us (the "spys" that we were told were Prairie Spys but turned out not to be) but they have been joined by many more now, with new arrivals every year. The orchard has become my great passion, with Steve's support, help and encouragement. The additions were sporadic and occasional through the years until six years ago when we discovered grafting, and had more time to spend in the orchard. In the summer of 2016 we had 21 apples, 2 pears, 3 cherry, 9 plums/chums, many rootstocks waiting for grafts, plus a nice contingent of small fruits, happily surrounding the vegetable garden. And more are being added every year. Many of the trees are not bearing yet but the anticipation is there.
So it was time for the orchard to have a well deserved spot on the website. It might be called a food forest, or permaculture design, or eco orchard, or some other current label. But for us it is just our ever growing, ever expanding homestead orchard which includes so much more than fruit trees. It grew organically and naturally over the years (decades!) and is grown organically and naturally. We like it a lot. It's a bit daunting to think of how to share so much experience with our readers, in some reasonable order, in some useful fashion. The rest of our website was built piece by piece over the last twenty years, not all at once. So I think that is how I will begin sharing our orchard, piece by piece, as it occurs to me. Some will be new articles, some will be posts from our Blog, some (the berries and small fruit) are already on the website in the Garden section (also in the menu above), some photos, some words. However it arrives I hope you will enjoy and be inspired to do whatever suits you and yours, as I have done in my orchard, with great joy in being a part of that wonderfully eclectic dynamic world.
The photo above is how the orchard looked in fall of 2016; below two years later, with the much appreciated new fencing in place and many new plantings added. Not much room inside the fence now for new trees but there is grafting to be done to add new varieties, and many smaller shrubs to plant as well as herbs and flowers in-between. It continues to be a very enjoyable and creative adventure for me.
A Growing Organic Orchard - September 27, 2017
My orchard certainly would be considered “organic” since I don’t use any chemical sprays or synthetic fertilizers, but I also consider it organic in its layout. Although I’m happy to have more or less straight rows in the garden, which is laid out in a rectangular form, the orchard has grown into a much more flexible, winding shape which I’m finding we both enjoy a lot. Some of it happened by chance, some by purpose, some I’m working now to fit into a flowing form that will be easier to manage. The orchard is small enough to easily walk to any part (about one acre inside the fence) (though it is already growing beyond the fence!). But my method of management is to have mown paths along either side of the fruiting/flowering corridors of trees, bushes, and plants, leaving areas of natural vegetation between. It’s been an interesting challenge fitting the haphazard parts into a practical mowing pattern, in, out, and around in a pleasing manner without going over the same ground twice. I think I’ve spent more time figuring this out than I have deciding what to plant or graft next! But it’s been a fun puzzle which will change as the trees and bushes grow, hopefully into an even more pleasing meander. It’s certainly not what one would call a landscaped area; it is definitely more casual, but with purpose. And even though many of the trees and bushes are small yet, it is a pleasure to walk along the roughly mown paths imagining what it will be like when they are full grown. I like this much better than mowing the entire orchard floor, and I think it is healthier for all.
Decoy Apples - August 21, 2017
Awhile ago I read about someone who painted small stone red and put them among his ripening strawberries with the idea that birds would peck the stones, find them inedible, and go elsewhere, leaving his strawberries alone. It worked for him. So last year when a flock of bluejays made significant inroads into my apple crop, that idea came to mind and I decided to do that on a larger apple-size scale the next year. Meantime I kept an eye out for plastic fruit at the thrift stores, stocking up for the coming season.
Summer came and I painted any of those of my plastic fruit, or round apple
like objects, that weren’t already red and attached wire hangers. When my
real apples started ripening I hung plenty of red decoys in the trees (all
thse “red apples” in the photo). I really didn’t want to share my good
apples with the birds. They have plenty of crab apples to eat.
ORCHARD - Spring Pruning - April 14, 2017
We have four
producing “tame” apples and one pear. These are all trees we planted. There
are also a half dozen wild apples with varied fruit quality but I usually
make use of the apples in sauce or cider. Some of the trees I’ve been
working on for many years to get them to a manageable size and they are all
now finally coming into shape, each in their own way. But all can now be
reached standing on the top of my 8 ft ladder for pruning and harvesting.
Though not as impressive as the 30 ft standard trees we used to have they
are much easier to care for and give us better fruit. I’m happy with the new
11-12 foot heights, and I hope the trees are, too.
Odd Year in the Orchard - March 7, 2017
Or is it MAY 7? Nature is doing her best to shake up our pre-conceived notions of what the weather should be doing based on our calendar dates. It's almost like having a different month every week, or every day! It was close to 40 degrees today, with a forecast for temps near zero later this week. I don't think I'll start planting yet. And I'm trusting the trees and plants to know that it is indeed still hibernation time and not nearly time to think about growing. Though I certainly never thought we'd have bare ground in February and early March I've always considered hardiness when choosing varieties to plant. I'm hoping all will come through this rare winter of lack of snow. [Later update: Almost everything was alive and well come spring, losing only a young Garfield Plantation cherry. I was sorry about that but sure appreciated the success of all the rest in spite of their having to fare winter without the usual protective deep layer of snow.]
ORCHARD - Expanded - December 16, 2016
It feels like we went from two months of Octobers right into January, skipping November and December this year. I think Nature just gets bored and enjoys having a little fun with us. But lows of zero with highs barely into the teens means many cheery sunny days, and a happy solar homestead. The snow cover is a bit light for those low temps but it’s snowing this evening with promise of several more inches. That will be good, not only for insulation on the house but for the orchard and garden. All of the younger fruit trees, berries, shrubs, plants are well mulched but I always feel more comfortable when they have that extra blanket of natural insulation to get them through the winter. And this year there are a group of seedlings that were transplanted late (because I could, thanks to the very mild November) who will especially appreciate that comfort as they go into winter in their new homes in the “new” orchard. On paper there isn’t much distinction between old and new but for that all important item -- the fence.
A couple of fruit trees had already settled beyond the
current fenced half acre of land where about 30 fruit trees plus various
shrubs, berries and large garden are nicely protected from deer and
raccoons. But there just wasn’t room for all the plantings of my dreams to
fit in there. We have already grafted onto a number of wild crab/apple
seedlings out and about but they will require individual fences for many
years to come to keep the deer from “pruning” them to stubs. Then they’ll
need to be grown tall enough to keep at least some of the fruit out of their
reach if I want to harvest any for us. That’s fine for a handful of trees
but not for the number I’m planning. Plus I want to grow my trees shorter
than “above deer reach”. It was obvious -- the fenced in orchard needs to
expand. Happily, just east of our current set-up makes sense. We roughly
outlined where the new fence could go, given the terrain and the existing
white pines, wild black cherries and other wild growth. The fairly open area
was full of dewberry brambles and rough field so we mowed it with sickle bar
and hardy, overworked gas “lawn” mower, and Steve cut down a few trees. I
spent many a happy hour with PhotoShop moving little circles around and
imagining what might go where. Then back and forth to the “real” plot to
re-organize and re-arrange based on what felt and looked right in person. I
wanted groups of fruit trees with room for lower growing shrubs and plants.
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appreciate links to our site www.ManyTracks.com from appropriate sites, and we thank you for
Have you read "Frost Dancing - Tips from a Northern Gardener" ? A fun short read.
or "Homesteading Adventures" Creating our backwoods homestead--the first 20 years.
and "Growing Berries for Food and Fun" A journey you can use in your own garden.