The old saying goes that the best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago, and the second best time is now. The problem is that with farming, the second best time to do just about everything is Right Now.
Yes, the farm blog has been quiet for almost six months. I assure you that’s because we’ve been doing absolutely nothing here since September.
I’m lying. I’ve just been a bit too caught up in the whirlwind of too-many-things-that-need-doing-right-now to put two thoughts together and rub them enough to make some words come out. But spring has sent advance warning that she’s on her way, so like it or not, I’d better get my act together and get back on the blogging horse, or whatever mixed metaphor fits for the situation. (Yes, I’m clearly out of practice – bear with me?)
All sorts of stuff has been afoot on the farm since I last wrote, but we’re going to have to play catch up with that at some other time. I’m sure I’ll mention in some future blog post, “Oh, I forgot to tell everyone that we’ve put in a giant water park” (we haven’t); for now we’re just going forward, and the big thing right now is trees.
Trees, and more trees. Back in 2016, shortly after we bought the farm, I got email from a young woman named Logan, who a friend had shown around the land. Trees, she said. Your farm needs more trees. Her initial pitch was for a hundred chestnuts, all at once, up on the pasture above the Danger House. We did that. Then we did hazelnuts the next pasture over. Then apples and plums and pears and peaches and walnuts and oaks and…. Suffice it to say that in the intervening five years, I’ve joined the Church O’ Trees and learned to pretty much do whatever Logan says about planting them.
While most farm activity shuts down during the winter months, it’s the busy time for all things arboreal. That’s because the trees also shut down, so they don’t mind quite so much if you prune or dig them up to transplant them. Rather than getting the rug (or rather dirt) yanked out from under them when they’re in full tilt running photosynthesis, they just wake up one spring morning and say, “Hmmm, I don’t recognize this place – Oh well, might as get back to growing.”
We got in a little late with our oak planting last spring, and many of those poor little suckers were done in by the July heat wave that pushed record temps at the farm past 105 degrees (average mid-summer highs here are in the mid-70’s).
So we’re trying to get things in earlier this year, all over the farm. We’ve got a natural amphitheater around the house pond that just basks in the sun – we’ve been calling it the “Mediterranean Bowl,” and planted 16 climate-compatible apricots there last year. Logan, Lydia, Cai and Pierce (and the farm’s full complement of dogs) doubled that last week. If all goes well, next year we’re going to try to round the area out with some figs.
Over on the west side, we’ve got the pear orchard prepped for doubling in size this coming week, with juicy northwest varieties: Conference, Ubileen and Orcas pears. (When I say “we,” of course, you should always understand that to mean Logan and the rest of the Natembea gang leading, with me hovering around trying to not unuseful.)
One downside of plowing ahead with planting so enthusiastically is that as the farm master plan evolves, we occasionally discover that we’ve planted where the old master plan says “trees” and the new master plan says “housing.” We discovered one of those collisions last summer, when we realized that the right location for additional housing on the eastern part of the farm was going to take more room than we’d allowed for when we put in all those 150 hazelnuts. To build what and where we now figure is best, we’d need to gently massage the shape of the orchard to make more space. By which I mean digging up a whole mess of trees, digging new holes to put them in, and rerouting a few hundred feet of anti-deer fencing. Completely rejiggering half an acre of irrigation lines. Nothing daunting, no, not at all.
Fortunately, the good folks at Compass Rose Farm were available to join us on this massive tree airlift (uh, “dirtlift”?). After the hole digging gang of Pierce, Lydia, Cai, Brendon and Logan prepped the ground, Pete, La Vaughna, Ellie and Miller joined in to help with the delicate extraction.
We’d been promised blue skies for the day, but the cool overcast was probably better suited for the job as we all switched off among tasks – clipping fence ties, pulling t-posts, spooling up big rolls of wire, gingerly extracting as much of each tree’s root ball as we could, then delicately lugging it to its new home. Setting it in place, hauling much and wood chips up from the lane and swathing a protective, moisture-retaining circle around each. The dogs all wanted to pitch in, but seemed most intent on the hole digging part of the exercise – to be honest, not always where we wanted them.
It’s not so much that many hands (and paws?) make light work, as the saying goes, but many hands make the heavy work go a lot more quickly. I skipped out a bit after noon to fetch pizza for the crew, and by the time I got back, they were finishing mulching the last few trees. I’m totally not going to speculate that stuff goes more quickly when I’m not around. No, not at all.
Of course, we’ve still got the fencing to put up, and the tangle of irrigation lines to reconfigure, but it feels like we’re over the hump on that one. And once we’re done there (actually, in parallel), there are those 35 pears to put in: dig, plant, mulch, fence, irrigate – the whole shebang.
I promise I’ll keep you posted.