Posts Tagged ‘orchard’

Farm hour: Journey with apples that rock

February 9th, 2013 No comments

apple orchard
Freshly mulched apple trees in the orchard.

The apple compost pile was loaded with fat earthworms, so Vince had us use the rake instead of the shovel to bin it up and move it to the apple trees.

apple rockWe had just enough for the ten trees. The compost looks good, but I’m sure our next batch will be even better now that we’re able to process the carbon inputs with the chipper.

Speaking of inputs, I treated the orchard to Journey’s “Anytime” from their Infinity album through this wireless speaker Vince picked up.

Journey is not on the OMRI list of approved organic inputs for apples, but the official entry to the USDA reads: “This is how we make them rock.”

Farm hour: soil organics

January 25th, 2013 No comments

the orchard
a view of the organic orchard on the farm in Woodbury, Tennessee (Cannon County)

Ken asked me a little suspiciously where I got the soil samples I had him test. He said he hasn’t seen soil that good anywhere around here, and the organic matter for the farm soil is off the charts. It was low in potassium and magnesium.

That was great to hear, but it makes me want to do another test to be sure. My best guess is that the sloped field may have gotten over a 100 years or more of heavy leaf matter from nearby oak, maple and hickory trees. The soil I submitted was blackish in color with dark gray clay. Ken said it looked like someone dumped river bottom soil from a Mid West cornfield.

Another thing he saw was over the top cation exchange capacity. Normally he sees a range of 6-15 for Cannon County farms. We had a 36. It’s a great place to start for some very happy organic apples and blueberries.

Farm hours:

  • completing application for USDA Organic Certification
  • setting up a temporary greenhouse
  • setting up a cistern on the barn
  • cleaning the barn
  • turning the strip crop sections in field 3 and sourcing organic clover and rye cover crops

Farm hour: planning the organic garden

December 14th, 2012 No comments

Spring planning

Here’s what the garden looks like on paper as it goes from an idea to the planning stages: how much to plant, when to plant, where to plant and what our yields should be.

We’re in a multi-year process of becoming a USDA Certified Organic farm. One of the requirements to be certified organic by the USDA is documenting your source for organic plant and seed stock. We ordered and received our seed stock from Heirloom Seeds. Here’s what we’re planting so far, and any advice on keeping them healthy is welcome:

  • Roma tomatoes
  • Giant Beefsteak tomatoes
  • Kellogg’s Breakfast tomatoes
  • Lemon Drop tomatoes
  • Anaheim peppers
  • Serrano peppers
  • California Wonder peppers
  • Orange Bell peppers
  • Sweet Pickle peppers
  • Beaver Dam peppers
  • Jalapeno peppers
  • Pepperoncini peppers
  • Little Finger carrots
  • Agate (Edamame) soybeans
  • Shirofumi (Edamame) soybeans
  • Giant Winter spinach

Our organic apple orchard and blueberries are now planted and protected from deer and the compost operation now chugging along. The next big project that will start consuming our farm hours leading up to Spring will be constructing a large cold frame system or a very small green house to get a needed early start on planting.

Protecting apple trees from deer

December 3rd, 2012 5 comments

deer nibble

Tim warned me it was just a matter of time before the cute deer became a nuisance. The tips of this winesap (W4) are all nibbled by deer.

I’ve been doing a lot online reading to get ready for this.

haloCage: I’m testing fencing one tree after reading about it and determining it’s probably the most fail safe solution. The problem with it is the cost, labor (work adds up per tree) and the way it looks. But it works. I placed 5 feet tall fence about 2 feet above the ground giving me 7 feet of protection.

Contraptions: The next thing I found was something that I still want to try. It’s a solar powered water sprayer that uses infrared motion senors to detect animals and then sprays a burst of water. It’s expensive, but the other problem I see with this and the version that uses a hose is that they can freeze in the Winter.

Scents: This seemed like the most ridiculous category consisting of people swearing by sprinkling human hair, urinating, hanging bags of soap or dirty clothes in the trees. People swear by them probably up until the have to collect this stuff.

Sprays: There are all kinds of sprays, but I’m limited to organic ones. There are plenty of them, but most only last a couple weeks. It’s easy to apply, and it’s also cheaper to make your own. So that’s what I did. I just mixed the following ingredients and used a hand-held sprayer to coat the trees and the blueberry bushes. I’ll probably do it regularly and see how it goes.

  • 3 gallons of water
  • 5 tablespoons of ground cayenne pepper
  • 4 eggs whites

Smokehouse: I’m not giving up on this option. We’d have plenty of turkey and venison.

UPDATE 12-6-12: It rained the day after the first application and I saw fresh damage by deer to two more trees. It looks like we’re going to cage them.

UPDATE 12-10-12: After finding significant evidence of damage the day or two after application of the cayenne pepper concoction, including one of several damaged blueberry bushes literally ripped from the ground, we caged all the apple trees and purchased a solar-powered electric fence for the blueberries.

My thinking on scents and taste deterents is that consumers are easily tempted to want to out smart deer with these products, but if you are serious about protecting your orchard you’ll fence your trees and bushes. So, do it right the first time.

Farm hour: making dirt

November 29th, 2012 No comments

orchard compost pile

It’s 152 degrees in the new orchard compost pile. This is the pile with pine needles and oak leaves added for more acidity. It’s layered with wood chips, horse manure and several gallons of rain water lightly sprinkled on each layer. This pile will become mulch for the blueberries in the Spring.

Farm hour: climbing the hill

November 21st, 2012 1 comment

4 wheeler
Grandpa’s old 4 wheeler

Farming is hard work, and it’s harder to imagine doing it without help. Hours make days like help makes it done, and it took a lot of both to plant the orchard last week.

I squeezed a month of farm hours into a week with some vacation time and figured out how farmers can go through so many chicken eggs every day. You get real hungry! After shoveling 3-4 tons of material (wood chip mulch, manure and dirt), tilling, moving rocks, water and planting 25 trees and bushes, breakfast looks good any time of the day.

4 wheelerNoah let me borrow his truck. We may have enough mulch to last 2 years now! Tim gave us the pine needles we needed to keep the blueberries happy. Len let me hop the fence for the cow manure our compost piles needed to come to life. Benny did the same, letting me drive all over his farm shoveling up horse manure. It all adds up to tons of help, literally.

But the one thing that came just in time to really bring the help together was a gift from my step dad: Grandpa’s old 4 wheeler. It’s got its problems, but it was the week’s work horse hauling everything up and down the hill: water, trees, machines.

New things can make you feel good, but old things can really make you feel loved. Grandpa used that 4 wheeler for about 10 years all over our farm in Smith County. They were his legs for a soul no where near done climbing that hill. Every time I open the barn and see it there I feel a little bit of him, and that has its own way of making every farm hour that much more special.

Farm hour: quantifying what’s possible

October 30th, 2012 No comments

leaf harvest
One of three tarp loads of oak, maple, hickory and walnut leaves we gathered up for the orchard compost.

composting leavesThe orchard “mulchery” is set up. It’s 20 feet long, five feet wide and about 4 feet tall. If half the space is used, that should be 200 cubic feet of mulch. We added about 80 cubic feet of compacted, harvested leaves to use throughout the winter and started a pile with some of them today in the middle bin.

To start, I used a lot of the leaves, 15 gallons of cow manure from the neighbor’s field, grass clippings from today’s upper field mowing and about 8 gallons of water.

Water is going to be an issue until I can figure out an easier way to get it to the orchard. By the time my two five gallon buckets got there, I had lost about 4 gallons to sloshing.

upper fieldWhat’s Possible? I measured the space and determined if we use the entire space for blueberry bushes and apple trees, we’re looking at around 175 blueberry bushes and 32 apple trees. Using non-organic yields, the potential looks like this:

  • Apple:10-20 bushels per tree is 320-640 bushels of apples, 960-3200 gallons of cider or 13,440-26,880 lbs. of apples
  • Blueberries: 15 lbs. per bush is 2,625 lbs. of berries
  • Market: at current market value: $26,000 – $47,000

What’s Practical? That’s what I’m trying to figure out. We have about an hour of daylight each night and two weekend days of winter farm hours. We can’t eat all that, and we probably can’t process all that for others. Can we do this?

We’re thinking of starting with 8 apple trees and 10 blueberry bushes, but I’m mulching as though we’re doing it all.

Farm hour: garden and orchard chores

October 22nd, 2012 No comments

orchard chores

Vince got the chain saw and took down this dead tree in the upper field. This and a broken branch from the pregnant cedar became firewood. The smaller branches are in a pile to be composted.

The plantable orchard space is growing with every farm hour. It took maybe 30 minutes to get this tree out of the way. Thirty minutes here. Thirty minutes there – adds up to over 40 cubic feet of leaf and grass matter and 15 gallons of seasoned manure from the barn in the garden compost.

We can almost see the entire field as we begin mowing areas from where we cleared rocks and hidden tree branches. Then there’s starting the orchard compost, setting up rain barrels, getting some Shiitake mushroom logs going… the months away are small chores for now.

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Farm hour: harvesting leaf mulch

October 19th, 2012 No comments

leaf mulchThis is one Fall and Winter chore I think will really pay off no matter what we decide to plant in the orchard.


We’re going to need lots of good mulch, and I think we might have enough ingredients on the farm. I’m not really sure, but each evening farm hour gets us closer.

I’ve been trying to wrap my brain around how I can possibly produce as much mulch as we’re going to need for the garden and orchard, and then I found gold.

This evening’s haul was a dark, nicely decayed, heavy leaf matter raked from under some huge oak, hickory and maple trees that grow in the upper field fence line. There is no telling how much of this is here.

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