March 24. When I started pruning fruit trees, I loved the instant gratification aspect, seeing the plant’s ideal shape emerge from the tangle of suckers and crossed branches. The longer I do it, the more I feel the slow thrill that comes as the trees mature into shapes that take decades to fully express themselves.
We planted the first apple and pear trees ten years ago, even before moving into the house, in the parking lot of the former azalea nursery, chosen for its slight elevation above the vernal pools that make the place a winter frog heaven. It took a pick axe to break through the compacted rock surface for the nine trees. I dragged all the dump-worthy junk that came with the property into a heaped ring around the trees to keep deer from nibbling the new shoots until we built a fence. I could hardly bear to lop off the slender growth but did it almost as cruelly as all the experts advised.
Since then, we’ve grafted more trees from our favorites (Pink Pearl apple, especially), added peaches to the main garden (an iffy prospect here but worth it for fruit every third year or so), and added another orchard in an area with barely good enough drainage, planting the trees in raised mounds. Oh, and the chicken yard, formerly a driveway – we dug one-foot-deep holes through the rock, broke up the soil and added gypsum, placed big pots with extra drainage in the holes, and planted apples and pears. Scraps of deer fencing fitted to the pot interiors keep the hens from damaging the tree roots. Not the most beautiful arrangement but the trees are happy, as are the chickens.
Buds are swollen but our winter weather continues, keeping the trees from bursting into premature bloom and allowing me to finish up the yearly pruning at this late date. No grafting this year, but we did manage grape cuttings from our most vigorous and delicious table varieties. That would be Flame for red, Perlette for green, and deep blue Glenora, whose quarter-inch fruits pack a concentrated wallop of taste. Also some seeded but nevertheless fabulous Muscats, New York and Golden. We’ll have rooted plants for sale in the summer.
I was sitting by the fire this morning, watching the snow out the windows, when I heard a deep groan from the earth. Then the biggest old oak near the woodshed began to tip toward the house. It came on slowly, regally, until it crashed across the deck and the corner of the roof above my chair. Knocked the stovepipe askew, disassembled a teak deck chair, uprooted another tree so close it shared the same root ball (that one fell across the driveway but missed my car), and provided firewood for all next year and maybe the year after. Not to mention the Usnea bonanza for the four does who browse this meadow every morning.