All In: Restoring a Neglected Orchard, Part 2

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Last week I shared the first part of our story that we told at Pecha Kucha in Biddeford and Kennebunkport this winter.  In case you were wondering what happens in the second part of our story, here it is…

Eden 11Blossoms gave way to fruitless and this is when it was game on. The year prior, we were told, there were not very many edible apples at the orchard. Holistic sprays that include neem oil, fish and seaweed emulsions aim at carefully balancing the microbiology of the soil while disrupting habitat for pests.

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Another piece of equipment on the farm is this 1962 Massey Ferguson tractor that’s loaded up in the back with a 100 gallon Pak tank sprayer. It’s used to go through the orchard to apply the holistic feeds to the trees… And it makes for a pretty impressive morning commute!

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At the heart of the holistic approach are the variety of wild flowers that feed and provide habitat for bees. The best part about the orchard being left neglected was the wild, natural permaculture that was left intact. Things like Clover, Milkweed, Black Eyed Susan, and Queens Anne Lace fix vital nutrients, like nitrogen back into the soil.

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And from healthy soil, comes healthy fruit. In our first year, we stepped into a bumper crop year where apples were abundant everywhere. The trees were literally dripping with apples. But what I wasn’t prepared for was the flavors, our apples had so much flavor infused from the holistic feeding regimen. It was amazing.

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The kids were so excited too. They wanted nothing more than to be a part of the action. Lifting them up with the neighbors’ kids to reach the tallest of the apples made their hearts soar. They were involved with picking, sorting and a little taste testing the different varieties of all the apples.

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At the back of the barn we have a quaint farm store where we sort the fresh apples. Inside we hold tastings for people to become familiar with heirloom varieties such as Zabergau Reinette, Hudson’s Golden Gem, Black Oxford and two of my favorites, Vartanian Lightning and Golden Russet.

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One of the best parts of apples is cider. We started making cider with an old fashioned press that we hooked up to a bicycle to turned the crusher. Once squeezed, pure liquid gold comes out. Natural, unfiltered and unpasteurized raw cider that is only available at the farm.

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We had a hot beginning to the fall last year, but ended with a cold snap in October that caused us to bring in as many of our late season varieties that we could with some volunteer help before the prolonged frost affected them. Late season varieties, like Keepksakes, are among the best keeping apples for storing through the winter and into the spring.

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Before winter, a final clean up of the orchard included going through with a scythe to cut down all the underbrush around the trees that would otherwise provide habitat for voles. Instead, we want to expose them as much as possible to their natural predators and keep the ecosystem in balance and our trees healthy.

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This is the staff here at Eden Acres Family Farm. We feel truly blessed to be here and tasked with restoring one of the very few organic orchards in Maine or even in the country. We are looking to grow our orchard by offering an apple CSA this year and building a cider barn with high yielding equipment. Please come out and visit us this fall in East Waterboro.

All In: Restoring a Neglected Orchard, Part 1

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We told our story about finding and restoring one of the few organic heirloom apple orchards in Maine at Pecha Kucha presentations in Biddeford and Kennebunkport earlier this year.  Not familiar with Pecha Kucha?  Neither were we!  It’s a fun, concise format to story telling using 20 pictures and speaking for 20 seconds per picture.  In case you missed it, here it is…

From a willingness to seek change, our family found Eden Acres Family Farm in East Waterboro. In 2015, we acquired the neglected six-acre orchard with the responsibility to restore and care for more than 700 trees. Using a gentle organic approach, holistic orcharding adds flavor and nutrition to the apples we grow. Complete immersion in holistic orcharding has taught many lessons about the growing process, crop management, and the developing of a business. This year, we are offering an apple CSA to promote the more than 30 organic heirloom varieties grown at Eden Acres Family Farm. This is our story.

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We started our adventure having sold our home in NJ and putting everything we owned into storage.  We bought a small tow-behind camper and set our sights on discovering a new life in Maine, one that would bring us closer to nature.  Our first priority was finding a school for our two boys.

 

 

 

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While visiting a school, within minutes of meeting a teacher there, we were asked if we wanted to live on a 26-acre organic apple orchard with an old farm house.  Something immediately clicked.  The house, from 1792, and the organic orchard personified every reason we wanted to move to Maine.

 

Eden 3 But, we weren’t prepared for the winter of 2015 with feet of snow piling up and only a hand shovel to move it.  With a failing furnace, everyday Bryan searched the surrounding woods for standing dead trees in his snowshoes pulling behind him a kid’s sled to bring back wood to burn in the fireplace.

 

 

 

Eden 4 So the first logical purchase for a farm after a winter like that, was a tractor with a front loader!  That’s a picture from March of last year, which is quite a difference from this past winter.  The tractor has become the single most versatile piece of equipment on the farm from moving snow to building a parking lot.

 

 

 

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With the snow still feet deep, it was time to start pruning.  All hands were on deck, including our little guy here.  The orchard had been neglected for at least 6 years prior to us, so pruning was a larger task than normal and one of the most important things we could do for the health of the trees and apples to come.

 

 

 

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Prior to 2015, Bryan had only the experience of organic gardening that he did for fun.  Now immersed in pruning more than 700 trees over a two month period, he quickly learned what he was looking for in the shape of a tree and developed a deep connection and understanding for what he was doing.

 

 

 

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As spring arrived, so did the pests.  Groundhogs will treat your garden as their own personal salad bar and are known to climb trees for snacking on apples.  Likewise, porcupine are another big offender.  They are particular to fruit trees and do not make for very good pruners.  We had to relocate 8 groundhogs and 11 porcupine our first year.  

 

 

 

 Eden 8That’s where our super tactical pest control program came into play.  Poisoned conventional apples covered in sticky glue attract female apple maggots before they lay their eggs; guinea fowl comb the orchard for ticks, Japanese beetles and other insects; and we also have 2 barn cats for catching mice and  voles.

 

 

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After collecting the prunings, we chipped them up for use around the orchard and for purchase.  Recently, a local organic company sought us out specifically because we had organic wood chips to use for smoking their product.  The difference being that there are no toxic chemicals added to what is being smoked.

  

 

 

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In May, the blossoms arrived and the orchard was alive with the hair-raising sound of bees buzzing all around.  It’s an intense experience.  Most of our blossoms were white but there was one specific tree that had purple blooms on it.  We never had a map for the orchard that laid out the more than 30 apple varieties scattered throughout, so this blossom color was special.

 

To be continued…

The Power of Suggestion

I love how everyday life has its lessons thrown in there, just waiting to be discovered.  A recent one for me, as I hang out waiting in the ER, is the power of suggestion.  This can be both positive and negative, of course.  It was highlighted for me by my 9 year old.  Let me explain.

Recently, I’ve been a particularly tasty nibble for bugs.  I’ve always had pretty big reactions to bug bites.  (I’m sure there’s a lesson hidden within that too!)  This time, I was bitten by a fast acting mosquito right in the middle of my forehead.  Within a short while, the middle of my forehead started to pop out.  I looked like a dinosaur.  Then, the swelling moved down my nose and eventually around both eyes.  It wasn’t pretty.  The swelling restricted my breathing in my nose a bit, but wasn’t worrisome.  I tried a few things to relieve the swelling, but neither the cold compresses, homeopathic medicine, nor the antihistamine was cutting it.  I went to bed and by the next morning, I was still puffy and swollen.  It took 2 days for the swelling to subside.   Once it did, it was just my luck that a giant horsefly attacked me and took a chunk out of the right side of my forehead.  What are the chances?!  It started to puff and swell as the evening wore on, this time on the one side.

I had sent a picture to my family, mainly as a joke, because I looked like I was using Botox.  (I just turned 40, I thought they’d find it funny.)  They didn’t find the humor.  It’s family, so I received more along the lines of concern and suggestion that I go to a doctor, citing a nurse friend that each incident could produce greater symptoms, anaphylactic shock, etc, etc.  I dismissed it readily, but the seed was planted!  Not long after, at bedtime, I started to feel the one side of my tongue swelling.  That’s it!  I started to panic, I need to go to the hospital.  The one thing about the ER is once you’re there, you have time to think… plenty of time, in fact!

Upon admission, I talk to the triage nurse.  She asks me, using the pain scale, what kind of pain I’m in.  I’ve been through natural childbirth, I think to myself.  It’s not painful, really just a minor discomfort from the pressure.  I realized the reality of my situation.  It’s a bug bite.  My face is swollen.  I’m not in any pain.  It’s a minor discomfort.  I’m going to be okay.  The feeling of my tongue swelling seemed to subside on its own.  That was the frame of mind I needed to be in to get better.

Punctuating this lesson all the more, I came home to hear that my 9 year old was giving a pep talk to his friend who had hurt himself.  You’re gonna be alright, back and at it in no time.  Sometimes, the best medicine can be the power of positive suggestion.  It’s so simple, even kids get it!

It reminds me of a phrase written by a family friend in a baby book for my son, The Little Engine That Could: “What you think about, you bring about.”

Happy, positive thoughts to you all!

Ali 🙂

Opening Yourself to Receiving

imageHow many times have you had the courage to make a change, but when questioned you doubt yourself only to retreat to the safety and comfort of what you know? It may not be what you truly want, but at least it’s familiar. What’s unknown is scary. It creates discomfort, but without discomfort, there is no stimulus for change. That’s part of the human condition.

The struggles and hardships in your life are designed for you to evoke change. It builds and builds until you cannot keep it in anymore. You have two options: make a change or merely exist. Release what no longer serves you to be free to receive with both hands. You were born to grow and change. Without change, you have nothing new to offer.

Be truthful and honest with yourself. Ask your higher self, the core of who you are, “Is this what I want?” Without conditions. Without logic or rationale. Is this what I want? The answer is right there in your initial gut reaction. The conditions holding you back are the questions and in the thought process that comes after. To gain the strength and courage to live a truly authentic life, live in that moment. See, feel, and appreciate the moment you answered that question authentically. Many blessings are ahead.

Godspeed.

Ali 🙂

DIY Peanut Butter Cups – Mmmmmm So Good!

File_000Early season apples, just perfect for baking pies and dehydrating, will be here by mid August.  But, if you know me, you know I love desserts and chocolate any time of year!  I’ve been known to not-so-discretely peruse the dessert menu before deciding on what to order for dinner.  Dark chocolate, in particular, is my absolute favorite.  So, when I came across this recipe for DIY Peanut Butter Cups that was so easy and even looked healthy, I had to try it.  Around Halloween, I had tried another recipe that was similar, which called for powdered sugar as the binding agent.  It was not something I would do again.  The consistency was too tacky and had way too much sugar.  This recipe is far better because it uses coconut flour.  It is so much healthier and easier to work with.  My experience with the recipe just needed one improvement – to thin the chocolate a bit so it was not as thick and messy.  First I tried milk… milk chocolate has milk in it, right?  Don’t do that!  The chocolate curdled and was not useful for a smooth chocolate shell.  Then I remembered another recipe I had tried for a raw chocolate sauce that used cocoa powder and coconut oil.  Coconut oil… Voila!  It’s the perfect addition for a chocolate shell.  Also, in my experience I would not use a peanut butter with added oil, like palm oil, but if you must, use more coconut flour to absorb the oil.  Depending on your ingredients, this can be a dairy free, vegan, and gluten free treat.

The original recipe I used is here:

Healthy 4 Ingredient Reese’s Eggs

I recommend this website highly for great recipes and other healthy living advice.  

Here is my process using what I had on hand…. Feel free to substitute what you have or your favorite ingredients.  Organic is best!

Ingredient List:

  • 2/3 cup Natural Peanut Butter (creamy, peanuts and salt only)
  • 1-2 tbsp Coconut Flour
  • 1 tbsp Real Maple Syrup (or honey)
  • 1/2 cup Chocolate (I used chocolate chips)
  • 1 tbsp Coconut Oil
  • Coarse Salt (optional, I used pink Himalayan salt)

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Mix together the peanut butter, coconut flour, and maple syrup in a medium sized bowl, adding more coconut flour if the batter is too loose.  The batter should be slightly sticky like a cookie dough.  Using a small ice cream/cookie scooper or a tablespoon, drop tablespoon sized peanut butter mixture onto cookie sheet lined with parchment paper.  Push down to flatten into a coin shape and freeze for about 20 minutes.

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Melt chocolate using a double boiler method and add the coconut oil to thin the chocolate.  Use more or less coconut oil depending on your personal preferences.  Coat frozen peanut butter cups in the melted chocolate (I used two forks to handle it) and top with coarse salt, if desired.  Put back into the freezer for another 20 minutes or so to harden.  Keep frozen until ready to eat.  They don’t last long, at least not in my house!

Indulge in what you love and enjoy life!

Ali 🙂