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…