"United we bargain, divided we beg."

Friday, January 15, 2010

Farm Planning, and Aesthetics Versus Practicality

I think I'm stealing this from somebody, but there's nothing to make you contemplate the future like planting a tree.

Shortly, I'll be planting seven of them. I expect my shipment from Trees of Antiquity within a couple of weeks. For those of you who have asked, that's four apples - Ashmead's Kernal, Golden Russet, Hauer Pippin, and Saint Edmund's Pippin -, a Stella Cherry and a Bavay's Green Gage Plum. There's also the Christmas tree to plant - a Korean Spruce, if anybody cares.

So today I was walking the property during the twenty minutes of sunshine we enjoyed just before sundown, checking out the orchard and trying to decide where to plant my new trees. Walking the prop was a pretty squishy proposition. It has been raining pretty steadily - not to say unceasingly - for the last week, and even the highest and driest parts of my land are not so dry.

Wet wet wet wet wet wet wet. My boots were making an icky squelching sound on the lawn. The hole that is left over from the burial and re-emergence of the famous roadkill deer (The Redneck Rubicon (WARNING - GRAPHIC)) is in the middle of the orchard, and it has a foot of water in it. Everything I have been reading about fruit trees tells me that they hate having their "feet wet." I was planning on simply expanding the existing orchard where it sits by planting my six trees in two rows of three directly to the north. However, I doubt that is a good idea. It just isn't the best place for trees.

I know that this is most likely one of the wettest weeks of the year, and that the ground will not probably be so saturated for more than a few weeks a year. But even so, there are better places on my farm to plant than this one. If I want my new trees to live, I should look for several different spots here and there suitable for one or two trees - break them up and give each tree the best chance it can have. And furthermore, who knows what the future brings? According to the newest research (What Could 4 Degree Warming Mean For The World?) I can expect my area to experience MORE seasonal heavy rainfall.

I love the idea of having an orchard, a discrete area given over to fruit trees, rather than simply scattering them here and there helter skelter all over the landscape. In fact, I really like the idea of having several discrete landscapes, as it were... or habitats.... here, the vegetable garden... there, the barnyard, and over here, the fruit tree grove. Over there, the fishpond. Yon, the lawn with it's playground, complete with adorable children in pastel dresses chasing butterflies. You get it.

Five acres is not really a very big homestead, especially when you consider than fully half of it is pasture and of what remains, the house and it's immediate environs takes up a big chunk, and my husband's shop another one. Breaking it up into separate "habitats" provides visual interest, varied opportunities for recreation, and not least, a sense of satisfaction in laying out my kingdom according to my will and plan. It's annoying to have to abandon that vision because of certain facts of the terrain.

Hmm. Who said "there is nothing more disappointing than the slaying of a beautiful hypothesis by an ugly fact?"


Perhaps there is another kind of aesthetics I could aspire to. A more organic one. If I let my farm grow according to the dictates of it's real nature - that is, plant trees where trees might thrive, regardless of where I think they'd look best, and put the garden where the sun is hottest, et cetera - maybe I will come to appreciate the beauty that comes from the true potential of the place, rather than continuing to wrestle with nature to force it to produce something approaching my vision - a Sisyphean task doomed to failure in any case.

Is that enough of a run-on sentence for y'all? Maybe I should concentrate on following the organic nature of the English language and not try to bend it to my evil will, eh?

Anyway. The goddamn Christmas tree is going along the western fenceline and that's that.


Claire said...

Hi Aimee! Thanks for visiting my blog today. My dog's name is Stickley (named after the furniture designer by Kelly, since he is a woodworker and loves Stickley designs). Stickley is a racetrack greyhound rescued by us about 5 years ago. He was a good racer but has been lazy ever since. We love him.

I don't know how I've missed your blog to this point but I enjoyed reading through it! I love your spotted goats. They are adorable!! I also am very cross with you for alerting me to Trees of Antiquity, with which I was not previously familiar. I planted 51 small fruit trees in the past 2 years. We only have 8.5 acres. How dare you expose me to yet another wonderful source of fruit trees. Shame on you!! ;-)

I am also very jealous of your hens, because I have no eggs, and we still have at least 18 inches of snow, while you have rain.

If your blog wasn't such a fun read, I'd be blowing raspberries at you right now.

Sigh. Zone envy. Goat envy. Fruit tree envy. It's a terrible thing.

I'll be back!

el said...

Aim, I wouldn't worry overmuch about aesthetics. Imagine an architect with a minor in landscape design moving to a 5 acre farm and you have one person who's learned you HAVE to listen to what the land says, not what your stupid notions are. Whether this helps you or not I guess I won't know, but, I think your instincts are right; plant them where they would work best. I have discrete orchard areas all over our property.

Also: I know it rains a lot now but does it rain a lot in August? The trees might appreciate that water you see now, especially if you have months of dry weather.

I look to people who have a lot less than 5 acres and I marvel at what they're able to shoehorn onto their land and then I think: what am I complaining about?

yours in the tree quest,

Aimee said...

Claire - thanks! nice to see you here! We have a sweet mutt who is part greyhound and we love her to death. 51 is a lot of fruit trees! Is it a business?

el, you are absolutely right, of course. I've been thinking that if all the trees are together, and then I put the beehive in the middle, I'll get great pollination... but bees go much farther afield, they'll find the trees wherever they are.

Garden Lily said...

Aimee - A few thoughts... Trees placed in various spots - especially where the blooms are visible from the kitchen or other key locations in the house - can be more aesthetic than structured rows of an orchard area.

As for drainage, as long as they are not in a ditch, they should be fine - their roots will find their way to where they like it best. If you are concerned, you can mound up the soil in just that spot, to promote drain off, and let the roots sit above the water. But in this part of the year when it is really wet, the trees are pretty much dormant, and in the summer, they will appreciate more water than they'll get. So mine are sitting ever so slightly on a mound, with the edges of the circle lower than the surrounding lawn, to help the water sink rather than run away when watering in the summer - which you will likely need to do for the first couple of years, anyhow, and whenever the young fruit is forming.

The other one is to anticipate the mature size of the tree. Even today's "dwarf" and "semi-dwarf" can take you by surprise by their spread. So best to give them each their own spot, not try to clump them together. Unless you're needing to optimize the planting, like us fitting 12 fruit trees into our back yard - I had them wider spaced originally, but then couldn't resist buying more which I fit in between. I am still looking for how to fit in a few more, if I can!

All the best with it. Fruit trees are such a great investment, you really can't go wrong no matter how you do it.

Anonymous said...
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Penelope said...

really?! "goddamned Christmas tree" I hope your pastor doesn't read your blog. But besides that, you're right of course, you can't fight the land, it will be lovely if you go with it's flow.

Anonymous said...

very useful read. I would love to follow you on twitter. By the way, did any one hear that some chinese hacker had busted twitter yesterday again.

Claire said...

Hi Aimee,
No, it's not a business, it's just a matter of being incapable of choosing between tree A, B and C, and instead choosing all 3. It's also a matter of being in zone 4/5, which is bad for a lot of fruit trees, so overdoing it in hopes of getting at least some each year. I've got plums, cherries, pluots, peaches, nectarines, quince, apples, pears, apricots and 1 aprium. I will have to see what made it over the winter, and more importantly, what blooms this year.

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