Monday, April 27, 2015

High Density Apple Plantings

apples in hedgerow
I have a hedgerow type thing going on around the perimeter of our property.  I like the idea that a mixed hedgerow planting can supply many things: privacy, efficient use of space, pollinator and wildlife habitat and forage, deer barrier, pretty things to look at, and a food source.  I know the picture looks like a bunch of sticks and twigs, but c''s early spring!  Stuff isn't leafed out yet. Right now I have the following list planted in the hedgerow:

  • Apples (early blooming):  Yellow Transparent, Whitney Crab, Zestar!
  • Apples (mid blooming): Liberty, St Edmund's Pippin
  • Apples (late blooming): Arkansas Black, Winesap, Stayman Winesap, Virginia Beauty, York, Red Royal Limbertwig
  • Hazelnuts (unknown varieties)
  • Aronia
  • Nanking Cherries
  • Fig (Celeste)
  • Raspberries
Between and underneath these trees and shrubs I have kitchen herbs (closest to the house), strawberries, comfrey, and flowers, and covering it all is a deep mulching of woodchips.  This mixed planting has some permaculture ideas going on including the idea of underplanting shrubby things and trees with lower growing things and tap-rooted things that won't compete too much with the shallow tree roots.  In my notorious style, it is all a little was not planned and drawn out perfectly on graph paper first.  

The apples came from a fantastic nursery called Urban Homestead in Virginia.  The number of antique apples this small family business propagates is staggering, and their customer service is simply excellent.  These trees are EMLA111 rootstock, a large semi-dwarf rootstock that will take some serious pruning to keep small.  This rootstock has disease resistance, does well on heavy soils, and is good at anchoring.  Since we have lots of wild apple trees in the area that may host diseases, heavy soil, and a site that gets some wind, I thought this rootstock seemed like a good choice.  

These trees will want to grow 25' and I'd like to keep them to under 12'.  The type of intensive growing I'm talking about is Backyard Orchard Culture, as discussed on this page by Dave Wilson nursery growers.  Another blog I like, The Walden Effect,  has tried out a version of this type of growing and is having success with it.  I see it as a chance to experiment.  Thinking about the longterm, if we ever leave this garden and the next owner doesn't want to prune so intensively, I could see taking out every other tree and letting the remaining trees grow larger.  

I love the idea of widely spaced, full grown trees in a proper orchard, but on our site, I'd like these trees to be part of the hedgerow.  A dwarfing rootstock seems a more obvious choice for keeping small, but dwarf trees need stakes, and Dave Wilson Nursery actually advocates the use of EMLA111.  As a novice fruit tree grower, I can't help thinking there must be consequences to keeping a tree from growing as large as it is trying to grow.  We shall see.   

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

The Holistic Sprays of Spring & Chicken Nest Boxes

Michael Phillips, apple grower of Lost Nation Orchard in New Hampshire, advocates spraying health tonics on your apple trees to prevent fungal infection in spring, when the trees are most prone.  I missed the timing for the first spray at 1/4 inch green, right when the leaves are just peeking out.  The trees are leafed out now and the blossoms are still buds and haven't opened, so my timing was right for the second spray.

For a 2 gallon sprayer:
  • 5 oz fish emulsion (I used Neptune's Harvest)
  • A few teaspoons kelp powder
  • 1.25 oz pure neem oil with about 1/2 tsp soap as emulsifier (high quality, fair trade, OMRI approved neem sources available here)
  • Some garlic water I made by soaking 2 crushed cloves overnight (this isn't in his recipe but I had it in the fridge and thought it couldn't hurt since garlic is anti-fungal)
Another key ingredient in Phillip's sprays is effective microbes, good microbes that colonize the tree's surface and prevent fungal invasion, but I'm still waiting on that to show up in the mail, so I'll respray once they arrive. SCD Probiotics is a reputable company Phillips recommends to buy effective microbes.  

Arkansas Black planted last spring about to bloom
Fish emulsion and seaweed powder for apple tree spray
Want the cheat sheet to Phillip's methods?  Check out his helpful tips here:  Seasonal Checklist for the Holistic Orchard

Another spring happening is improved nesting boxes for the chickens.  I dropped some cash for a high quality, 4 hole nesting box from Kuhl that hangs on the coop wall.  The bottom of each box pops out if there is ever a broken egg in the box, or for general cleaning, and there are no nooks and crannies for mites to hide.  Plus, it's easy to detach from the coop and give a good cleaning once in awhile, unlike wooden boxes.  The milk crates worked as nesting boxes for a year, but this is a big improvement.  It's lightweight but fairly durable, and the eggs are staying much cleaner for some reason.  I'm not sure why that is, but I won't complain.  Clean eggs and mite-free chickens makes me like these boxes a lot!

Kuhl Metal hanging nest boxes 

Friday, April 17, 2015

Spring Pictures

Spring came late in 2015, but when she came, she came full force.  Dandelions opened today, magnolias have been blooming for almost a week, and the knotweed is at my knees.  Everything is popping open and greening up.  

spring chickens
spring mycelium in my sheet mulching
hello little fungi
ripped and flipped cover crop

bottle gentian
apple trees

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Goodbye Girls

I sold 3 of my 5 hives on Tuesday.  Jason and I loaded them into my truck after dark, rachet strapped them down and drove them through the streets of Pittsburgh to their new home with an experienced beekeeper.  It's a good thing to pare down.   Spring is the time of year you really need to practice good management with bees.  Well, all times of year you need to manage them well, but when the nectar flows in spring, you have to make sure you give them what they need!  You need to keep an eye on your bees and make sure they have plenty of room to store honey and raise brood.  I feel paring down to 2 hives will lessen my stress with tending to the lovely ladies, since this is also the busiest time of year for me with garden and seedling nursery work.  It takes work, and time, to be a good beekeeper, and I want to be the best one I can be.  

Home hive.  I still have these girls.
At one point last year I had 8 hives and I sold 2 at that point and ended up combining 2 hives as well, to end up with 5.  Splitting your hives is a way to make kind of an artificial swarm, and give the bees more room, and it has worked really well for me.  The problem is, then you end up with more hives and more management of you keep them all.  

The hives I no longer have (January picture!)
Empty pallets that once held hives
"I think my house used to be here"
I'm happy the girls have a new home, but I miss them already though.  I sold both of my original hives from 5 years ago...the mother hives that all my splits have come off of, and ended up keeping a hive that I split 2 years ago, and a swarm that I caught last year that have both turned out to be great hives.  

 The empty pallets where the hives stood a few days ago look a bit forlorn.  And the day after the hives left, a lonely forager sat on the empty pallet all day.  Perhaps she had been out all night, since it was a very warm night, and when she made it home the next morning, her home was not where it should have been.  Just about broke my heart.  Well, hives A, B, and D, I wish you luck and I miss you.  Go forth, and find nectar, pollen, and good health!

Monday, April 6, 2015

Woodchip Load

Got some woodchips dropped off today at our next door lot that we are working on eventually planting with flowers and perennials...Thanks Kruljac Tree Service!  I plan to lay down cardboard and do some more organic material terraces or "semi-swales", basically running sheet-mulching beds on contour topped with woodchips to start building soil, slow erosion, and increase organic matter.

Organic material "terraces"
The lot

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Winter Rye

Winter rye is aptly named.  It is just so dang hardy.  You can sow it in September, or even later.  It will grow a little and then stand there and stay green all winter, holding your soil in place and protecting it from winter rains, compaction, and erosion.  Then, in March, it will grow some more.  A month before you want to plant in the bed,  mow it down, pull it out and compost it, or broad fork the bed and flip the clumps up so the roots die.  Winter rye is at its most nutritious (both as chicken forage and as mowing down and chopping up as soil food) at no more than 6" - 8" tall.

The beds I planted in winter rye in October have offered greens for cutting for the chickens all winter, and especially now, before much else is green.  I plan to cut all the beds I have planted in rye for chicken greens over the next week or two, a different section each day.  I hand harvest it so I can snip it up for them as it isn't good to give chickens long grass.  Sounds labor intensive I know, but it goes quickly.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Build a Cold Frame

Our finished coldframe
There is lots of great info out there on building a great cold frame.  The basics are...
  • southern exposure is good
  • a sheltered, warm spot like a south facing wall is a good site
  • an angled top makes the most of low winter/late fall/early spring sun.  45 degrees is good.
  • have in place a way to vent the frame and hold the lid all the way open so there is no cooking of plants. 

Our version is made out of scrap wood with a polycarbonate panel I got at our local reuse center.  It has a 45 degree angled top and is sited against a south facing wall.  We rigged a bungee to hold the lid securely open against the wall.  At night or during cold or stormy weather, the lid can be closed or propped partially open.

Scrap plywood becomes the box
The back is covered with stretched plastic sheeting
Cold frames are great because they do offer a few degrees of temperature protection, but I think one of their great features is they protect tender seedlings from wind.  Seedlings need a bit of wind blowing through their hair to make them sturdy and strong, but they need small doeses of that at first.  If you have all your seedlings outside and a windstorm (or hailstorm!) strikes, you can put them safely in the cold frame.

Moderating temperature inside is very important.  If it is sunny, the lid should be open!  I moved my hardy seedlings outside, when it was 36 degrees and sunny, and rapidly warming up.  It could have been 36 and windy and cloudy and then I would have put them in the cold frame for protection.  It is a balance between getting them sun, and protecting them from intense weather.

Hardening myself off
Bungee to hold the lid all the way open against the wall.  

South facing wall holds the heat
First night in the frame!!