Sunday, March 25, 2012

A rainy day in the orchard

The rain did not keep us indoors today. The weather is damp but not torrential. The light is bright for a rainy day. So we donned our mud boots and raincoats and headed outside to putter. Last weekend we were simply excited to hang our laundry outside instead of indoors. One week later we have had summer temperatures. The snow has completely melted from the garden. Some of those leafy herbs; catnip, horehound, mint, have started showing new spring green.

I have discovered that I have matured as a gardener. I poked my trowel in the soil of the cold frame, moved a little soil around and tossed a few spinach seeds in there. Otherwise I have resisted the very great temptation to do too much else in the veggie patch. I know that although the earth is waking up from her long winter's sleep, she may decide to go back to bed for a little while longer.

I've had my nose buried in garden books this weekend. I've been excited to start planting guilds under the fruit trees this year. I began with planning last fall by transplanting a couple of volunteer comfrey plants under a granny smith. I mulched a ring around the tree's drip line, the furthest point where the rain drips off the tree. My plan was to plant bulbs along this line. But I have a good amount of bunching onions seedlings started, so I think I will start with those instead. Around the base of the tree I will plant nasturtiums. This will help deter borer's.

So we headed out to putter in the rain. I started picking up the branches we trimmed from pruning the apple trees this past month. Mark and Evan were picking up brush from other areas. Evan was mostly playing in the mud.

I looked out into the orchard and noticed that it could also use a good raking. A clean orchard is a happy orchard. So I started raking up the leaves and laying down mulch and some defrosted compost to continue my work in the guild. I will not till the soil when I plant the guild so having some killed sod will make the ground nice and soft for planting. I read in Gaia's Garden, by Toby Hemenway that placing a few small piles of stones around the guilds is also good for attracting snakes and frogs.

While toiling away in a happy frame of mind my thoughts wandered to the trouble spot behind me. It will be a challenge. There is a forsythia planted too closely to another granny smith tree. Mark cut down some overgrown chokecherry bushes there. The whole area is crowded by wild blackberry bushes. I love picking wild berries but I also know that paper wasps like to build their nests in overgrown patches like this. The patch is just on the other side of veggie garden fence. There are some big boulders buried in there. There is another very interesting looking chokecherry tree that will stay. My long term plan is to build a small bench for this area and perhaps plant a few shrubs for attracting beneficial insects. Butterfly bushes, maximillion sunflowers. I will plant everbearing raspberries from Fedco this year so the berries will be replaced.

As I ponder all this stuff I look up at the apple tree I have been working under. There is a small bud of white. At first I thought it was just the rain dripping off the limb. A trick of the light. But no. It is an apple blossom breaking free from its winter coat. I know something this tender bud does not. I know that night time temperature will reach the low teens in a couple of days. I know that apple trees should not be blooming this time of the spring. I walk around to check on the other trees. The green varieties are starting to bloom. The reds are still nestled deep in their coats. This is not good. It could mean that if those blooms have been coaxed open by some warmer temperatures that those trees will not bear much fruit this year.

This is what I know, we had a warm winter, and an extraordinary stretch of summer weather; which started before spring had even arrived according to the calendar, that shattered all sorts of records for temperatures for this time of year in Maine. This is just weather. But when we think of climate change we have to pay attention to the variability in the weather. Climate change can be seen in the extremes in weather we have been experiencing. This has all sorts of consequences. For our small homestead it has meant that this warm weather slowed and then stopped the flow of maple sap so that we did not get as much as we did last year. If the apple blossoms come early, before the pollinators, and then get zapped by a hard freeze we won't have many, if any, apples to put up next fall. For farmer's this can have harder consequences. They grow the food that we eat.

I know that every gardening season is a bit of a gamble. Sometimes you get a good tomato year, sometimes you don't. Sometimes you get a lot of rain, sometimes it is dry. But what happens when all those interconnected species of flora and fauna are thrown askew. Pollinators need the food they need when they wake up, migratory birds need the food they need when they arrive. It really is an interconnected web. When one piece of the web missing it has a cascading effect.

In my way of adapting to the changes we are experiencing I will probably try to make some more fruit syrups to replace the maple syrups. I will probably buy some maple syrup or honey to supplement our shortage this year. If we do not get many apples here, perhaps we will find an commercial orchard that will might have a colder micro-climate. I will hope that other crops will have bumper years to balance out what we have already lost this year.

In the meanwhile, I will continue to work on that apple tree guild. I know that my work this year will benefit my garden for years to come. Even if we do not get apples this year.

I place my hope in those little bunching onions.

No comments: