Sunday, March 27, 2016

On The Fence

The plan was simple:

1. Get our woodcutter and his cherry-picker over here no later than the end of October to take down the overhanging trees at the west end of our high field, shave off the leaners for a couple of hundred yards and clean up the limbs, chips and sawdust.

2. Get the new fence -- I did mention a fence, didn't I?  Years ago Diane Flynt told me if I wanted to grow apples, put up a good fence first -- up by no later than the end of November.

3.  Plant the rest of the apple trees no later than the end of the year, and disassemble the individual apple tree cages that initially kept the deer from getting at the apples, but by now were just restricting growth that desperately needed to be pruned, braced, tied back and otherwise trained to new shapes..
Not quite an orchard -- just an apple patch

4.  Prune all the trees in the apple patch -- it isn't really an orchard just yet, with just a dozen trees at the time, but it will be -- in January and spray with a urea solution all the old dead leaves on the ground.

5. Hire someone to prune the 12  old heritage apple trees -- neglected for many years instead of getting the pruning and other attention that apples need -- that bore fruit on this old farm in the Spring of 2015, and spray those trees too.

6.  Be ready to spray all the trees, new and old, with dormant oil and copper by the time they begin to bud and show leaves.


Didn't happen, for a variety of reasons that all have to do with the usual Rhythms of Life -- stuff happens, things don't quite work out the way you planned, you do the best you can.

So our woodcutter came by the first week of January and got the hardwoods at the end of the field cut down and trimmed back, and tidied up a bit. Then 13 inches of snow fell and the ground froze and the winds of February howled.  An experienced crew of pruners came and got 11 of the 12 old trees pruned to better shape -- renovated, apple growers call it -- before a sudden snowstorm stopped them in their tracks on a viciously miserable day in early February.  Haven't seen them since, and that 12th tree, thought to be a Northern Spy, still needs more work
ready to bore the postholes

The fence material was delivered in late winter, ground still hard as concrete.  Got 42 stakes in the ground precisely where I wanted them.  Never realized you could pound a plastic stake into ground hard as concrete, but when you are desperate, you can coax them in.  In early March a mild thaw and a warm rain loosened the dirt. Over two days I bored 42 holes with the 6-inch augur mounted on my tractor.  Most of the holes were in the same vicinity as the stakes I had marked them with, but on a steep grade some of them went in different directions.  Rhythms of Life, ibid.   Used an analog posthole digger -- a Mankiller, Barnie Day calls it -- to straighten out those holes that went hither, tither and yither.

Got the posts into the holes and the corners braced up with horizontal timbers, reasonably level and plum and ready for fencing.  Started unrolling the heavy-duty plastic deer fencing ( that we stapled to the posts with 1 1/4" long galvanized staples, and got ready to zip-tie the fencing to three strands of 12-gauge monofilament line that circles the 10,000-square-foot apple patch.   Got about halfway through the job before I fell, in an unguarded moment, from the utterly ridiculous height of, oh, maybe 2 feet maximum, flat on my back.  Still don't know how the leg got banged up but the back has been complaining petulantly and relentlessly ever since. Treating it with a potion of Knob Creek's finest and Rocky Knob Tractor & Yacht Club wellwater. Rhythms of Life, op cit.

Got the third leg of fencing up yesterday and hope to get the final leg up tomorrow.  Staples are going in much more slowly, and the hammerer is cussing at a faster and more alarming rate.
Down by the southeast corner

Had a 90-minute tutorial from Diane Flynt, founder and owner of Foggy Ridge Cidery,  last week on pruning young apple trees, and finally got our apples, at least the new ones, in some better shape for the new season. Opened up the middles of the trees, took out unwanted growth sorted through central leaders, braced horizontally as many of the remaining limbs as I could and began to remove the individual cages.   Too late for spraying urea, but dormant oil with copper will come soon for all the trees.
Diane Flynt demonstrates pruning a young apple tree at her orchard

We're holding our breaths that a herd of deer won't come stampeding through the new unfinished and as yet not quite functional fence.  I scrounged up a rusty, flimsy old gate that my father-in-law had discarded years ago, and propped that up where a new 10-foot wide mower gate will go one day.

The old gate is held together by habit and rust, mostly, and I think a deer could lick its way through the middle in about two or three minutes, but it looks heftier than it is.  So do I, but I am starting to win this long fight, and if the back doesn't go out again, I might have it all wrapped up in a couple of weeks, if the bourbon and the staples last.    If not, surely by the end of October.  Late November for sure.


  1. Wonderful descriptions, Jack! Sorry I couldn't be there ....... :-)

  2. Love your narrative, Jack. Keep it up. And best to the apples.

    Tim & Sarah

  3. Thanks for the update. I had an old apple tree that wouldn't die at the farm in Engelhard. Finally succumbed to Hurricane Irene after being given last rites several times. Come see us in Kilmarnock.