Prune, prune, prune…. that’s what the wonderful stewards of the apple orchard were busy doing during the months of March and April. Winter storms can break the branches of trees, and some trees do not survive the ice storms or bitter cold of New England winters. (This winter was less cold than the one of last year, thanks to Mother Nature!) In early spring, extraneous shoots are removed, as they seem to pop up in clusters on dominant branches. With skillful thinning, a tree can be shaped to yield a better crop and to improve its health. The chore was done before blossom time, so that all the vigor of new growth would go into the branches that bear the fruit you will receive in the fall.
The season is later than usual, but Mother Nature can play catch-up by bringing on a hot spell at any time–probably in June, this year according to one of the seasoned guardians of the crop. Blossom time was rife with blooms and delightfully fragrant. From a distance, the small trees looked like Q-Tips and the larger ones as though they were festooned with parachutes. It is a busy time for the farmers and even busier for our friendly bees!
To pollinate the apple crop, beehives are positioned throughout the orchard. Without their help, the crop would only be half of what it will be (bee)! In fact, so important are the bees to agriculture in general, that billions of dollars would be lost if they were not around to pollinate the fruit and vegetable crops consumed by the public during one year. In general, apiarists can make more money by renting out the hives to farmers than their sale of honey. The hives are often moved from location to location, depending on the growing seasons. (We have our own hives, and they are only moved during the nectar seeking season when we make honey.)
The growers try to keep the apple blossoms sacrosanct by mowing around the base of the tree to eliminate other floral species. They use machines to do this. Other farmers sometimes let their livestock roam about the orchard to graze…a practice not recommended as it could damage roots (especially in young trees). The stewards of the mcIntosh apple orchard certainly do not want animals wandering about when the apples have formed! One of the major problems for apple growers is keeping deer away. They, like the rest of us, think apples are sublime!
Johnny Appleseed, whose real name was John Chapman wore a burlap sack around his waist and sported a tin hat–it is said–as he moved west from Massachusetts, planting seeds along the way. A firm believer in the value of medicinal herbs, he also planted seeds of the dog fennel weed (also called May Weed). It’s a pesky plant with a bad odor. [No wonder he kept on the move.] Below is a picture of Johnny Appleseed’s tombstone. He is buried in Fort Wayne, IN. Do you suppose the apples strewn about the fenced-in site are Gravestines?
We are grateful to him for his perseverance and determination in developing apple orchards from the Mohawk Valley of New York into Ohio and further west.