A Hopeful Orchard

Reader Contribution by Andrew Weidman
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We’ve planted an orchard this year, adding to an existing apple tree we put in two years ago. It’s small, only four trees in total, but it’s still an orchard, a hopeful orchard.

I’m sure you’re asking, what makes it so hopeful, anyway?

Let’s be honest; you need hope to plant anything. So many things can go wrong, and so many others must go right, adding up to odds no betting man would ever risk. But none of that stops us, does it? We plant away, visions of blushing apples and buttery pears filling our imagination as we dig and water.

No one thinks about deer, or rabbits, drought, diseases or bagworms. We certainly never considered the wild turkey taking up residence in our development. In hindsight, the tree farm next door probably should have given us a clue on that one.

Our orchard is particularly hopeful in more specific ways, however. Each of the four little trees embodies a story of hope.

The older apple tree, a Ditlow’s Hard Winter, was nearly lost to extinction twice. The original, an unknown grafted tree in the Ditlow orchard, was lost to a developer’s bulldozer the year I got to sample it. A year later a friend gifted me with some scion wood from a multi-variety tree with one branch of Hard Winter. Five years later my tree bloomed for the first time – before snapping in a freak Halloween snowstorm. Heartbroken, I collected scion wood and tried again. This year, the new Hard Winter has shown its first blossoms. For all I know, it’s the last Hard Winter in the world.

The second apple was grafted last year. Some time last summer something took a bite out of one side of the little whip of a tree; the wound healed and the tree continued to grow. This spring, the buds looked healthy, the bark fresh, so we added it to the orchard, even though it was late for breaking bud. It never broke dormancy.

The remaining two trees are both pears, scions of an ancient tree still struggling on my dad’s farm. Dad thinks it’s called a ‘Watermelon,’ but the description of ‘Watermelon’ doesn’t match. Besides, in its day it was a towering standard growing on its own roots, with no evidence of a graft union. I suspect it’s a seedling, unique and irreplaceable. The fruit it gave were on the small side, round, green and crisp, more like sweet green apples than a pear. The tree still lives, a shadow of its former glory, but it has long ceased bearing fruit.

I tried grafting new trees for several years with no luck whatsoever. Two years ago, a friend of mine took on the challenge; he gave me two precious little trees last year, and renewed hope. Hope that ‘Elwood’s Watermelon,’ named after my dad, will continue to grow and fruit in our little orchard.

It didn’t take long after the orchard was in for that wild turkey I mentioned earlier to pay us a visit, cleaning off all of the leaves from one of the ‘Elwood’s Watermelon’ trees. Had I remembered to install hardware cloth guards around each of them, this catastrophe would have been avoided. A day late and a dollar short, all four trees are now wrapped in mesh. Months later the little tree still clings to life. Hopefully, it will thrive. Hopefully.

If it doesn’t, I’ve budded a rootstock with Seckel, or honey pear. Just this morning I budded five apple rootstocks with Paradise, to replace the failed apple. I won’t know if any of the buddings were successful until next spring. So much of gardening, and especially fruit growing, is patience and waiting. It’s also a matter of taking failures in stride and either turning them into successes or learning from them before trying something new.

I realize it doesn’t exactly make sense to plant an orchard, especially with a commercial orchard two miles from the house. But then, hope usually doesn’t make much sense, does it? It doesn’t need to make sense. What’s life without a little hope?

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