Farming at Pietree is special for so many reasons. The beauty here is definetly one of them. These shots were taken this week by Patrick McDonald, our Orchardist's Assistant. Take a peak at what he gets to do and see everyday!
Grafting is a technique used to change the variety of an apple tree by inserting a section of an apple (budding limb) limb into the stock of another tree. The insert, or scion, then begins producing and the lower portion, or host, serves as it’s root system. This way we are able to use the root systems of undesirable varieties (sorry Red Delicious fans). This allows us to try some new, old or exciting apple varieties at the Orchard and determine those that are worth planting on a larger scale.
This process starts in February or March while the trees are still dormant. Our Orchardist braves the weather and heads out into the orchard to scout the trees for the perfect scion specimens. The scions are gathered and stored until late spring.
Once the bark on the apple trees starts slipping, typically mid-late spring, it is time to start grafting. We typically use two grafting techniques- the whip and tongue method and the bark graft method.
We use the whip & tongue method when the wood is a year old and about the diameter of a pencil. We match the diameter of the host tree to the diameter of the scion. A tongue cut is made allowing the scion and the host to lock together.
We use the bark graft when the wood is older than a year or the diameter is larger than 3/8-1/2 of an inch. A portion or branch of the host is cut back and the scions are then placed snuggly inside the cut. Within 2-3 years the scions will begin producing apples with the host tree serving as it’s root system.
Grafting has allowed us to add 20 different varieties of apples onto trees that were once Red Delicious. Some of these are Heirloom varieties such as the Cox Orange Pippen, Esopus Spitzenburg and Reinette Simirenko. Others are newer, even experimental, such as the ME-8256. The ME 8256 was developed by Russell Bailey at the University of Maine in the ‘50s and offered to growers to try in their orchards. Our scions came from the orchards set out originally by Charley Fillibrown in Waterford. The ME 8256 doesn't have a name yet. We are looking forward to naming the ME 8256 here this Maine Apple Sunday, September 13, 2015!
Our Orchardist, Scott Miller, shares what his past week has been like here on top of the hill:
The seasons march forward, although it’s hard to believe on some of these cold, windy March days. Pruning continues as the wind chill allows. Windchills in the single digits doesn’t make for productive pruning conditions and it’s not terribly good for the trees either. One silver lining to the windy weather this winter is: the wind has packed the snow surface sufficiently to make for excellent snowshoeing. Standing on top of two feet of snow does allow for easier access pruning cuts in the top of the tree. Snow cover insulates tree roots from critical cold temperatures; so, it's not just good for skis and snowshoes.
A good snow cover gives an insight as to what wildlife is up to. Lots of coyote and fox tracks are a welcome sight. They provide a great service reducing the rodent population in and around the orchard. Pheasant, turkey and their tracks are a common sight while pruning. Thanks to the modern wonder of having a pretty good camera in our phones, we can capture some the pretty neat things we see during our day. I’ve had the good fortune see pheasant tracks change to wing beat imprints, and on the other end see turkey tracks and tail feather imprints appear out of nowhere 30 feet in from the deer fence.
Pietree Orchard employees spent a few days at the Ag Trade Show in Augusta this week. Great week of learning and networking.Read More
Q&A with Matt Carter, Associate Farm Manager
Recently three Pietree staffers, Matt Carter, Rebecca Sylvester, and Dan Cousins went to a hands-on Maple School at the Randolph Campus of the Vermont Technical College.
Matt Carter, Pietree’s Associate Farm Manager, sat down for a Q&A and detailed some of the highlights of this program.
Q: What was the basic premise of the program?
A: Typically the maple courses we have found deal with maple processing and production and not installation, the actual hanging of wire and tubing. While that is extremely helpful information, we always felt we needed to start at the beginning – figuring out how to make the best possible use of time and materials with the resources we have available. Each parcel of land is different in regards to typography and how far apart the trees are.
This particular maple school focused on the process of making the best use of time and resources and therefore optimizing the available parcel of land you are working with.
Q: Who led the program?
A: Glenn Goodrich, of Goodrich’s Maple Farm in Cabot, Vermont, was the instructor. Glenn’s family farm has been in business since the early 1800’s. Matt said, “This is a person who has clearly already vetted best practices as well as what not to do. Advice from him would be tried and true over the generations his family has been tapping trees, so there would be no reinventing the wheel, but solidly successful techniques.” Glenn began his career in 1979 with 25 maple taps on buckets and now produces syrup from 45,000 taps. Read more about his family’s farm on their website: http://www.goodrichmaplefarm.com
Q: What was the farm like where the school was held?
A: The Randolph campus of the Vermont Technical College had an existing sugarbush that had been tapped, but had always been done by buckets. The college wanted to switch over to have a tube system installed. It was the perfect set-up for a teaching course, because although the layout of the sugarbush was established, there was still the element of starting over with tubing for real hands on learning. Topographically, the landscape was quite similar to ours at Pietree as far as rolling hills and elevation changes. The biggest difference is that the school plot had been cleared out of most all of the trees that were not maple. And the Pietree sugarbush has many other trees to work around.
Q: What are some of the great ideas or goals you brought back to implement at Pietree?
A: We brought back a ton of great time saving tips. Implementing these changes will allow us to work with much more of the sugarbush landscape than we were able to last year. We learned how to use a different type of wiring, which in the past we had tried, but hadn’t had the skills to successfully use it. Using this stronger wire will allow us to cover more ground with less supports. When setting in the tubing, we can make up to 500 foot runs, with occasional side tie supports, compared to the 50 foot runs we were doing with frequent supports needed. We have already started making these changes and are excited to see the differences!
Rebecca adds that there were about 10 participants in the school and it was a great mix of start-up maple producers and established producers looking to hone their skills
We will keep you posted on the status of our sugarbush throughout the season. Save the date for Maine Maple Sunday, March 22, 2015!
Q&A with Scott Miller, Pietree Orchardist Extraordinaire
Q: What is the basic process of pressing cider?
A: We use primarily tree picked fruit, which is kept in optimal conditions. The apples are washed, ground-up, and pressed. Once pressed, the cider is run through Ultra Violet light, which prevents bacteria from growing. This treatment does not affect the flavor of the cider and keeps it safe. It is then stored in a cold tank until bottled. After UV treatment, the cider needs to be refrigerated; otherwise it will eventually become fizzy. When refrigerated, it will last for at least two weeks. We do not use preservatives.
It is important to note, we use the ripest fruit available. Green fruit is not used. At it’s ripest, the fruit has the best sugar content and is at the peak of flavor. This time of year (late fall), all of the fruit stored in our cooler is ripe enough for delicious cider. Earlier in the season, more of a selection process is required to ensure the best possible flavor. Early apples are used at the very beginning of the season, and in recent years, first pressings have been incredibly good.
Q: How do you determine the blend of apples to press each week?
A: There is definitely an art to it. Mac apples make a great base. Plain macintosh cider is pretty good. 1-2 weekends a year, we will have just a mac cider. From there, we tweak it, adding different varieties. The flavor is slightly different with each pressing. We go through the available apples each week to choose. Keeping great cider apples aside is part of the thought process all season in the orchard.
Q: Do you have any personal favorite apple varieties to add flavor to the cider?
A: I enjoy Baldwins, Cox’s Orange Pippins, Pinovas…. Adding just a small percentage of any of these will improve the cider’s base flavor. Macouns also make a great cider at certain points in the season.
Q: How many apples are required for a cider pressing?
A: A bushel of apples yields 2.5 gallons of cider. Depending on the cider demand of the week (we typically press on Fridays) we dedicate 3/4 of a day up to a full day for the cider pressing process. A lot of cleaning is involved in this time frame; it is vital for everything to be sanitized.
LOWELL, MA (October 8, 2014) – Anyone who has tried to plant a flowerbed in New England knows about the region’s infamously rocky soil. It is also true that most anyone who drives down a New England road will see quintessential stonewalls winding landscape. Not many are aware however, that the two New England characteristics are closely related.
Farmers built (by hand) more miles of stonewall in New England than there are miles to the moon. But they didn’t craft these structures out of masonic pursuit— they built them out of desperation! The region’s earth is scattered with stones dropped by glaciers thousands of years ago. Every year, the freeze-thaw cycle pushes new stones to the surface. You can imagine a farmer’s dismay when, after clearing his fields of hundreds of boulders, he finds dozens more in the very same field the following year! Farmers soon began to adapt to their annual struggle against a land that grows rocks. They started building stonewalls for need of somewhere to put all the burdensome fieldstones!
After hundreds of years of farming, these rugged holdouts are still here growing provisions in New England. Now however, Sweden farmers have finally been relieved of their stony encumbrance by none-other than a small art Studio in Lowell, MA: American Stonecraft.
About American Stonecraft:
American Stonecraft is a nine-person Lowell, MA studio telling the story of a land that grows rocks, and the farmers that battle them. We do this by making a line of serving wares: coasters, slabs, and bowls, from fieldstones gathered at rocky New England farms. On the underside of each good we create, we permanently label the stone's farm name, location, and a link to a website slideshow of the farm and gathering process. Our work is sold by the Gift, Home, and Specialty Food retailers in 47 US States, Canada, and Mexico.
Farmer Dan Cousins of PieTree Orchard in Sweden, ME may not know what to do with his fieldstones, but these artists sure do! American Stonecraft has begun hand-gathering the unwanted stones from PieTree Orchard and transforming them into one-of-a-kind serving ware. The group currently makes food slabs, coasters and bowls in an effort to transform a once burdensome material into a highly profitable product. Once the transformation is complete (the fieldstones are sawn, polished, sealed and labeled with their farm province) the American Stonecraft team will return the stones to PieTree Orchard. “Dan can offer these works of functional art for sale at the farm” Says Gerald Croteau, Founder of the Studio. “The popularity of these pieces has been amazing. They make wonderful Holiday gifts and the profit generated from them will help support PieTree Orchard to continue growing beautiful provisions for the Sweden community!”
As a farmer you have to take each season as it comes. The challenges faced often differ with each passing year, but some things never change. There’s an expectation of being left to the whims of the weather patterns. Coping with certain annual pests is always a part of the routine. And, you know something is going to break at some point, that’s a given. It will break, and then break again. But what should be taken into account, but never seems to be is how the season always comes sooner than expected.
With that introduction, we declare Pietree Maple Sugar Season officially begun. Before you get any crazy notions in your head, we won’t be tapping trees or boiling syrup any time soon. But, there is a lot of interesting goings on in the woods right now. Leaf peeping is just as vibrant in the sugar bush, and allows us an opportunity to confirm the species of maple that were flagged for tapping the previous winter. It gives us a better look at canopy growth (that’s the tops of the trees) to do selective thinning of competing species- such as beech, hemlock, and birch. Leaving a mix of species is still important, because it encourages biological diversity in the woodlot and reduces the spread of pests and disease.
We also use this time of no snow and comfortable temperatures to cut and trim out new transport lanes. These are simply passageways that will be utilized during the maple season to hang tubing and for crews to travel along. Marking out the lanes and hanging wire is not as simple as it first sounds. The goal is to have our transport lines channel the sap that’s collected from the trees along a 2-5% downward grade towards the collection site. That means a 2’-5’ drop over every hundred feet traveled. Not wanting to regularly hang wire and 1” plastic tubing over 25’ up in the air, this becomes even more of a challenge because our sugar bush is actually bowl shaped. It might difficult, but having the lanes makes it immensely easier.
Closely following the cutting of lanes is hanging wire; then hanging pipe; then hanging the clear tubing people more commonly associate with maple sap collection. All the while we are cleaning blow downs and repairing damage to existing tubing. And in case you were wondering, squirrels are not our friends. There is still a lot to do before the sap runs.
That’s just a brief glimpse at what Pietree Maple Crew is up to right now. Maybe the seasons sneak up on us here at Pietree because as farmers we are always looking ahead and prepping for the next season before it arrives. Even though the cold of winter is only starting to look our way, fresh maple syrup is around the corner.
There is so much beauty in a vegetable field in the fall. Here at Pietree we especially enjoy the beauty the fall brings to our fields. The lay of the land with the slope of the field running gently down to the valley and the hills that surround us to the north wrap us up in fall colors. The cool days with their crisp winds are both relief from the baking summers and a taste of the cold to come.
We worry about erosion here on the hill. Farming has inherent dangers to the soil. Erosion is one and lost organic matter is another. To combat these dangers we have been rushing for the last month to harvest the last of what we can and spin out the cover crop as soon as possible. These “green manure” crops add good things to the soil and protect the field from any winter winds or heavy rains. A few even add to the nitrogen available next year.
This is also a chance to amend the soil for ph and micro-nutrients. We test our soils regularly. Now is a good time to add lime and rock phosphate. We use a pelletized product that dissolves slowly and won’t wash into the stream at the bottom of the hill. We don’t feed in the fall. Fertilizers applied in the fall most commonly end up in our lakes and rivers.
A few of the perennial crops need special care over the winter. The strawberries will be covered after they go dormant. Last year we would have mulched the garlic heavily. This year we planted the garlic under a plastic mulch. The raspberries will benefit from a layer of mulch. Next year will be our first real crop of Raspberries at Pietree!
After the fields are taken care of we will begin to clean and store our tools and equipment. It is amazing how many gadgets a farm can collect; and it is amazing how far and wide those gadgets can be spread. Then we will move on to Maple syrup.
Fresh from the field this week we have a good supply of brightly colored bunching carrots and red and gold cherry tomatoes. Slicing and plum tomatoes are available in limited quantities. We are harvesting the last of the green and yellow snap beans until the next crop matures in September. We continue to have plenty of zucchini, summer squash, cucumbers, onions, green peppers, and cabbage. We also have Chard, leeks, red lettuce and broccoli in limited supply.Read More
Ask what folks are up to this time of year and you may hear about a day at the beach, a weekend getaway, or a week “upta camp”. But what are we farmers doing? Everything’s growing, right? Isn’t this is a time for farmers to sit back?Read More