How To Plant an Orchard (with adorable farmers)

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I had an adorable work crew yesterday on Pumpkin Hollow Farm.  Our mission was to plant trees.  Apple, plum, and apricot trees to be exact.

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“Can we climb the trees?” the younger ones asked.

“Maybe your kids will be able to climb the trees!” I responded.

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That certainly seemed a long time away for my young farm hands.

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We live on the property with our landlords, us in the little, old homestead that was built here one hundred and ten years ago.  They are sweet enough to let us farm this property.  We would like to stay here a very long time.  Trees will outlive me and give future generations something wonderful to eat.  These children have decided to eat all the fruit available in the meantime!

“When will there be apples?” they asked.

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The young man pictured above is Will, the son of our neighbors here.  His older sister and husband are here for spring break with their four darling boys.  They are full of fun and energy and a fair amount of humor.  “Hello Mr. Rogers!” they shout as Doug walks by.  “Sanders!” he corrects. “Hello Mrs. Sandra!” to me.  Shyanne and I couldn’t stop laughing at the kids calling Doug Mr. Rogers.  Thoughts of my favorite childhood show in mind.

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Maryjane was in heaven with this many little boys.  She generally stays very close to me, often wanting to be held, but yesterday she wanted to be near the boys.  She walked down our porch and boldly out the gate.  She tried to get them to come back with her.  At one point she was in a large dog kennel with them.  She was completely enamored with these older boys.

To plant trees:  This is a perfect time of year to plant trees.  They are still sleeping and when they wake up next month they will stretch their roots and begin to grow and thrive.

Dig a hole about 18 inches by 18 inches to start.  That very well may be big enough for the trees but you could always make it bigger.  Make sure there are no electrical lines beneath you!

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Then fill the hole half way with water.  This lets you see how fast the water drains.  One of the holes we dug didn’t drain even after two hours so we filled it back up and dug a hole four feet from it and it was perfect.  By watering the hole you are also putting in moisture for the new trees.

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Will and Doug took Maryjane back to Elizabeth when her mom got off work and headed to our favorite nursery to pick up the trees.  I love to support local business and families in the community and Holly Acres in Elizabeth is a great source for plants at a very fair price.

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Stand tree upright in the hole and fill hole half way with organic garden soil.  Then top with the soil that was initially removed from the hole. This allows the pile of dirt to nestle around the neck of the tree and adds a little extra nutrition for the roots.  Don’t put compost on yet as it will burn the sleeping tree.  We will put some compost on in June.

Draw a ring around the tree a foot away from the trunk and fill the little ravine with water.  Mulch with straw or wood chips.

Keep watered year round to ensure a healthy start!

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The Best Farm Breakfast

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I talk a lot about lessening our use of electronics, heading towards off grid living, getting to the point where if the power went out we wouldn’t notice, there are a few electronics we love and one of them is our Vitamix.  Doug jokes that it has a Volkswagen engine.  It makes it very easy to get lots of fruits and vegetables in one sitting.

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We always feel better when we start drinking our breakfasts.  Green drinks have been written about in books and researched to rid the body of cancer.  Green drinks oxygenate the blood and cancer cannot survive in an oxygenated environment.  I like the Vitamix because juicing wastes a lot of the pulp and uses more vegetables and fruits than necessary.  Throwing everything into the machine breaks down all the produce into a drinkable vitamin.  This drink provides the body’s needs for iron, calcium, magnesium, folate, B vitamins, vitamin C, D, K, and protein.  Add pumpkin or other orange fruit and get vitamin A.  Add a tablespoon of almond butter and get vitamin E.  I don’t think much of vitamins in the store.  They are lab created and the body simply does not recognize them but vitamins in food are readily uploaded into the body.

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The raw fruits and vegetables have all the necessary enzymes for the body to digest easily and the cell walls of the produce are broken down allowing the body to assimilate the nutrients effectively.

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(To serve two) In a powerhouse blender add:

4 cups of greens like dandelion, kale, or chard.

Then add whatever is around the kitchen.  The produce section at the health food store often has bags of produce on discount.  I scored a big bag of bananas that were browning but make perfect smoothies.

Apples from the root cellar.

A chunk of raw pumpkin.

Frozen berries and rhubarb.

Peaches I put up.

Anything works!

Then I add a splash of maple syrup (anti-tumor) and spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, ginger, cardamom…mmm.

Add enough water to achieve desired consistency.

We fill up the Vitamix container and we each get 3-4 cups of smoothie with approximately 5 fruits and vegetables each to start our day.  We get plenty of energy, boost our immunity, and feel really great.

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This may very well be the quintessential farm breakfast!

 

The Year Without Apricots

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This is a blissful time of year and we have been blessed with many delights of the season. The goldfinches have returned after a two year hiatus, glints of gold everywhere, beautiful blue birds, and cooing doves incant the air.  Our small farm is filled with birdsong from feathered creatures of all types.  Two years in a row now the weather is uncharacteristically cooler than usual, and though the tomatoes cry for more heat, everything else is lush and green.  Mornings with no markets are spent leisurely with a cup of coffee and a few chapters of reading before I wake Doug to milk.  Writing, reading, hoeing rows, watering with a cold glass of beer in hand, visiting with neighbors, friends, visitors to the farm.  Sitting under the canopy taking in the fresh smell of earth after a light rain and feeling the heat of summer on my skin.  It is an enchanting time.

Not yet into the throws of full time preserving, I can, dehydrate, or freeze as things come available.  It is time to dehydrate hordes of apricots for Doug’s favorite snacking.  I hide bags of them in the root cellar and ration them for knowledge that they would be enjoyed in a week if not.  To my dismay, the freeze on Mother’s Day wiped out a good portion of fruit from Colorado’s trees, apricots being one of them.  The organic farm at the market had some from Utah.  Said they were better anyway.  I doled out thirty dollars, a lot as we are still penny pinching this time of year, and took home the apricots.  They were unripe, tart, bitter.  I left them on the counter for a few days then dehydrated them.  They came out tart, bitter, disappointing.  Not only did I waste precious funds and time, but I have no apricots this year for Doug.

Lessons learned.  I cannot have everything I wish the moment I want it.  I am sure there are some apricots at the store from Peru but there is nothing like a local, freshly harvested piece of fruit.  The warm juices of summer penetrating the flesh of a small bit of sustenance.  A treat.  So this year we will be without.  But as nature does, if it misses one year, the next is sure to make up for it.  And next year, with patience, we shall dine on fresh apricots.  This year I should have waited.  Luckily the peaches survived.  They will arrive at market soon.

Making Fruit Cordials (delicious sippers from windfalls)

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Making fruit cordials is a great way to preserve fruit.  It also makes great gifts and a pleasant treat in the evenings after dinner.  Virtually any fruit (and debatably any vegetable) could be used to make a cordial.  Sometimes called Bounce or Liqueur, these cordials are easy to make (and even easier to drink!).

Fill a two quart canning jar (or any glass container) half way with fruit.  Think rhubarb, or choke cherries, sour cherries, apples, plums, raspberries, blueberries….any fruit or combination!

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Add half the amount of sugar as fruit.  For a two quart canning jar I add two cups of organic, raw sugar and four cups of fruit.

Fill the rest of the way with alcohol of choice.  For chokecherries gin is amazing.  For sour cherries try brandy.  For blueberries maybe rum.  Plums are nice with vodka.  Use a 80 proof alcohol.  No Everclear!  Also do not use wine.  You need enough alcohol content to preserve the fruit but not so much to burn your throat!

Sandy adds more sugar half way through the process, I tend to forget and feel it is sugary enough, but the Chokecherry cordial she made from my berries last year cannot be beat, so do as you please.  It is kind of like jam, yes you use a lot of sugar, but you only partake in a small amount.  I have a scant ounce when I am sipping.

Now, label it well with contents and date and set it to sit for four to twelve weeks.  Strain and bottle.  Enjoy!

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Other nice combinations might be:

Strawberry and rhubarb with rum

Raspberries and a cinnamon stick with vodka

Blueberries and vanilla beans with brandy…..drool….

Try crabapples or pears with herbs infused with it like basil or rosemary.

In the evening, take some time to relax and have an after dinner sip.  It will relax the system, release stress, and helps you use up any windfalls of fruit!  Cheers!

Snow Storms and Fruit Blossoms

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A winter storm watch has been issued.  I do not recall ever experiencing substantial snowfall in May, when the lilacs have bloomed, at Mother’s Day.  Doug vaguely recalls one time when we were children, frozen trees cracking in mass.  Temperatures in the twenties, hovering in the thirties, blizzard conditions; all rather surreal.  Yet, this Mother’s Day, on what was to be our first market of the season, a winter storm is coming.

Friends on social media rejoice.  “How fun!” they exclaim.  One more day of snowmen and hot chocolate.  Perhaps a bus ride in slushy snow or a day by the fire.  To farmers and avid gardeners, it is a day of probable detriment.  Things folks that purchase food from the grocery store are not even aware of.

At Sandy’s house, my friend who graciously allows me to harvest herbs and fruits from her large plot, the trees hold handfuls of dainty flowers.  Full dresses of fruit-to-be.  The sour cherries that I made cherry cordial from last year, the Asian pears that I canned pear sauce from, the crisp apples, the gooseberries that became jam.  A substantial storm could simply take the flowers down.  Fruit may not grow this year.

Indeed the potatoes beneath their earthen blanket shall thrive, the tiny bok choy and radish seedlings, the onions, the perennials shall drink in the rich water and thrive come the first sunny day.

The fruit trees we will watch and pray.  A farmer’s competition and adversary…and friend and companion….is Mother Nature.  May she be kind this Mother’s Day.