Friday, September 4, 2009

Orchard Dreams

"I am not bound for any public place, but for ground of my own where I have planted vines and orchard trees, and in the heat of the day climbed up into the healing shadow of the woods." (Wendell Berry)

I've commented here before that I'd like to plant an orchard on The Farm. Nothing grandiose or industrial in scale: perhaps five or six apple trees, as many cherry trees and perhaps some pears. Planting an orchard is a sign of hope, an act of confidence and optimism about a future unseen. He who plants an orchard makes a long-term commitment to a specific piece of ground. He gives a gift to his children and his children's children.

The Farm--this Farm--is a little patch of rolling hills, where the natural state of the landscape is a patchwork of woods and grassland. To plant an orchard would woo the nature of that particular place, cultivation most in harmony with the character of the land itself, and therefore holds the promise of being both fruitful and happy. No sense trying to grow what the land doesn't want to bear, or planting against the grain of the soil.

Besides, I like apples, and almost everything made from apples. Ditto cherries. Less wild about pears, but one needs variety, right? I dream of getting a cider press and bottling fresh juices on a crisp October day. As a dabbling homebrewer, this could put me in touch with cultures around the world where cider fills the culinary niche occupied by beer in other places. Brittany, Normandy, and southwestern England, in particular, cherish the venerable art of cider making, as do the Basques and the hill tribes of Rhineland-Pfalz.

Getting from here to there is another matter. Choosing, buying, and planting trees is the easy part. The little saplings won't survive long if we don't protect them somehow from the ravenous local whitetail population.

My first thought was to fence the whole orchard area with 7- or 8-foot deer fencing. Nice idea -- until a little research put a pricetag on that project. It turns out it's pretty easy to spend over a thousand dollars to protect a dozen fruit trees, and that is just too much (unless we're aiming at commercial production, of course; then we could recoup the investment over several years of profits).

I think we'll have to settle for improvised solutions, using whatever old fencing and posts we can find around The Farm. And this does not diminish the pleasure of dreaming hopefully toward my orchard. The art of cultivating with the nature of the land instead of against it involves compromise between what we want and what the land can provide. And there is another kind of compromise to learn: between a theoretical ideal and the affordable.

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