We've leaped across the 'cross quarter' point (the 1st 1/8th point) in the solar year, the wood chuck has been roused from his den to see if it's cloudy or clear, we've finished cleaning trays and pots and have started to seed the first rounds of alliums and herbs, we've checked on our bees, pruned the fruit trees and shrubs and continue to take stock of phenology and finances. In February the ground starts to slowly wake up toward spring, the light's intensity get's noticeably stronger, lambs are being born, and we start to plant seeds for the CSA season and seed intentions for the year ahead.
It's hard to believe that I am heading into my 6th season as co-owner and steward of Hilltop Community Farm and each year we've been incrementally growing and building infrastructure establishing perennial systems for our farm, planting, inviting, and meeting new fruit neighbors and farm friends along the way as our orchard settles into its own. With fruit, we're in it for the long haul. So in 2015 I find myself giving pause, and reflecting on what might we capture, retain, and potentially re-direct in terms of where to put the energy and go with the flow. I thought I'd share a few reflections as to what's bubbling above and below the surface of things.
Above ground the orchard got an extra boost of structural support from a successful 'fence-lifting' campaign last fall. We'll be putting the finishing touches on the woven wire and pause to enjoy an exhale with the saskatoons as they are sighing with relief now that they can grow beyond two feet without interruption from deer browse. The new fence has also opened up more space in the orchard and we'll be adding a few more tart cherry forest garden guilds as well as a few clove currants, hazelnuts, and table grapes. Rob and I have also been busy pruning the pears, sculpting the apples and quince, and taking cuttings from the currants. The hardy kiwi vines weaving well into the white pines, always take a little more salon styling prowess (and a really tall ladder - we should just rent a crane) as we contemplate where the best prunes and cuts are warranted. Winter hopefully is a bit more kind to our kiwi and pears and we can enjoy a crop. You just never know until the first flowers appear and keep your fingers crossed for a cross-pollination by the bees. We're also keeping our fingers crossed that our honeybees will survive their first winter residence at our farm. So far so good and we're looking forward to the relaxing meditative learning that happens when working with the hives.
Last year was all about identifying the gaps and this season we're re-directing some of the growth and flow forms and entering into the transplanting phase that comes with perennial management and maintenance. Our herbs and flowers such as silphium, aster, chives, and mountain mint will be moved, shifted around and slowly, steadily encroach upon the cool season grasses, take root. We look forward to fewer passes with the mower as our orchard understory expands. Seaberry is also on the move and by now we've witnessed how reliable the nursery predictions are when they say they send an equal number of male and female plants. We ended up with a disproportionate amount of male plants, though a few hearty female plants have set fruit and are spreading their roots. We'll get to select for more fruit set. Sorry guys, though we need more gender balance in the orchard.
Below ground, we're fine tuning our compost tea recipes and hope to build a more optimal composting system for both our CSA gardens and for our orchard. By nature of design, we've enlisted the help of plants in the orchard, and continuously raid the leaf piles and woodchip heaps, though we are limited by lack of livestock (you can only add so much 'bee and worm poop'). Thank goodness for good neighbors and we just discovered a good source of organic cow poo from down the road. We hope to reach a good balance above and below the surface of things to pause and celebrate along the way.
This season, we're taking a break from Currant Events and pausing to celebrate a Picnic in the Orchard, and to focus in, pay homage to the soil (see soil quilt project sidebar), seeding gratitude along the way. We hope you'll join us! And as ever our soil and our hearts thank you for your support of our farm and small-scale sustainable farmers the world over. We look forward to growing and learning with you in the seasons ahead. - Erin -