Tag Archives: orchard

What’s in a Name

The SLUG Orchard is different from a normal garden or orchard. It grows more wildly than the regular annual plantings of a garden or farm and there are certainly no chemical sprays applied to this orchard. Each tree has its own perennial independence; a kind of majesty. Several of the trees have earned names for themselves since I began as orchard manager this spring. Their names come from various observations I have made about each of the trees. I’ve drawn a rough sketch of the orchard below. The trees with labels are ones I have given names thus far; the others have yet to earn their names. For the pears I have yet to begin thinking about names.

Myle’s map of the orchard.

Beginning with the northernmost row; Scrappy, is a tough little Freedom apple tree who fought through a difficult first year of growing. When he was first planted (almost three years ago now) he was blown over in a strong windstorm and a large portion of his upper branches were girdled before we could put him back upright. He is still going strong though despite everything that’s happened to him. Next is Ona, she is a strong, healthy, tall and beautiful Enterprise tree in the center of the northernmost row. Ona comes from Latin meaning grace and she personifies grace quite well for a tree. Her designation before being named was zero-n or 0N (center of the northernmost row) so Ona is also a reference to her location in the Orchard. Third and last in this row is Birdy. Birdy is also an Enterprise apple tree. One day in early spring I was working in the orchard when I notice there was a yellow and tan bird (some kind of songbird I think) trapped beneath the lower branches of Birdy and the chicken wire surrounding his base. I rolled down the chicken wire on one corner and the corralled the bird out through the opening. It really was a beautiful little bird.

The next row down holds “Top-Notch” and “Omnom” both of which are Freedom Apple trees. Top-Notch is one of only two fruiting apple trees in the whole orchard this season (the late frost this year did some serious damage on apple production across the northern Midwest) and his single apple hangs very high, near the top of the tree. So the name really has a double meaning: the first obviously the location of the apple and the second because it pulled through and survived the frost in such good health. Now, onto Omnom. Omnom is a popular onomatopoeia for eating or chewing which fits because one day while working in the orchard I had noticed a spider eating an insect in a web on the lower branches of Omnom. At first I wasn’t sure what to name the tree, but Omnom’s designation before being named was zero-m or 0M (center middle row) and whenever I wrote in the journal about 0M I would always think about how it reminded me of the onomatopoeia om-nom-nom-nam. Then it all clicked and fit together.

Lastly the southernmost row holds the last two named trees “Stumpy” and “Go-Getter”. Stumpy is a Haralred apple tree that stands among the shortest in the orchard at about 6’1” he also had one of his branches broken off (how I do not know, but I suspect an errant ball or someone stumbled into the orchard on accident) so he has a single branch on one side and none on the other, making him look a bit lopsided. Last, but not least, “Go-Getter” is the second fruiting tree in the orchard and is a Liberty apple tree. Go-Getter was the first tree I noticed that had an apple growing and he’s been a healthy tree keeping up his strength throughout the drought. I chose “Go-Getter” because it best fit the surprise I first had at seeing the apple there among the leaves. I really just wanted to congratulate him on his achievement. (i.e. Go get’er champ!)

Well that’s all the names I’ve come up with so far, and I’ll name the rest only when they’ve earned it. For the pears it’s a little different, there are so few I call one just by its breed name. But I’m confident as the year goes on these little trees will assert their independence just a little bit more to earn a name.



Review of Michael Phillip’s The Holistic Orchard

I walked into Michael Phillips’ talk at the MOSES Organic Farming Conference without much interest in orcharding.  I knew we had one at school, but I hadn’t been very interested in it.  Phillips’ talk didn’t spur me to be interested in orcharding, but it did strike me as among the most wise and articulate expressions of my philosophy of sustainable agriculture: using healthy, diverse, and resilient ecosystems to produce food.
As I came into this summer as a SLUG intern, I had to pick my area of focus – I was interested in perennial polycultures and trees, so the orchard seemed like a natural fit.  The orchard manager gave me this book to introduce me to orcharding, and it has lived up to the expectations Phillips created in his presentation.
The book begins with a comforting analogy: a new orcharder is just like a newly transplanted fruit tree.  You grow slowly, gathering experiences and assimilating knowledge.  You can’t do it all at once – most of the book may not seem relevant or digestible yet.  But one day, the reader might be just like Phillips!
Phillips eschews technical bits until late in the book.  The first several chapters review orcharding basics like design and horticulture with an emphasis on ecology.  Fruit, the most luscious and sugar-dense products in agriculture, seem to be unusually attractive to a range of microbial and insect pests, and all orcharding literature seems disproportionately aimed at combating these.  Yet Phillips’ answer is conventional neither to chemical nor organic farming – he eschews both chemical and mineral biocides in favor of system health.  Biodiversity in the soil, the rhizosphere, on the bark, and on the leaves of trees keeps pests under the control of a rich web in which no part can become unacceptably dominant.  This is precisely how I think agriculture ought to be done – building ecological stability, rather than tearing it down.  Agriculture could easily represent a transition stage in a wild lands remediation program!
Yet Phillips’ practice is often still strangely hypocritical in one way: he constantly emphasizes solutions based on local resilience, which rely on a strong immune system and not strong medicines.  But he seems to use an undue amount of exogenous inputs to achieve that – from laboratory cultured “effective microbes” to pure neem oil from India or “liquid fish.”  These seem to get great results for Phillips, and they are certainly more benign than anything that must be drilled or mined, but they seem somehow out of step with his philosophy and I’d hope that future stages in the progression of organic orcharding can move beyond that (perhaps emphasizing aerated compost tea).
The central tenet of Phillips’ ecological thinking is soil.  The soil should mimic that of the adapted habitat of the apple – forest edges.  That implies a much higher fungal component than what most annual vegetables enjoy.  As an amateur mycologist and mycoculturer, I really appreciate this proper acknowledgement of fungi, and as someone interested in soil science, I appreciate the emphasis on dirt.
As a beginning orchardist, I’m a bit overwhelmed by the amount of treatments Phillips prescribes for the orchard – SLUG’s orchard has experienced a considerably more laissez-faire adolescence.  Yet his philosophy articulates a vision for all kinds of sustainable agriculture I really identify with, and the book will definitely be a key resource as I grow branches and, eventually, bear fruit, as an orchardist.