The Grovestead

Farm, Family, Fun.

Category: Orchards (page 2 of 3)

Hearth and home

Vermont Castings Defiant wood stove

Among the most sought-after but always elusive features of the homes we have lived in is a fireplace. One of my favorite childhood memories was warming up feet-first next to the fireplace in our family room on a cold winter night. Becca and I have moved many times, but never to a home with a fireplace. I always lamented that.

This trend continued when we moved to our house in the country where the previous owners had knocked down the 19th-century fireplace and hearth a few years prior to our arrival. If they only knew! Needless to say, one of our most anticipated upgrades was the installation of our own wood-burning stove.

Living on three acres of woodland we knew that a fireplace was in the cards. Clearing out the deadwood alone would be enough to heat our house for several years. We looked half-heartedly the first year but never settled on exactly what we wanted.

But last winter, with historic cold and propane shortages, we paid literally thousands of dollars to heat our home. That sealed the deal.

We found an installer and got to work. It took most of the summer for all the pieces to come together, but it finally did and not a day too soon.

Hearth

The hearth is comprised of Old World-style tumbled brick. Our kids found it a fitting play stage.

Kids playing on the hearth

Carrying wood stove through front entryway

Installing wood stove

After a long delay, our new wood stove finally arrived! Wood stoves are far more efficient than open fireplaces. Since we wanted to augment or replace our furnace heating, we needed to maximize heat output. We went with a Vermont Castings Defiant model. It has a huge firebox capable of putting out 75,000 btu’s per hour. It also has a cookplate surface so it could double as a cookstove in an emergency.

Using a mechanic log splitter

While waiting for the stove to arrive this Fall, I got to work splitting wood we had already cut and set aside to dry. Initially, I roped one of my neighbors into bringing his hydraulic wood splitter over and making quick work of the wood pile.

But then I discovered how much fun it is to split wood by hand. No, really!

Splitting wood with a maul

Truckload of split wood

Beginnings of our wood pile

We have a bit more than one cord of wood split and ready to use. Looks like a lot. But I came to realize that’s only about a fifth of what we’ll need for the whole winter.  Guess I’ll be spending a lot of time outdoors this winter. As Pa Ingalls said: “Chop your own firewood and it’ll warm you twice.”

Outside winter is coming

Soon after the stove was installed the snow started falling. We started a fire and turned off the furnace. Every day since we’ve had a radiant fire and a warm house.

 


Fall cleaning

Cleaning up the garden with my favorite people

It’s the end of the season for us Zone 4B growers. My faithful standby’s Lisa and Zina, who helped me plant this Spring, joined me for a day of garden cleanup. My dad also came out to help with landscaping around the house.

We pulled up all the plastic mulch and drip irrigation from the vegetable plot. Then we re-mulched the blueberries with fresh fallen pine needles, a great natural acidifier.

Re-mulching the blueberry patch

We also fenced the blueberries because they are easy targets for rabbits and deer during the lean winter months.

I didn’t end up liking the variety of strawberries we planted (Sparkle and Ft Laramie). So we pulled all the strawberry beds and I will re-plant my newly discovered favorite Jewel next year.

Ft Laramie strawberries

The other major project was weeding and re-mulching the apple orchard. Becca and, to a lesser extent, Ivar and Elsie helped with weeding and shoveling piles of wood chips around the base of each tree.

Mulching the apple trees

Everybody worked hard. But the pay was good. Everyone got to take home a free pumpkin.

Zina's pumpkin

Paid with pumpkins.


First apple

First apple harvested from our orchard

We enjoyed our first homegrown apple from our apple orchard yesterday. The Zestar variety ripens earlier than the rest, by the end of August. It tasted similar to a Honeycrisp but more tart. It was especially sweet since we have so few apples this year, having to pick most of the blossoms to force the roots to establish, then losing most of what remained to wind and worms.

Overall, I’m happy with our orchard’s progress. There were some mishaps to be sure, like the Harralson that got so weighted down with apples that three branches broke. Cedar Apple Rust, a common fungal disease has infected other trees but can be easily treated with a fungicide spray. And of course watering the apple trees every day with 5-gallon buckets for the first six weeks was a chore. But seems like we’ve done ok, overall. From here on out the maintenance decreases and the fruit increases.


Checking in with the apple trees

Apple tree blossoming on branch

It’s been two weeks since we planted our apple trees and now the blossoms are in the process of converting into tiny apples. When we bought the trees, I was advised to remove half the blossoms when they got to this stage the first year, so the trees would focus on root development more than fruiting.

Tiny apples forming on apple trees

There weren’t nearly as many mini-apples (or whatever you call them) as I though there’d be. Not as many as there were blossoms, for sure. I only clipped two trees. We’ve had a lot of windy days lately, I suspect most of the blooms simply blew off.

But it was a good excuse to spend an evening with the apple trees. I do water the trees almost daily, but that is often a rushed chore sandwiched between feeding the chickens and weeding the flowerbeds. I was enjoying the benefits of slowing down and spending some quality time with each tree. I am beginning to learn their individual personalities. Harralson is bountiful and needed lots of picking. The HoneyCrisp are still young bucks, hardly any blooms at all. Zestar #2 won’t stand straight, no matter how many ropes I tie.

Deer getting the lower limbs of the apple trees

I saw signs of deer gnashing — every branch hanging outside the fence was chewed. But the limbs inside were fine (good thing I fenced on day one). Unlike my older apple trees in the front yard, there were no signs of worm damage to any of the apples. But there will be if I don’t spray soon.

The weather was beautiful tonight. It was relaxing inspecting every branch and bloom. There was bit of a zen experience to it all.  I can see why people become arborists.


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