On Friday, I finally got away from the farm for a few hours and drove up to North Garden, VA. It’s just south of Charlottesville and is the home of Vintage Virginia Apples and Albemarle Ciderworks. VVA grows a lot of heirloom varieties of apples and other fruits, many of which were grown just up the road at Monticello by Thomas Jefferson. I had ordered 11 apple trees, 2 crab apples and 2 pear trees from them back in mid-November and I’ve been trying ever since to find time to go get my trees. Pretty cool place. In addition to all their neat rows of fruit trees lined up like soldiers on the hillside, VVA has a tasting room where you can sample their four varieties of hard cider and their apple juice. The hard cider is very dry and is more like champagne than wine. Very serious stuff. The apple juice or fresh cider, if you like, was just awesome and comes primarily from their Albemarle Pippins. Expensive but awesome.
I have an Albemarle Pippin amongst the trees I brought home. It is now safely nestled in the ground on the slope behind the round pen. But getting it there, well that was an adventure. It’s been so cold here lately, I’ve been watching the weather closely for the slightest warm up that would allow me to put these trees in the ground without their roots freezing during the transfer. Saturday turned out to be that one day, overcast but above freezing. The entire project had to be done that day because serious rain was slated to come in Saturday night and Sunday. Then bitter cold coming in Sunday night and going for another week or more.
My oldest son had obligations that kept him away all day. My youngest son is still playing Tiny Tim. That left my husband, my daughter and me to do the digging and planting, with a lot of moral support from the dog. We were all in good spirits as we began, with my husband and daughter passing puns back and forth until the air shimmered with laughter. Our first order of business was to remove the sod from the planting area. I planned to do this with the flat side of a pick-ax. My helpers thought this was a chore for the tractor. I’ll admit it. I caved. Maybe if I had years of experience or if I had been working on the flat or I had a backhoe, it would have gone better. I did succeed in scraping up the sod with the bucket, but that left us with huge sheets of sod only a tractor could move, holes that were badly graded and dirt compacted by a two ton tractor. Not the best idea we’ve ever had.
Then my husband commented that he missed the chickens and turkeys wandering about their run. (I’ve kept them in their tractors ever since the disaster.) Since we were close by and could keep an eye on them, we decided to let them out for the day. The chickens were delighted of course, but the turkeys, . . . well there was a fight. Archie, who has been penned with the two Standard Bronze hens, decided to take down the Burbon Red tom from the other pen, presumably to get him back for all the bullying in the brood pen. We got to see the turkey equivalent of a half nelson. Archie had the back of the Burbon’s neck firmly in his beak and it took me a while to convince him this was not appropriate behavior. After I broke up the fight, I put the turkeys back in their respective pens and left the chickens to be chickens.
So with the chickens clucking in the background, we got back to the orchard. We dug the holes the old-fashioned way – with shovels. (This family has always been talented at digging holes.) Then we back filled the holes with native red clay and a mix of topsoil and compost. The trees went in as it began to drizzle. Then a rush of watering, grading and mulching as the gloomy day faded into darkness. I had planned to put daffodil bulbs down around all of them as a varmint and grass repellent, but we ran out of light, and truth be told, energy. By then, two of the many angels who grace my life had shown up with dinner. Our good friends brought us pizza from the bakery in Farmville. I am truly blessed and I have the beginnings of an orchard.