Apple Trees and their Roots

John in the greenhouse with his dwarf apple trees.

John in the greenhouse with his dwarf apple trees.

We grow and sell many apple varieties grafted onto different rootstocks. The rootstock affects disease resistance, cold hardiness and size of the full grown tree. The true dwarf trees are around 8 to 10 ft tall and generally need to be staked or trellised to keep the tree from breaking. The longevity of these trees is around 20 years. The true dwarfs are commonly used for high density trellised apple orchards and for homeowners with small yards. John has been experimenting with putting these in our unheated greenhouses to try to get organic (no spray) dessert quality apples. The greenhouse provides a controlled environment that can help prevent diseases and pests (and late frosts).

Honeybee on greenhouse apple blossom.

Honeybee on greenhouse apple blossom.

Semi-dwarf trees are generally the favorite of today’s homeowners. They live around 50 or 60 years and get 12 to 15 ft tall, thus making them easier to prune and pick. The apple orchard on the side of our farmhouse is a semi-dwarf planting.

Semi-dwarf apple trees on the side of our house.

Semi-dwarf apple trees on the side of our farmhouse.


Standard size trees are often what you see in old orchards or on abandoned 19th and early 20th century homesteads. These legacy trees grow to around 20 ft and can live 100 years or more. We have been putting these standard sized trees our pollinator sanctuary orchard, a diverse planting of old, new, and unusual apple varieties with qualities that make good sweet and hard ciders.




Plums and Cherries

Honeybee on cherry blossom.

Honeybee on cherry blossom.

This week around the farm, we’ve been enjoying the phenomenal bloom of our plum and cherry trees. The native American plum trees have been especially fragrant, and I can’t wait to make plum jelly as I’ve heard the native plums make the best ever. We still have plenty of native American plum trees, Japanese-American hybrid plum trees (the round reddish-maroon plums) and European plum trees for sale at our nursery but we usually sell out by June.

For the Japanese-American hybrids, you need two different varieties for cross pollination. These trees get about 12-15 feet tall. They produce large round juicy fruit. The native plums will also pollinate the Japanese-American hybrid trees. These plums are small and vary in taste because they are seedling trees, not grafted. The European plums like Green Gage and Mount Royal are self fruitful meaning you only need one. They also get about 12-15 feet tall and produce tasty sweet fruit. The American hybrids will not cross pollinate with the European types.

Northern oriole in our cherry tree.

Northern oriole in our cherry tree.

The cherry blossoms have also been bountiful. As long as we don’t get a late frost, we should have a pretty good crop. We’ve seen bees (bumblebees, little native bees, and honey bees) buzzing around the flowers as well as flies, wasps and beetles. Last evening, we saw a pair of Baltimore Orioles drinking the nectar of the cherry blossoms. Unfortunately, they flew away every time we tried to get close, but we managed to get a photo from a distance. The cherry trees that we sell at our nursery are all self fruitful tart cherries that are great for pies, cherry juice, jams, whiskey cordials, or fresh off the trees.

The Nanking bush cherries are also blooming. These require two bushes for cross pollination. They’re a little sweeter than the tarts, but are small in size. They’re good for fresh eating and steam juicing. Hopefully, we can beat the chipmunks. Last year, they were climbing the trees and bushes to get the cherries!

Tips for Planting Blueberries

dighole (2)

Step 1. Dig hole twice as big as pot and about the same depth.

Blueberries need full sun and a rich well-drained acid soil (around pH 4.5). You can add soil amendments to make the soil more acidic. We sell a blueberry booster blend or you can make your own.  For other trees and berry bushes, we recommend back filling only with the native soil and adding a good compost on top. But blueberries are the exception because they need that acid soil. However, if you are using elemental sulfur to acidify the soil don’t let it come in contact with the roots.

Step 1. Dig a hole twice as big as the pot and just a little deeper.


Step 2. Remove sod and keep separate from soil

Step 2. If you’re digging into a grassy location, remove the sod. You can compost this or use it to fill in bare spots in your lawn.


Step 3. Put soil on cardboard.

Step 3. Put soil from the hole on the cardboard. This will make it easier to blend with the blueberry booster (soil amendment). Check the hole with the pot to make sure it’s the right depth.

put some in hole

Step 4. Blend soil and blueberry booster amendment and put some in the hole.

Step 4. Blend the blueberry booster with the native soil and put a heaping handful into the bottom of the hole.

sprinkle remaining on top

Step 5. Back fill, tamp down soil, and put any remaining booster around the plant.

Step 5. Center the blueberry plant and continue to fill in with blueberry booster mixed with the native soil until the soil is even with the original soil level of the plant in the pot. Tamp down gently with your foot. Put any remaining amendment around the plant.

water in well

Step 6. Water in well.

Step 6. Water in well. Usually, a couple gallons for a small berry bush and more for larger bushes and trees. Go slowly so the water has time to infiltrate. The water helps soil settle into any air pockets as well as soaking the back filled soil.

make a collar for the plant with cardboard

Step 7. Sheet mulching with cardboard plant collar.

Step 7. Make a cardboard collar for your blueberry plant by cutting a slit on one side into the middle of the cardboard. Make a small hole there, big enough for your bush. Carefully slide the collar around the bush. This is called sheet mulching. The cardboard provides the necessary grass and weed control critical for bushes and small trees. Blueberries are especially susceptible to grass and weed pressure.

cover cardboard with softwood chips or shavings or pine needles

Step 8. Wood chips hold down the cardboard, but in the case of blueberries they also add more acidity.

Step 8. Softwood shavings, wood chips or pine needles should be added on top of the cardboard. We put them on thick for blueberries. Over the season, the cardboard will break down and the softwood shavings will add acidity and biodiversity to the soil as they break down. Adding fresh compost, sheet mulching, and topping the cardboard with softwood shavings, wood chips, or pine needles should be done every spring. Even large blueberry bushes are impacted by weed and grass pressure.

For most other bushes and trees, we recommend hardwood shavings (if you can get them) just enough to hold down the cardboard. But always softwood for blueberries.

A Keeper of Native Bees

Osmia cornifrons

Osmia cornifrons

The willows and haskaps are blooming around the farm, and that means native bees are emerging from their winter resting spots. Bumblebee queens are out and about already busy working the haskaps. The most exciting new native bees around the farm this year though are the blue orchard mason bees (Osmia lignaria) and ground nesting bees (Colletes) which have been missing on the farm over the years up until now.


Blue Orchard Mason Bee House

This year, we’re seeing these bees  because John has two native bee research projects. One project with Leif Richardson and the Gund Institute at UVM deals with surveying native bee populations in farms and gardens around Vermont. They are especially interested in cavity nesting bees like the blue orchard mason bee, as well as an introduced competitor (Osmia cornifrons) the horn faced bee. John’s been building nest boxes and the two of them have been putting them out – trying to beat the emergence of these bees. They are also looking at ways for farmers to establish these bees in their orchards. This spring John released some locally acquired cocoons in his bee boxes, and we now have blue orchard mason bees filling up straws with eggs, pollen and mud dividers. With any luck they will establish a viable population here and enjoy our nursery and pollinator sanctuary plants.

Ground Nesting Bee

Ground Nesting Bee

The other research grant is about establishing populations of ground nesting bees (Colletes) on farms and is funded by the Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program. These are another great group of bees to have on the farm or in the garden to help with your pollination needs. Our farm is one of the test sites, so John has been collecting a subsample of these native bees from other locations and releasing them on the farm. Prior to their release he created conditions that are right for their establishment, sandy bare spots and cages with flowering cut stems for the ground nesting bees to get acclimated for a few days.

A method to introduce the ground nesting bees

A method to introduce the ground nesting bees

Ultimately, both research projects  deal with gaining a better understanding of these native bee pollinators in orchards and on farms in Vermont. Native bees are especially important in pollination, not just of food crops but of so many native trees, shrubs, and perennials. While honeybees are warm in their hives, avoiding the cool rainy weather of spring, many of the native bees are out gathering pollen and nectar and doing the needed pollination work. Some native bees also buzz pollinate, vibrating the flower at a high frequency, which is much more effective in pollinating certain flowers, such as blueberry and tomato flowers. Honeybees can’t do this. Not that honeybees aren’t important too, but they have beekeepers to help them. Native bees don’t, and they are no doubt affected by many of the same issues impacting honeybees, such as pesticide toxicity, loss of habitat and floral resources, and pests and diseases. John is now becoming a keeper of these native bees.

NOFA Conference – Beyond Borders

This weekend we were busy with the NOFA-VT (Northeast Organic Farmers Association) Annual Winter Conference in Burlington. We were among dozens of exhibitors at the exhibitor fair, and John presented two talks, one on solitary nesting bees with UVM researcher Leif Richardson. The other was entitled Butterflies without Borders; Monarchs, Milkweed, and Mexico.

I was excited to hear that John received the Jack Cook award this year. This NOFA-VT award is given out annually to the member who best embodies the theme of the conference. This year’s theme was “Beyond Borders: Our Role in the Global Food Movement.”


John with a women’s organic farming group in northern India (2001).

I thought this award particularly apt for John. He’s worked in agriculture in the U.S. and abroad for over 35 years and as an organic farmer for 25 years. He’s worked on farmer-to-farmer programs in Myanmar, India, Guinea, Senegal, Jamaica, and Haiti. He’s led student groups dealing with agriculture and community gardening in Cuba, Mexico and the Dominican Republic (DR). Through our nonprofit Seeds of Self Reliance he’s worked in Haiti and the DR. And last year through University of Vermont agroecology research, he again worked in Haiti. Recently, his off farm work has led him to taking up the task of fighting for the pollinators that are so important for the global ecosystem as well as our food crops. He worked on the Vermont Pollinator Task Force this past year, and traveled to Mexico to meet with farmers working with stingless bees. He also took a pilgrimage to the Monarch Butterfly Sanctuaries in Mexico.

I was quite proud of his award, but felt that maybe they should have included a “Jane Cook Award” for the spouse who stays home and takes care of the farm while the other person gets to gallivant around the world doing good work. Maybe I’ll sneak his award gift when he’s not looking.

Early Agritourism at The Farm Between

I was rummaging around some of my old stuff and came across our agritourism flyers from 1995 (give or take a year – I can’t quite remember). I think we only did it for one summer which is why I still have a boatload of these cards left. John and I designed the flyer and had it printed at a local printers. Twenty-some years later, I think it still came out great. I especially like Nolan with the ear of corn and giant strawberry and tomato. Those were the days when cut and paste really meant cutting and pasting. John and I have been at this for 25 years. It certainly has been an agricultural adventure. And it’s not over yet!cardfrom 1995

cardfrom 1995 other side

This Time of Year

img_3499There’s something about this time of year. When I look at our back fields, I just want to wrap myself in the colors; the fading greens, tans, and earthy browns against the slate-blue mountains and the gray skies. Especially early in the morning when the sun is just coming up over the hills.

When I was younger, I thought November was a letdown after the the bright reds, oranges and yellows of October. November with its bare trees and long-gone birds and insects was just the dreary month before winter.

img_3501-2But something’s changed as I’ve aged. This has become my time. A time to slow down, reflect on the past growing season and plan for the next. A time for writing and making art and appreciating nature’s beautiful transience. My own impermanence too.

Today after taking the dogs for their walk and feeding the horses, I felt compelled to go back out and take some pictures.

I just wanted to hold on to this beautiful season a little while longer.

First Snow of the Season


Blueberry bushes and elm tree.

I woke up later than usual to snow on the ground. I hadn’t sleep well; I kept incorporating the rain and snow tapping against the windows into my dreams. Even before making my tea, I made a fire in the wood stove, something to ward off the psychological cold of this first snow. Then with my cup of tea in hand, I settled into my emails and facebook and waited for it to get light.

The dogs reminded me that it was time to go. They started bumping my arm, hovering and prancing. I dug out a warm coat, boots, hat and gloves, and we headed out for our morning walk around the pollinator sanctuary. I remembered the horses as we passed the barn so I stopped in to give them some hay. Last night was the first time they’d been in at night since last spring. In the summer, we have them in the barn during the day to give them a break from the flies and out at night. In the cold weather we do the opposite. They were happy to see me or at least, happy to see the hay.

The snow made a rhythmic cha cha sound as I walked the path. The neighbor’s rooster crowed, and the dogs and I stopped to listen for a moment. Scout went back to hunting voles. Honey trudged behind me.  As we rounded the back of the pollinator sanctuary, a flock of blackbirds flew out of the woods toward the river. I stopped to watch the black patterns against the gray sky then continued on. The leaves still hanging onto the trees and bushes stood out in the white landscape. I felt a quiet reflection descend, and  I thought about an article I’d read that morning. A young man was thanking all the nurses and doctors who helped his wife (and him) when she was dying. It was sad and beautiful at the same time.

Like the passing of another year.

– Nancy Hayden, October 23, 2016


Ahh, Rhubarb!


Picking rhubarb and enjoying the subtle sweet smell of the American Plum behind me.

That succulent harbinger of spring. It’s a great time to plant some if you don’t already have it, and we still have plenty of plants for sale at our nursery. At this time of year, our fruit nursery is open Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 9 to 5. After Father’s Day weekend, we’ll cut back to Sundays only. It’s been exciting to talk with so many people interested in growing their own fruit. Growing our own food is a great way to heal ourselves and the earth.

Rhubarb is easy to grow. You need a well-drained soil with full sun. It likes good fertility and no weeds, so add some nice compost once a year and keep the grass away. You can use cardboard with woodchips on top to help keep the weeds down, but invariably you’ll probably need some down-on-your-knees-type weeding too. The leaves are poisonous so don’t eat them. Stories abound on the internet that relate how during WWI the British government told civilians to eat rhubarb leaves because there was a shortage of leafy greens for people to eat. Many people died as a result. I’m not sure if this is actually true because the leaves are quite sour and bitter, and you need to eat a fair amount, but for malnourished and hungry people, it might not take that many leaves. Anyway, the point is don’t eat the leaves. And don’t listen to the government when it comes to eating healthy!

We just harvested 150 pounds for the Intervale Food Hub. The broken pieces that didn’t quite make quality control ended up as a rhubarb sauce that we enjoyed over our waffles. Delicious! Rhubarb sauce was also one of my mom’s favorites. It goes great on vanilla ice cream. (What doesn’t?) To make the sauce, wash and cut up the rhubarb. Put it in a saucepan with a little bit of water at the bottom to prevent sticking. Simmer until mushy and then add sugar, honey, or maple syrup to taste. Enjoy it warm or cold.

Freezing Rhubarb is really easy. I wash and drain it well, and then cut the rhubarb into pieces. Freeze in a freezer bag or plastic freezer containers. You can place it all on a cookie sheet first and then into the bags, but I find the cookie sheet method an extra step that I really don’t have time for. Use the frozen rhubarb in the winter just like you would use fresh rhubarb except allow a little more time in your baking and cooking to account for thawing.

Some of our rhubarb favorites are rhubarb pie, muffins and  bars. You can also mix in other fruit like strawberries, blueberries or raspberries to change up the flavor. Raspberry-rhubarb mixture is called Ambrosia by the Scandinavians. I’ve included some recipes below. I don’t cook with wheat flour anymore. I use mostly organic buckwheat flour which is hardy, nutritious and gluten free. All of the following recipes work well with buckwheat. The tart rhubarb flavor with the added sugar nicely compliments the sweet nutty buckwheat flavor. The only drawback is that buckwheat doesn’t roll out as well for pies, but it’s doable.

Rhubarb Bars  (Serves 8)

  • Cream 6 Tbs. Butter with ¼ C sugar until light and fluffy.
  • Add 1 C flour and mix to make a dough.
  • Pat dough into bottom of greased 8×8 pan.
  • Bake 350oF for 15 minutes.
  • Meanwhile mix ¾ C rhubarb sauce (~2 C chopped rhubarb cooked down to mush = ¾ C rhubarb sauce), ½ teas. lemon juice, 2 Tbs. tapioca flour and ½ C sugar, ¼ teas baking powder, 2eggs.
  • Pour rhubarb over baked dough layer.
  • Bake in over 350oF for 25-30 min. Be careful not to burn crust.

Strawberry-Rhubarb Pie (Serves 8 except in our house where it serves 2)

  • Make two pie crusts (2/3 C solid fat at room temperature (Shortening, butter, coconut oil, lard or some combination), 2 C flour, mix with pastry cutter until all dry flour is mixed in. Add 5 Tbs cold water and mix gently with a fork. Form two balls for rolling out on floured board, one for bottom, one for the top.)
  • Filling (Mix about 3 C chopped washed rhubarb into 1” pieces, 2 C strawberries, 1 C sugar, ½ C flour, 1 Tbs quick-cooking tapioca, 2 Tbs orange juice or water.)
  • Turn filling into pie shell. Cover with top pastry.
  • Bake 450 oF for 15 minutes; reduce oven to 350 oF and bake for 25-30 min more. Let cool and serve plain or with whipped cream.

Rhubarb muffins with 2 C buckwheat flour and 1/4 C coconut flour. Delicious.

Rhubarb Muffins

  • Grease 2 muffin tins and preheat oven to 350 oF
  • In large bowl, put 1 C Brown sugar and 1/4 C white sugar and 2/3 C liquid oil or butter.
  • Cream sugar until smooth. Add one egg and one cup milk and mix well.
  • Add 1 teas baking soda, 1 teas vanilla. Mix.
  • Add 2 and ½ C flour (or flour blend – depending on the flour type you may have to slightly reduce amount so muffins are not too dry), 2 C  rhubarb chopped fine (½  C raisin or ½ cup nuts or 2 Tbsp chia seeds).
  • Fill to about 2/3 in the muffin tins. Bake 350oF for about 20 min.

Enjoy the taste of spring!


The End of Apple Season

DS4A0222 (2)Or is it?

Back in October when the temperatures dipped into the low 20s for a few nights, I wrote that apple season was now over. It was a great season! I didn’t have much to add so I never posted my entry. At that time, we still had a couple more cider pressings from apples that we harvested before the frosts, so apple season didn’t seem quite over. I figured I’d resurrect my blog entry and post it after we pressed the cider which we froze to later sell as hot cider at the Burlington Winter Market.

IMG_2472But then I still had some apple butter to make. I’d never made it before so I figured I’d wait to post until after that. That way I could talk about the delicious apple butter I made and show a great picture of the final product. Well, the apple butter didn’t come out that good so I never did take a picture. By that time, the beginning of November, we began planting twenty more apple trees in our orchard in the pollinator sanctuary.  I figured once we put the fencing on the trees to keep the deer from nibbling them that would be the end of the season and a good time to post.

But then last week John and I went to the orchard in South Burlington. John’s been helping manage the orchard so we cut down some of the dead apple trees.  Now it truly is the end of apple season.

Only we still need to put away the potted apple trees from the nursery and order more root stock and scion wood to graft new apple trees this winter. And before we know it, it will be February and John will be pruning apple trees again. In April we’ll be potting up apple trees we planted a couple years ago for the nursery and in May the apple orchards will be in bloom and…

So maybe it’s not the end of the season after all, just one stop in the apple cycle.