The Hewlett Apple Orchard sits on a hill overlooking the Garlic Field at Restoration Farm. Notes from Old Bethpage Village Restoration show that the orchard was planted March 31 through April 2, 1992. According to the records, the apple trees planted in the orchard include evocative names like Roxbury Russett, Yellow Newtown Pippin, Summer Rambo and Gravenstein.
It has been some time since the trees were nurtured, and the historic village has transitioned the care of the southern portion of the orchard to the volunteers at Restoration Farm. As has been the case with a number of new projects at the farm, Glenn Aldridge is leading the efforts. Glenn has an insatiable curiosity for understanding how things grow. I meet Glenn and several other volunteers on a Saturday at the end of winter, which feels more like a warm and balmy May afternoon.
It’s my first glimpse of the fields at Restoration Farm since last October. The farm looks stunning in the afternoon sunlight. There are volunteers kneeling in the fields weeding. It reminds me of the Van Gogh painting “The Sower.” The old apple orchard is on the North end of the historic village. Head Grower Dan Holmes gives me and a new volunteer named John a ride to the orchard in the truck. We sit on the back hatch with our legs dangling off the end and bounce along the back road. It’s kind of thrilling to see the sights of the farm flashing before me like a kaleidoscope. We arrive at the top of a long sloping hill, which is home to the apple orchard.
Glenn is perched in the core of a gnarly old tree, trimming the branches.
The chore is really quite simple. The trees are wiry and overgrown. We need to prune the excess branches, giving the strongest limbs room to grow, plenty of sunlight and good air circulation.
John and I each pick up a pair of clippers, and start trimming. You shape as you go, and occasionally step back and inspect your work. It’s like giving the tree a haircut.
There is a gentle breeze, brilliant sun, and the afternoon is glorious. Other volunteers arrive and get to work on other trees. We work around the base of each tree, and sometimes find ourselves suspended in the air along a wobbly tree limb. Did I ever climb a tree as a youngster? I don’t really remember. I’m a bit creakier now, but what fun I’ve missed!
Who knows when we might see apples on these branches again? But the promise of an orchard restored keeps us going, and we quickly see progress as the trees take on a more open, shapely look. Glenn wonders if the trees are whispering “Thank you!” Donna Sinetar notes that we have all hugged a tree today.
Just on the other side of the dirt road lining the orchard, there sits an old cider press. Already our imaginations are in overdrive as we consider the possibilities of what might be done when the apples reawaken on the trees.
Meanwhile, there are also plans to plant a line of eight new apple trees along the border of a new field that will be cultivated this season at Restoration Farm. An orchard is renewed and young roots are planted. The story of those new apple trees will be told soon.
©2012 T.W. Barritt All Rights Reserved