Sunday, April 15, 2012

The Old Apple Orchard at Restoration Farm

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


~~louise~~ said...

Let me be the first to wish you a glorious Sunday morning T.W!

What an awe inspiring story even if somehow I just can't imagine you driving in the back of a farm truck with your legs dangling, lol...I'm also delighted to discover you finally felt the spirit of climbing a tree!

I'm such a terrible pruner, ruthless actually. It's always difficult to stand back objectively I find. That ol' tree is sure looking a heck of a lot better. Have new species of apple trees been chose yet? Heirlooms possibly?

Thank you so much for sharing...I look forward to many days at Restoration Farm, virtually that is:)

Sam Hoffer / My Carolina Kitchen said...

Yes, I bet those trees are saying thank you. I would be if my hair had grown too long and was out of shape. Cider sounds like a delicious idea and what a pretty old building.

It's beginning to really look like spring at the farm.

Lydia (The Perfect Pantry) said...

The first time we pruned our pear trees, I was terrified that we would kill the trees with kindness. When, the next year, they came back stronger than ever, I knew we had done the right thing, and now, each winter, we prune with glee, knowing that pears will be the result. Thanks to this early spring, the trees are beginning to bloom now, happy and healthy.

Kat said...

I have high hopes for those apple trees. What a wonderful thing you are all doing at the Farm. As a youngun' I used to sit in an apple tree in the field and eat apples right off the tree. Good memories.

Gloria Baker said...

I love absolutely this Post T.W.
I love all the work you made there is absolutely nice!

Catherine said...

Dear T.W., What fun to climb those trees! You are not only doing the Lord's work in helping those trees to a new and healthy life, you are having fun! Good for you. I just loved that restoration village. I took my kids there all the time. I just loved walking with them there.
Blessing my friend, Catherine

Fresh Local and Best said...

This is a great experience, especially on the east coast when apple picking is an activity so integrated into each year's experience. Apple tree pruning makes it such that you start the experience at the beginning of the year and revisit it throughout. This year should be an interesting season for apples because of the unusually warm winter.

Barbara said...

How wonderful to be in at the very beginning with the apple trees. All your hard work will be rewarded with some wonderful cider and applesauce as well as pies. I've seen so many recipes in the fall using reduced apple cider in cookies and cakes.
Love your Restoration Farm posts, TW!

Karen (Back Road Journal) said...

I wish I could have been there with my husband to give some (unwanted I'm sure) advice on the pruning.You can take up to 1/3 of the tree branches off without hurting a tree as old as those are. I have most all of those varieties among the 100 varieties that we have. Those varieties are usually considered cider apples.

Deana Sidney said...

I just got back from a month in the Hamptons and one of my favorite sights was an apple orchard that I passed every few days. It went from bare branches to pink flowered gorgeous in the time I was there... so gorgeous... a field of pink that went on for miles!~!!
Love the old trees... and the apples... they really do taste differently, don't they??