The hills and forests of Vermont hide thousands of forgotten apple orchards and countless wild apple trees spawned from saplings planted in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Sheep and dairy farmers created a long-term resource that could with a little attention be transformed into a fine drink to stimulate the spirit and bring a bit of frolic to the long winters ahead.
This is a particularly good year for wildflowers and fruit. The open grassy spaces are, in August, dense with wildflowers that come to take advantage of the few years before the neglected fields return to forest -- goldenrod, milkweed, Queen Anne’s lace, wild aster, dogbane, thistles, burdock. Around the edges of these open spaces, the forest is on its way to retake our old orchard. Wild cherries, maples, poplars, and wild apples (most of which have bitter or no taste) have joined the aged and weary apples planted a century or more ago.
My task is to return all this to the elegance of a well-tended garden of Cortland and Macintosh. The first step is to wrestle the brush hog onto the three-point hitch at the back of my John Deere. It is a 15 minute two-man job that I accomplished by myself in a little over two hours. I then climbed atop the machine and strapped myself in. (The orchard is steep in places, and I imagine myself pinned beneath the tractor if I neglect the harness from which, if I miscalculate John Deere’s center of gravity, I will find myself hanging between the roll bar and the rest of the machine.)
The key to mastering and rebuilding the orchard, as often occurs to me as I beat up and down the orchard hills and into the brush above the whirling blades of the brush hog, is steel, which of course, is mostly iron. Without iron there would be no blades, no tractor, not even an axes with which to confront nature’s intention to return the orchard permanently to forest. By a stroke of cosmic good fortune, iron is created as the last stage of fusion in high mass stars, and is released into space, and ultimately some of it into rocky planets like ours, by explosions known as supernovas. I am therefore grateful to the accidents of natural law that combine to help me with our orchard.
Yours From The Field,