Signs of frost were a telltale indicator that it was time to prepare the gardens for colder months. The vegetable garden was gleaned, the farm stand was pruned (so to speak) to a size fit for indoors, and remaining pumpkins were divvied between livestock and compost piles.
That’s not to say that no work remained. Turning his back on the garden in its off-season could have faulty results if Richard, our Teen Ag coordinator, wasn’t careful. “We want to see them thrive, so we will treat them well,” Richard remarked, patting down mulch at the base of a fruit tree.
Five of these pampered fruit trees live in the field adjacent to the farmhouse, by the Ed Garden. Two peach trees, two almond, and one apple, planted in the spring of 2014 with the help of the nonprofit ReTreeUS. Their youth shows, judging by the width of their trunks. But they are growing, and being nurtured along the way.
On a mid-November day here at the farm, there was one last tree to be mulched—the Black Oxford apple tree. When asked why he chose this variety, Richard couldn’t say enough about their deep crimson color and meaningful Maine origins (even named for the state’s western county). He plucked off the dead leaves from the heirloom and pulled away at the ground below, priming for the layer of mulch he was about to spread.
The mulch pile by the shed was a hearty concoction of the season’s compost, raked leaves, and seaweed, which gave it a salty, ripe aroma. “Our own gourmet creation,” said Richard, scooping shovelfuls into the wheelbarrow. The seaweed was harvested only a few days prior from our neighbors at Coastal Studies for Girls, assigned with the challenging task of kayaking out in Casco Bay for the mulch ingredient.
As mulch was spread around the base of the Black Oxford, it gave me a chance to take a closer look. The fruit buds were in a dormant state, a stage of inactivity which occurs in all fruit trees in the overwintering period. Mid-autumn, November timeframe, is when fruit buds are most apparent. They are identified as a plump, round bud with downy scales, and will carry flowers in April and May. These differ from the growth buds, which are smaller, more insignificant looking, and carry the leaves but no flower where the fruit will form.
Until then, the fine mulch mixture laid down will suppress any weeds and provide nutrients to the trees through the winter months. Let’s hope that spring will bring flowers in bloom and more fruit tree planting in the Wolfe’s Neck Farm gardens.