Posts Tagged ‘apple orchard’

Happy Sunday

This past Sunday was one of those days when everything went right.  Now that we’re in the midst of blackfly and tick season, hiking gets pretty uncomfortable when the weather is sunny and calm.  Saturday it was a sunny, gorgeous 80 degrees, so I made sure to wear a bug net whenever I took the dog for a walk.  Unless it’s really breezy, the blackflies love to swarm all over you.  For the past two weeks, I’ve been pulling off a minimum of 10 ticks a day from my dog, and 5 ticks from myself, despite the use of repellents.

So I was not disappointed to wake up to a blustery, cloudy Sunday in the 40s.  Although rain threatened, at least it meant that we could go walking unmolested by bugs.

But first, we needed to dump our trash and recyclables at the transfer station.  I was delighted to find several great books at the freecycle station.  When I finish the books I will return them to the freecycle area so someone else can enjoy them.  I also contributed several old garden pots that I had no plans to plant to the giveaway pile.

From the transfer station we continued a few miles up the road to visit our friend Paul’s building site (I guess you could call it tresspassing since he wasn’t there).  Paul is building a new, off-grid home there and is doing everything singlehandedly.  For the past several months he’s been busy grading the area, and raising the site with packed dirt since the house will sit along the river and he has to worry about a flood line.  We were really impressed with the attractive retaining wall he set.  The house will overlook the river, where I’m anxious (with Paul’s permission) to bring my kayak and try a little trout fishing.

By now the skies were looking a bit mean so we thought we’d forget a hike and just take a scenic drive.  We went up the Crooked River Causeway and then drove west on Route 2, taking in the grandeur of the northern White Mountain Peaks.  We turned into a parking area at Rattle River trailhead, which is part of the Appalachian Trail, and decided to walk the gentle 1.8 miles to the shelter erected for the benefit of thru-hikers.  (A thru-hiker is someone who hikes the entire length of the Appalachian Trail, which stretches from Georgia to Maine.) We figured a little rain wouldn’t hurt us.



Fortunately, the weather held, and there were no bugs! The many small flumes and cascades along the Rattle River were incredibly soothing and beautiful.  Although we’ve taken this walk several times before, it never gets old.  The last time I was there I was with our dog Spencer, who died this past September.  Now we were accompanied by Truman, our 7 month-old Standard Poodle puppy, and it was fun to experience the walk through his doggie eyes and nose, as he exuberantly discovered the joys of the Rattle River trail for the first time.  It made the old new again.















It was also lovely to see trillium, a type of wildflower in purple or white, in bloom.20160515_133817




From the Rattle River we headed over to Gorham NH to do my week’s worth of food shopping at the Super WalMart (the only major food shopping in that area; it saved me a trip into town later in the week).  I know a lot of people who hate WalMart and won’t shop there out of principle, but ask anyone living in a rural area and they will tell you that WalMart is a blessing.  The one-stop shopping saves rural folks from traveling 100 miles into the closest city to supply their needs, and at reasonable prices.  I was pleasantly surprised to see that there was a large selection of organic produce at this WalMart!

From Gorham we traveled back on Rte 2, but instead of returning the way we had come, we went down the 113, which is Evans Notch; it’s one of my favorite drives in the area.  The views are magnificent, the Notch is filled with dozens of challenging hiking trails, and there is always a chance of seeing a moose.  We didn’t see a moose, but we did see very fresh, recent beaver activity along a river.  The beavers appeared to be decimating the entire shoreline, working on felling several large trees simultaneously along the riverbank.







Thanks to the longer days, when we got home there was still time to sow some beet seeds in the raised-bed garden.  I’ve also planted garlic, kale, and some winter squash, and last year’s strawberry plants are doing nicely.  My only garden disaster (so far) is the complete failure of my apple orchard.  Although I attended a university extension course on apple growing, fed them, talked to them (and God),  pruned them, and generally babied my apple trees for the past 5 years,  I had yet to see  even a single apple blossom and no apples, despite a proliferation of leaves!  Even putting a beehive next to the trees didn’t help them pollinate. Finally, finally – – four apple blossoms!


Will they make it?  Who knows.  I’ve been vigilant about removing insect nests that hatch worms and devour young apple leaves on an almost daily basis.  I’m trying to keep the orchard organic, so pesticide is a no-no.   Meanwhile I have 8 organic apple trees that mock me daily, a life lesson and humbling reminder of the fact that despite my best efforts, I am not always the one in control.


Pietree Orchard


Beautiful views from Pietree Orchard.
Those are the White Mts. in the very far distance.

A few years ago on a cold February day, Tabitha King (wife of megamillionaire and prolific author Stephen King, and an author in her own right) was driving along a country road in Sweden, Maine.  At the top of a steep hill, the view was magnificent:  the hills and mountains of Western Maine on one side, the White Mountains on the other.  There was a tiny, rustic cabin, and an 80-year-old untended apple orchard.  There was also a large sign:  Now Selling!  Sweetwater Estates.

Forty-two parcels had already been sold, and were just waiting for more temperate weather before building would commence.  But Tabitha King wasn’t having it.  A housing development on an old Maine farmstead with history?  Not happening!


So Tabitha King proceeded to buy out every single one of the forty-two future homeowners.

“Aw, come on,” I said to an employee of Pietree Orchard who was telling me the story, “there are always idealists who are hold-outs.”

“Let’s just say she made them offers they couldn’t refuse.”

(Hey Tabby, feel free to check out our place!)

For the Kings this was nothing remarkable.  They own lots of land in my neighborhood and property along Kezar Lake in Lovell.  And although they enjoy their lovely lakeside summer homes, they want to make sure that few others will do the same.  They want to ensure that Maine wilderness stays wild, and that historic farmsteads remain productive.

It’s a sentiment I can appreciate, yet I think their fears of overdevelopment are pretty much unfounded.  Maine is one of eleven states in the USA where more people are on welfare than employed.  In remote areas like where I live, it costs $10 in gas  and 90 minutes of travel time just to get to a supermarket and back.  Housing is cheap but the market is flooded with foreclosures and for sale signs, and some of those signs have been posted for four years.  Basically, there are no jobs and no economy, unless it has to do with excavation, water well drilling, logging, carpentry . . . you get the picture.  The “best” doctors, dentists, scientists are not coming to live in Maine anytime soon, that’s for sure.  It’s only been 4 years since WiFi connections via DSL were a possibility in our area.  The entire state of Maine has only one large shopping mall (most people in rural Maine have little use for clothing that isn’t denim, fleece, or flannel) although there are a couple of outlet centers in tourist towns.   So while we do have an increase in population during the summer from tourists and people who have summer homes, Maine is just too darn far away from everything and everywhere else.  The Maine wilderness will never be filled with bedroom suburbs; it’s too impractical.

The other thing is that in the Maine wilderness, the woods always, always win.  Maine’s climate and rocky, thin soil are pretty inhospitable for growing much anything besides apples, potatoes, summer corn, and hay.  But, as my Maine friend says, “the one thing Maine knows how to do is grow trees.”  It’s true.  You go to bed at night and when you wake up in the morning, there are trees where there weren’t any the day before.  If you own a house in the woods, half the time is spent beating back the woods from taking over.  Wild raspberries, blackberries, blueberries, and thorny bushes; beech, birch, oak and pine saplings:  they all invade your yard and your driveway with devious encroachment.  It’s no wonder that “bush hogs” that gobble brush are a more popular tractor attachment than grass cutters.  Just take a walk in the woods and you will see countless abandoned cabins.  The roofs are caved in (due to heavy snowfall), the wood has dry rot, and the mice and woodpeckers have ensured that the cabins melt back into the earth.  And of course, trees are growing in all former rooms of those cabins.

But.  Tabitha King has done absolutely wonderful things with the old McSherry farmstead in Sweden, now called Pietree Orchard.  She hired pomologists (apple experts) who pruned and babied the old trees, and got them blooming again.  With their help, she added thousands of apple saplings, and incorporated new, successful techniques that limited or avoided use of pesticides.  She also re-introduced “heirloom” apple varieties from old Maine orchards that you can’t find in stores, and that would otherwise be lost forever.  She built a market store that sells bagged apples from the orchard, along with freshly picked vegetables and peaches, pumpkins, mums and winter squash grown on site, along with natural honey and crafts provided by local residents, farmers, and artisans.  Their cider press turns out cider that is the best I’ve tried anywhere.   Tabitha King also created an on-site artisan bakery,  and hired an artisan baker,  who turns out luscious-smelling pies, pastries, breads, cakes and cookies on a daily basis, baked with the finest and freshest – – and mostly local – – ingredients.  She created a Pick-Ur-Own business to help harvest the produce, and provide a fun and productive outing for the public.  The orchard provides tours and picking for educational groups and schoolchildren to learn  everything there is to know about apple orchards and their legacy in Maine.  She provided jobs for dozens of Mainers, who run the orchard, help with growing, harvesting and packing.  The workers are models of pleasantness.  When you visit Pie Tree Orchard, you come away happy.


I should add that here in Maine, Stephen and Tabitha King are venerated – – they can do no wrong.  And for the most part, they don’t.  They obviously and rightfully cherish their privacy while holed up all summer on exclusive Kezar Lake, the fount and muse of many of King’s books.  But they run a foundation that provides grants for Mainers, as well as a foundation for destitute artists who’ve lost their home or health through accidents; and they donate heavily (in the millions) to libraries throughout Maine (when asked for $13K in funds to repair a public library, they wrote a check for $12,999:  Stephen King is phobic about the number 13).  In Lovell, the location of their summer home,  they donated big-time to remodel the public library there; the children’s library is now state of the art – and they used all local craftsmen and supplies to build it.  They donated funds for a baseball field and recreation center in their summer town as well, used by local Little Leaguers and Boy and Girl Scouts.


Hundreds of apple seedlings. It takes 4 to 6 years from the time it is planted for an apple tree to produce.

Since apple-picking season is coming to a close, I realized that I’d better hurry out to the Kings’ Pie Tree Orchard to get my winter supply of apples.  Of the many varieties (samples are offered by employees with dazzling smiles) I chose Northern Spy, known for its good storage qualities (they’d be wintering on my porch), and hard, crunchy, juicy-tart bite.  I was supplied with a hand wagon and two half-bushel boxes for picking, as well as a an apple picking tool on a telescoping stick (no ladders are provided) which resembled a lacrosse stick.


apple picker

Within 30 minutes I had picked my bushel of apples and then some, but I lingered in the orchard because the day was so beautiful and the views so far-reaching.  Pietree Orchard is truly a gem of a place.



Back at home, I began planning:  apple butter; dehydrated apple slices; apple sauce; cider; pie.   Lots of activity to keep me busy on those days when inclement weather prevents me from venturing out . . .


A Lot Can Happen in a Month

Immediately upon completion of the 30-day mourning period for my brother-in-law (shloshim), we returned to Maine from our home town, driving 10.5 hours through the night.  We arrived at 7 a.m. on July 4th.

The first thing I noticed was the holes in the driveway.  In June, a snapping turtle had been busy sloooowly coming up the driveway each day at dusk for about a week to dig a hole, lay some eggs which resemble ping-pong balls, cover up the hole, and sloooowly make her way back to the bog at the bottom of the driveway.  Now, in July, the eggs must have hatched in the past 2 days, for the shells were still leathery.  The baby turtles had torn their eggs open under the ground, and literally clawed their way to freedom digging through the packed gravel on the driveway, making their instinctual pilgrimage to the bog below.  It’s quite a miraculous journey, as many local creatures such as raccoons, fishers, herons, hawks, crows and snakes prey upon the babies, or manage to dig their way underground to steal and eat the eggs from the nest before they hatch.  Once grown, though, the snapping turtle has only man for a predator (you’ve probably heard of Turtle Soup, a real delicacy in China).  When threatened the snapping turtle’s bite is powerful and could amputate someone’s fingers.

Leathery remnants of hatched snapping turtle eggs.

Leathery remnants of hatched snapping turtle eggs.

Another weird thing was the bees:  I saw that the Bee Man had added some new hives, a sign that the numbers of bees are increasing and honey production is in full swing.  Indeed, the scent of honey was heavy in the air (and smelled heavenly).  The morning of our arrival all looked well, but by the end of the afternoon, shortly before dusk, the bees  appeared to be resting in a swarm on the outside of the hive – – tens of thousands of them!  I looked up this phenomenon on the Internet, and found that this is called “bearding.”

Bearding is a form of hive air-conditioning; the bees depart the immediate brood nest area in order to help keep it at the desired temperature (too many busy bee bodies = too many BTUs). When you see all the bees outside the hive an hour before sundown, you’ll also notice the following morning (early a.m.), most if not all, have gone back inside the hive because the outside air temperature (and thus the hive temp) has dropped – again, just a way they regulate the brood nest temperature.

"Bearding:"  When the temperature inside the hive gets too hot to handle, bees cool of by hanging out around the outside of the hive at the end of a long day.

“Bearding:” When the temperature inside the hive gets too hot to handle, bees cool of by hanging out around the outside of the hive at the end of a long day. (Click to enlarge to see tens of thousands of resting bees “bearding.”)

While we were away, it had rained 10 of the last 15 days, and the first two weeks of June were scarcely drier.  Our house was practically unrecognizable upon our return, due to the heavy foliage.  The lilac bushes and blueberry shrubs I had planted with such care, along with 80 sunflower plants, had been swallowed up and overwhelmed by weeds, brush, grass, thorny raspberry and poison oak.  The trunks of the apple trees were similarly covered.  In the Maine woods, in the battle of Man vs. Nature, nature ultimately always wins.  (Or as a Mainuh once bemoaned the state’s poor economy, “The only thing Maine knows how to do right is grow trees and lobstah.”)  Weed-whacking was the order of the day (not the most ideal way to spend a holiday day off), and it was made worse by a searing heat wave that included lots of humidity.

Once the orchard was trimmed, I could see that the garlic had really grown tall.  The type of garlic I planted is not like the kind you get at the supermarket.  In order to survive the Maine winter (garlic is usually planted in the Fall), a special type of garlic, called hard-necked garlic, is used.  Although its strands cannot be braided due to the stiffness of the greens, it is very potent and delicious.  Towards the end of the growing season, each planted clove forms a curly “scape” with its own little seed bulb.  It is recommended that one cut the scapes off so the garlic bulb under the ground will not divert its nutrients towards the scape, and the bulbs will reach their maximum potential in size.  But the scape cuttings can be used to garnish a salad or sautéed or steamed, and are quite delicious in their own right.

The curly, bulbed end of a hard-necked garlic plant is called a "scape."

The curly, bulbed end of a hard-necked garlic plant is called a “scape.”

My husband was completely exhausted after doing the weed-whacking, and had lost probably 5 lbs. in sweat (eeyew).  We jumped in the car and drove to the lake, which was completely devoid of other people, and dove in the cool, clean, refreshing water.  We had a great swim!  From there we returned home, had a light dinner, and decided to go see fireworks.

Fourth of July celebrations are taken very seriously and enthusiastically in rural Maine.  In especially small towns, two or three towns will combine their celebrations and have  several events during the day, including a parade (which most of the residents participate in, so there are few spectators), a 5k charity race, a pot-luck picnic lunch or dinner, with proceeds also going to charity, and of course, fireworks.

Ebenezers Pub in Lovell, Maine is world-famous, which is something of a surprise since it’s basically in the middle of nowhere about 6 miles down the road from our house.  Ebenezer’s is  known for their impressive inventory of beers, with 1000+ beers available at any one time and at least 35 varieties on tap.  Once we took some guests there, and the claim that they are world-famous was met with rolling eyes and guffaws.  But sure enough, a couple of patrons sitting at the bar had motorcycled there all the way from Virginia on a beer pilgrimage, and another couple had come especially from Belgium!  It’s low-key and friendly and despite the many boutique beer offerings, there is not a trace of snobbery or sleaze.  Ebenezers adjoins Kezar Lake Country Club, whose golf course is open to the public, and it’s a perfect venue for watching the fireworks provided by the Lovell Volunteer Fire Department on a hot night, sitting on the grass, glass of (exotic) beer in hand.  (Check out the pub’s website, they have a great list of things to do in the area should you ever decide to come visit us!)

What made it really special, however, was the crowd of 150 people of all ages.  When the fireworks began, the entire audience spontaneously started singing a whole medley of patriotic songs, including the Star Spangled Banner, God Bless America, and This Land is Your Land.  It was really quite touching, not to mention patriotic.  I guess the patriotism is not that surprising, since most of the residents here are direct descendants of the original patriots, colonists, and founding fathers who created the United States of America.   This is their heritage at the source and by golly, they certainly do embrace and celebrate it.

Today, Sunday, is the last day before the 9 days leading to the Tisha B’Av fast day and prayers, which commemorate the destruction of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem.  During these upcoming nine days there are several restrictions.  No swimming or boating.  No laundering.  No eating meat.  So naturally, in between scrambling to get all my laundry done, I made kayaking, fishing and swimming a priority, since I cannot partake of these activities after today.  I did manage to catch several fish:  2 small yellow perch (not known as good eating fish so I threw them back), a brown  trout which was too small to keep and also was returned to the water, and finally, a nice-sized white perch, which, when sauteed with the garlic scapes mentioned above and some freshly-snipped parsley that is also from my garden, made a tasty and healthy lunch.

2 o'clock:  just-caught white perch sauteed with freshly picked parsley and garlic scapes from my garden.

2 o’clock: just-caught white perch sauteed with freshly picked parsley and garlic scapes from my garden.

By being away from Maine during the crucial month of June, I missed the prime planting time for a summer or fall garden.  So my packets of many varieties of kale seeds and beets and cucumbers will sadly have to wait until next year to be planted.  Because frost appears as early as September in Maine, the growing season is very short, and if you do not seize the day to plant in a timely manner, you simply lose out until next year.

It is good to be back!  And this will be a busy summer:  awaiting the birth of a new grandchild in Chicago, and entertaining eleven of my grandchildren at the same time in mid-August here at our house in Maine.  Stay tuned!