The Orchard Renovation

We've been talking about it on and off for several months now, but this week we finally committed to plans for revamping our orchard. Now that everything is bearing, we've been able to see which varieties are doing well and which leave something to be desired.

But what really gave us a push in the direction of making some choices about our trees were the losses we sustained last season. Our stunted Granny Smith was completely buried by the blizzards of 2015, and it was broken beyond saving. We also lost our best peach tree to insect damage, and the other peach and nectarine can't be far behind. Despite our efforts at sheltering it, two very harsh winters in a row kept our fig tree from ever taking off.

And even though our apricot is a fine-looking tree, we've eaten a grand total of one apricot in the past five years. So we decided to cut it down and try something else, even though the tree itself is healthy.

It's no small thing to cut down a tree, which is why we took a good long while to reach these decisions.

In total, we will be removing two apple trees (the broken Granny Smith and the so-so four-in-one heirloom apple, which is leaning and doesn't bear well), two peaches, one nectarine, and one apricot. That's 60 percent of our original orchard, by the way.

We'll be putting in two new apple trees and two new peaches as replacements. Reducing the total number of trees will allow us to maximize spacing — and we can definitely use it now that the trees are reaching their mature heights and, more crucially, their full spreads.

Anyway, here are the varieties I ordered today:

Photo courtesy of Stark Bros. Nursery

Reliance peach, a direct replacement for our most productive fruit tree ever (the one that we lost to insects last summer).

Photo courtesy of Stark Bros. Nursery

Fingerlakes peach, also a direct replacement for a peach we're removing. This is admittedly a bit of a gamble, as our first two Fingerlakes peach trees never did that great. Still, I blame the insect damage, which we can better control for now that we know what we're up against. The reason we're sticking with this variety is because it ripens late, which will spread out our harvest and make it easier to handle. It will also hopefully coincide with the our early pear harvest so we can make some peachy pear jam.

Photo courtesy of Stark Bros. Nursery

Roxbury Russet apple, an heirloom variety that is the first variety that originated in the United States. It dates back to the late 1600s in Roxbury, which is a neighborhood in Boston. It's therefore well-adapted to our area, having survived here for 400 years. This variety was one of the ones on our four-in-one tree, so we know we like the flavor, and it stores well. Plus it feels like our duty to grow it here in eastern Massachusetts.

The first three trees are from Stark Bros. Nursery, which merged with Miller Nurseries, the place we've always trusted for the trees we planted in the Red House and here in Newburyport. Our last tree, though, is from Fast Growing Trees, a company I've been doing some copywriting for over the past few months. A free tree is a nice perk if you can get it!

Photo courtesy of Fast Growing Trees

Our final apple is a Winesap, another heirloom variety. This one originated in Virginia in the early 1800s. The flavor is supposed to be great, and the flesh is pink or red (hence the name), which should be fun. It also has good disease resistance, which is always a plus.

Our trees won't arrive for another month, but we're excited to get started on the Orchard 2.0. This year will be another one without peaches, but we still should have a fair amount of apples and pears to get us through until our new trees get up to speed.

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