Our favorite tree (and it isn’t a fruit tree!)

We have a lot of trees on our farm. But our favorite tree cannot be found among the tens of thousands of fruit trees in our orchards. In fact, our favorite tree isn’t a fruit tree at all! It’s a black walnut tree. So why is this tree so special? History. This tree is really old!

A man came into our market in the fall a number of years ago. He bought some fruit, we made small talk and after a while he went back outside. Later on I was on my way to the house when I saw him again. He was walking slowly around the walnut tree, running his fingers over the gnarled bark and peering up through the branches. “I worked in timber all my life in Ohio”, he said to me. “Do you know this tree is over 300 years old? A Black Walnut like this grows only half as fast as other trees, you know.”

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1930 Walnut tree is behind house on left

300 years is a long time. We’re talking before this country was a country, this tree was here! Before Ben Franklin and George Washington, and long before the revolutionary war, this tree was quietly growing out in a field or forest or whatever was here at the time. And it has survived and outlived all the trees around it. It seems as though this tree has always been big. Photographs of our home around the turn of the century show it towering over the house way back then! And it is even bigger today. Almost 17 feet in circumference! It shades the whole back yard and is a favorite photo spot for our customers.

Maizy and the walnut tree

Maizy by the walnut tree

If this tree could talk, I’ll bet it would have a lot of stories to tell. Stories of kids and ladders, of swings and lightning strikes, and maybe even of the time my  brother used one of the lower limbs to pull the motor out of his car with a block and tackle! (you may have to look that term up!) For years we sold our cherries with a scale hung from the walnut tree. It was a welcome shady spot on a hot summer day. A picnic table and some lemonade was all we needed. And the walnut tree.

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Lightning scar from 1981

 

Few things are constant any more. Few things are lasting. But this big old tree stands in defiance of the changes all around us. It is a silent sentry, watching over the hustle and bustle of life, and I think shaking its head in wonder at all of us. And it is healthy and strong, producing bushels of walnuts every other year. Who knows. Maybe someday one of those little walnuts will become a tree. And start another long era of quiet growth, adding ring upon ring as the years go by. And becoming a welcome gathering spot as this old tree has. Perhaps that is why it is our favorite.

Hope you have a fruitful week!

Tom Moelker

 

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From one stage to the next…

Well the bees finally finished their work and we moved them out of the orchards last night. I think they will move on to the blueberry farms next. We move them at night because most of them are back inside of the hive then. Except for a few who get caught out in the field at sunset and stay the night there. Today when they go back home the hive will be gone! What a surprise!

The fruit is growing each day now, and over the next few weeks we will be able to tell which fruitlets will continue to grow, and which will stop growing and fall off. So far things look good, but we aren’t completely safe from frost yet. I can remember when I was a kid we had a hard frost on June 6! The bean plants in the garden froze that year! (along with a lot of people’s landscaping flowers!)

Sometimes when the crop is too heavy we have to take some of the fruit off from the trees to make sure the rest become premium fruit. For the last couple of years, we have used a new method to determine very early which fruitlets have been pollinated well and which will eventually fall off by themselves. We select 5 trees of a variety, say Gala.

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A cluster of tiny apple fruitlets

On each of those 5 trees my daughters, Tressa and Taylor mark 15 clusters of fruitlets (tiny apples).

Measuring Apples

Measuring the apples

When they reach about 6 millimeters in size, The girls mark and measure each fruitlet with a digital caliper (that’s about 375 fruits)! Then they enter all of the data into a spreadsheet program created by Phil Schwallier of Michigan State University. 

Four days later they repeat the process and enter the data into the program again. The spreadsheet calculates the growth rate of the fruits, and highlights fruit that is only growing half as fast as the biggest fruit. These smaller fruits will eventually fall off the tree on their own. This process helps us figure out what the size of the crop will be much earlier than we used to be able to. Which really helps us know how much thinning we will have to do!

Apples with Dots

Apples are marked with dots

The girls will be beginning this process this weekend. It is a very exacting science! They number each fruit by putting dots on them, one dot, two dots, three dots, etc. They have to  measure them in the exact same spot each time!

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My research team at work!

I really appreciate the girls willingness to do this tedious work.

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And do it with a smile!!

Hope you have a fruitful week!

Tom Moelker

Recipe for an apple orchard

Well we are finally finishing up planting apple trees for this spring! It has been a real challenge getting them planted in between the rainy days. It seems just when the ground dried up enough to plant, we would get another inch of rain and have to wait again!

The recipe for an apple orchard has changed a lot over the years. Back in the 1930’s and 1940’s, it was common to plant trees 35 feet apart or more with 40-48 trees per acre. Those were the big old spreading apple trees that you climbed as a kid. They were huge, often 24 feet wide and just as tall. And planting was simple. Just plant them and in 5-8 years you would start getting some apples! When the trees got older, it could take a man all day to pick two trees!

Today things have changed greatly. The recipe for one acre of orchard now looks like this:

  • 1,200 apple trees
  • 102 treated 12 foot posts
  • 7,250 feet of high tensile wire
  • 1,200 ten foot x ½ inch steel Conduits (pipes)
  • 2,400 wire clips
  • 4,800-6,000 feet of plastic tying tube.
  • 3,600 feet of drip irrigation line
  • Various other hardware.
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So let’s get started! The trees are planted 3 feet apart in the row and the rows are 12 feet wide.

 

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Posts are placed in the ground 36 feet apart to support the trees.

 

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2 holes are drilled in the post for the support wires. The wires are fed through the posts for the entire length of the row, and then they are pulled tight.

 

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Next, a conduit is placed by each tree for support, and clipped to the wires.

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The the tree is tied to the conduit every 2 feet as it grows. This supports the tree, which would fall over if it was not tied.

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The new planting looks like this at the beginning of the second summer!

This is obviously a simplified description of the planting process. Hundreds of hours of work go into each acre in the first year alone! If everything goes perfectly, we should begin to pick some fruit off the new orchard when it is three years old. Oh, I forgot. Just add sunshine and water! (and a few other things!)

Hope you have a fruitful week!

Tom Moelker

A Barn Full of Memories

So the barn needs a roof. Well, the barn needs a lot of things. Costly things. But it REALLY needs a roof. Like last year already. Problem is, we have to decide whether we need the barn anymore. While it is a really neat part of the history of the farm, of late it has become just a place to store the things we never use anymore. It’s a favorite backdrop for photographs because it is weathered and soaked in character. But do we need it?

 

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The Moelker barn in 1922.

Lots of history in there. Memories of younger days with siblings and friends, making secret hideouts and running around on the beams playing tag like cats. And speaking of cats, we always tried to be the first to find the new batch of kittens hidden in the hayloft. “How many this time? What color are they?” Such fun! When we were young, there was a long rope that hung from the peak inside. The most excellent swing ever! We could launch off the beam on one side and swing all the way across to push off the wall on the other side. Or just let go at some strategic point and land in the hay. There were afternoons filled with games of cowboys and Indians, or just cowboys and cowboys. Hide and go seek. Count to 100, and then “Ready or not, here I come!” When I look today at our escapades as kids, I’m amazed we all lived through it!

And then there was that fragrant smell of freshly baled hay. I can almost smell it now, the way it saturated the air in the barn on a cool summer evening. No finer perfume than that! A lot of work went into the making of that fresh sweet Eau de Alfalfa. And it always seemed like haying days were the hottest, most humid, and just downright sticky! I guess the barn wasn’t always just fun and games.

But the barn needs a roof. And if we are going to keep it, some major structural repairs will have to happen too. Such a dilemma. A battle between the budget and the heart it seems. And not an easy call by any estimation. Over a hundred years of history in there. Echoes of giggling kids and mooing cows have given way to a silence only interrupted by the noise of tractors and traffic. The surroundings have changed over time. But the barn remains a link to our generations past. And therein lies the difficulty of the decision.

Have a fruitful week!

Tom Moelker

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The Moelker barn last summer dressed up in vines!