|A two-year-old heritage apple tree growing with wood chip mulch. Laura Sieger photo
|Teens from Wolfe's Neck Farm enjoy a morning at the Heritage Orchard. Laura Sieger photo
By Cammy Watts
Bees are not the only things buzzing at MOFGA's Maine Heritage Orchard (MEHO) this growing season. The 280 apple trees planted over the past three years are putting down strong roots and sending up new shoots. The hundreds of herbaceous companion plants covering the ground between the trees are spreading and preventing soil erosion and runoff. The woody shrubs, such as elderberry, that were planted on the terraces are producing their first crop of fruit. And birds and insects that fled from the site when their habitat was stripped away are now visible again in the grasses and darting from tree to shrub.
The orchard is living proof that Nature abhors a vacuum. Plants are rushing to fill the empty spaces.
However, it takes a village of dedicated apple enthusiasts to gently guide this natural succession while the apple trees are young. The newest additions to this group of orchard stewards are Nick Libby, Kelsey McGrath and Laura Sieger, who are planting, watering, mowing and weeding the orchard this summer. They are there weekly and would love to have individuals and groups from camps, businesses, churches and schools join them for an hour or a day. They happily lead tours and answer questions about heritage apples, orchard care, companion planting and the new section of orchard that was terraced this summer on the far side of the pond. These stewards will guide even the most novice volunteers through orchard planting and maintenance; they love volunteers who want to get their hands dirty. Days and times of volunteer opportunities are posted in MOFGA's Bulletin Board.
You don't have to volunteer or call ahead to visit the Maine Heritage Orchard; the gate in the imposing-looking deer fence is always unlocked, and everyone is welcome and encouraged to enter. The stewards are creating a path through the orchard so that visitors can wander easily along the terraces. Eventually this will connect with the Unity-to-Belfast Hills to Sea Trail so that hikers will be able to access the orchard from both sides. So whether to volunteer, stroll quietly or watch nature reclaim the hillside, stop by the orchard. Just remember to close the gate behind you.
Get Juiced at the Hayloft Tent
In 2015 Maine experienced a banner year for apples. Trees in orchards, dooryards and hedgerows, along roadsides and deep in the woods were loaded with fruit. Even in town walking was difficult without slipping and sliding over red, gold and green apples that littered the sidewalks. Resourceful Mainers took advantage of this bounty and filled crates, barrels and pickups with as many apples as possible. How did they keep this fruit? When another harvest like 2015 rolls around, what can you do with the rest of your apples once you have dried, sauced, stored and baked as many as your cellars and freezers can hold?
These and other questions will be answered at the Hayloft Tent at the Common Ground Country Fair this year. Learn about the juice of the apple in all its forms – how to make it, who can sell it and what to do with it. Explore the latest innovations in apple presses and grinders, and learn how to make your own. Join a discussion on regulations affecting the production and sale of sweet cider for commercial and home producers. Find out how to turn sweet cider into vinegar or hard cider. Taste local ciders as Maine cider makers share tips for starting a hard cider business. Novices and pros alike won't want to miss cider celebrity Andy Brennan of Aaron Burr Cider in New York, who will discus cider-making basics and the joys of tracking down wild apples for cider.
The Hayloft Tent will have plenty of other offerings, such as orchard care, beekeeping, permaculture and edible landscaping. Sample kombucha, mead and beer produced by highly entertaining local brewers. Learn about apple varieties for the home orchard and then vote for your favorites at the popular apple tastings on Friday and Saturday afternoons.
The only thing missing at the Hayloft Tent this year will be apple enthusiast and expert Don Johnson, who passed away last spring. Don, who grew 100 varieties on 1/2 acre of land, brought bushels of his apples to the Fair each fall and delighted in handing them out to fairgoers. He was as generous with his knowledge as with his apples, and he will be missed.
If you don't have time for a talk or two, at least drop by to wonder over John Bunker's amazing apple display at the Fedco Trees booth outside the Hayloft Tent. John and his regular crew of apple crazies will be there to interpret, identify and discuss all things apple and fruit related. Pick up a “wanted poster” to help them find rare apple varieties. They look forward to seeing you there.