Greetings, dear reader! Elly Vaughan here, owner of Phoenix Fruit Farm. I’m in my office/living room, looking out the window at the dreary rains coming down in the orchard. I have saved up a number of administrative tasks for this weather, and one of them is to share something of my journey as a farm owner through writing — truly, to share something of myself with you.
This being my first passage, I’d like to give a bit of background: I’ve been a farmer for ten years, and a farm owner for one. I’ve worked for others as a farm manager for a long time, and now I have 103 acres of APR land, with 42 acres of productive, mature apple and peach trees. I started Phoenix in 2017, and I’m rolling into year two with a whole new perspective on farming (and on life, for that matter) than I had this time last year. I’m so pleased to be here on the windy hill, growing lovely, vibrant fruit for our community.
In the spirit of farming, my literary notion is to be both enjoyable and useful. Although I can only hope that you, dear reader, are both amused and enriched, at the very least I can be sure to create a device of vivacious recordkeeping. Today, I’ll tell the tale of our newest block of young fruit trees, and what it took to get Phoenix Fruit Farm’s first new planting safely in the ground.
When I first bought the farm in 2017, the hillside we wanted to plant was a jumble of brambles, old dead apple trees, bittersweet, and little spruce trees. That summer, I hitched up the flail mower to my old John Deere and carved my way into the thicket. The mower did everything she could, but she just wasn’t big enough to take on the trees and the tall, thick pasture rose bushes. There was also a wealth of stumps to be extracted. I realized with a pang that I needed to hire some bigger machines, and of course that comes at a dear price for a farmer in their first year.
Fortunately, I discovered a state-level grant program that assists farmers on APR land with the cost of clearing overgrown blocks to plant new trees. I applied and received the award, allowing me to clear and prep the blocks I needed for my new trees.
I also obtained a grant award to dig an irrigation well for the new block, through a different state program — but that’s a whole different story which I may work through in more detail some other day.
I chose peaches and nectarines because they’re quick to bear fruit, and also because they are exceptionally delicious. Dear reader, if you have never eaten a fresh Massachusetts peach picked ripe from the tree in midsummer, with the juice flowing down your arm and the pulpy, sweet flesh bursting out of the skin with every bite, sitting in the grass under the sun or leaning over the kitchen sink, then you haven’t lived. Please, please, please do not miss out on this sublime experience — and do not try to eat them while driving, or while texting, or even while holding a conversation. The tree-ripened Northeastern peach needs your full attention. Take a mental picture of that moment, because our peaches are only here for six weeks out of the year, and you will yearn for them all winter.
I chose pears because although we will have to wait longer for their fruit, they are worth the anticipation. A pear grown in our Northeastern climes that is picked just right — still a little green and firm, but not hard — and left to sit on the counter for a few days is unspeakably delectable. Its fragrance and warm, complex flavors are like taking a stroll in a dense, rich forest on a sunny autumn day.
Once my trees were chosen and ordered from the nursery (a year ahead of time!), the next step — cover cropping the cleared block — didn’t happen until the late fall of 2017. In the winter of 2018, I made a map and an irrigation plan, and I advertised for a temporary crew to help us out during the planting week. During the winter and spring it’s just me and my farm manager until our seasonal picking crew arrives in June, so it was necessary to enlist some extra help.
In the first week of April, the manager and I prepped the field — we spread fertilizer, carved trenches to plant the trees in, and flagged out the spacing between trees. In the second week, our crew came, and what a time we had. There was good cheer, despite the muddy weather and tough work to be done. We picked up a lot of rocks (thank you, New England) and shoveled a lot of muddy trenches back together. We tucked in each tree with a little love and well-wishing, and put mouse-guards at the base of each tree. The Honey dog was very helpful, too — she wagged a lot and solicited many belly-rubs, which may have increased the morale of our team by a significant margin.
The work of caring for them is now ongoing – I sprayed them with a hot pepper-based deer repellent, and we will be pruning them next week for the first time. Irrigation lines will be installed within the next two weeks. Fortunately, it’s been so rainy they haven’t needed any help staying wet!
There you have it, reader. If you ever decide to plant 400 fruit trees in 20 x 23 spacing on five acres, now you know the basic procedure. Furthermore, if you ever decide to visit my farm, you can look at the little buggers for yourself.
Very best wishes to you this spring, and please don’t be a stranger. My farm offers pick-your-own peaches and apples, and we’d love to see you this summer and/or fall!
Elly is a new member-owner of the Amherst Food Co-op. We look forward to seeing her produce in the store, along with great food offerings from many other producers in the area! For more information about connecting with the Co-op in the startup phase, email email@example.com.