so much for my apple empire

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Last year was our first fall on the property. It was a season of possibility as we explored our land and watched our orchard produce more than we could ever have eaten. I filled the freezer with jars of applesauce and bags of pie filling. We invited everyone we knew to come pick, and pressed gallons of cider with neighbors. We scooped huge handfuls of dropped fruit, filling two 55 gallon drums, and umpteen buckets for the pigs our friends raise, leaving behind plenty for the deer and bear. We spread apples on our new garden plot and covered them with chicken manure and cardboard to try and enrich the soil over winter. And still apples remained – on the ground and on the branches, long into the winter. I had dreams of pruning, and spraying organically, and supplementing our income with apple sales.

And this year? Goodness, it’s dismal out there.

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Four of our trees didn’t produce a single apple, including the two that were most prolific last year. And we’re down a tree, having lost a big one in the storm last October. Half of what’s on the remaining trees is already nibbled, and there isn’t a single fruit on the ground. That’s not an exaggeration. I walked the orchard today with a mid-sized kitchen trash can, looking for anything I could collect for the pigs. I found little more than poop, both deer and bear. We’ve seen a doe with two fawns in the orchard several times recently, once with a young buck. Thankfully I haven’t seen the bear. Nature’s cleanup crew seems particularly efficient right now.

Through local conversation, I’ve gleaned several theories about the situation. It was the second dry summer in a row, so apple harvests all over Maine are suffering. Fruit trees alternate years, so this is just an off year for our trees. The overabundance of acorns last year led to a squirrel population boom, and those silly tree rats decimated the immature apples early in the season. When you stack all three ideas, it doesn’t bode well for orchards, and I am grateful that our livelihood does not depend on those trees.

I’m bummed for several reasons, and not just that I was unable to enter the apple industry. We had really hoped to feed healthy, fresh produce to our pig for lean, flavorful meat. And expanding on that, our apples would have lowered our friends’ grain expenses, which would have lowered our own payment for the finished pig. It’s a very small but certain example of how everything is connected in a small, local system.

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