Tell us about your growing philosophy.
I am committed to growing healthy fruit here at Old Frog Pond Farm. Much of my approach comes from what I've learned from this group of holistic growers. We encourage our trees' immune systems with nutrient sprays and soil amendments. I love brewing comfrey, nettles, and equisetum that grows on the farm to spray on our trees. We use biological fungicides, especially in a rainy spring, and on our peaches, but much of the apple orchard is planted with scab resistant varieties. We protect the fruitlets from the plum curculio with Surround and pick off the red-humped caterpillars when they appear. My favorite practice is to watch and wait. Over the years the orchard has taught me patience. I'm after the least intervention, a peaceful dwelling.
This video sums up our growing approach better than I can: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n0B898zOJx0
Tell us about your place on Earth.
We have 350 plus apple trees on a variety of semi-dwarf rootstocks. We also have a grove of Asian pears, a few rows of peaches, a large fall raspberry patch, blueberries, goumi, goji, and aronia berries, asparagus, and a small vegetable CSA. The main apple orchard is replanted with new trees interspersed between old trees. Surrounded by a forest buffer and wetlands on three sides, deer roam freely (unfortunately); wood chucks tunnel; geese add nutrients; hawks and crows watch from snags. Comfrey, mint, bergamot, daffodils, mushrooms, and weeds grow between the trees.
We wassail the trees in winter, have blossom viewing in the spring, and apple picking in the fall. The farm is the only pick-your-own, organic apple orchard in eastern Massachusetts and is also known for its annual outdoor sculpture exhibit, Plein Air Poetry event, storytelling afternoons, morning meditation, and a range of art workshops. The Artist and the Orchard: A Memoir, published in 2021, is my story of moving to the farm, and how over the last 20 years along with the rebirth of the orchard, a community of farmers, artist, and spiritual seekers also grew. Here is a link to a Channel 5 Chronicle segment that features our sculpture exhibit midway through: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0JGJ0HqcwC4
What draws you to growing fruit?
The orchard was here, abandoned for many years, when I moved into this old farmhouse with my three children. Sumac, brambles, and poison ivy grew between the rows. The trees needed a pruning. Those first few years the orchard produced no fruit. I didn’t understand what was wrong. It was a crazy idea, but I was determined to bring the trees back to health and to do it organically. The trees and I developed a partnership. We needed each other.
They can speak, trees,
They can say the sweetest things .
What holistic innovation keeps your trees rarin' to grow?
When Tom Burford, author of Apple Trees of North America, was asked which apple was his favorite, he answered, “The next one that is ripe.”
I love learning about new protocols, new ideas for caring for the orchard, and being re-inspired each year to try something a little different. An orchard is not static, it’s always changing. I think it is important to remember that there is no formula, orcharding is a relationship. Some years the apple maggot fly is in full force, other years there is nary a one in the orchard. New insects and diseases arrive, and others fade away. The adage of what is best for a garden applies to the orchard—the farmer’s footsteps. We need to always be curious and notice the changes year to year. We need to be ready to enjoy that next ripe apple.
What might you change if you could do one thing over again in your orchard?
Put up 8' deer fencing!
How do you go about marketing the good fruit?
Since we became certified organic in 2006, we have a ready market and don’t need to do any advertising. In fact, we can’t supply all the people that would like to pick organic apples, and we regularly are picked out before the season is over. We need more holistic growers!