We had an extended indian summer this year. The fruit trees leisurely "hardened off", meaning they sent their sugars down into their roots and shelter of the soil to wait until spring. It was after Thanksgiving when the leaves finally left the branches.
We kept our sheep in the orchards eating the still-green grass and alfalfa, mowing and fertilizing. Since shepherding is new to us, we were anxious about the breeding business and our ram's ability to "do the job" as they say in the sheep biz. Turns out Louis lost his oomph in December, and now we must line up a ram from elsewhere. More about that later!
The sheep are now eating baled hay we bought from our neighbor across the road, plus a bit of grain. Their wooly coats make delightful rovings and yarn and we hope to have the quality and kind that weavers and knitters love.
Our neighbor is installing real honest to goodness wool machinery next spring! It's custom made by people in Michigan. Southdown yarn is in the same micron class as cashmere, and mixes well with other fibers.
As a side note: We saw an award winning documentary recently, Sweetgrass, about a 150 mile sheep drive into mountain pastures. We were mesmerized! Beautiful and gut gripping.
The Golden Delicious were grazed by our sheep for several months and that made the trees happy. The grass around the trunks was nibbled away making less competition for water and nutrients. The trees got the benefits of sheep manure — the sheep enjoyed their shade. It was definitely a win-win!
The photo on the right was taken at the end of July. Wink is standing next to a peach tree that normally would have 40-50 peaches on it. Because of our spring frosts, most of our trees bear far less and some none at all.
Our apple harvest looks much better than the peaches. The bugs also got a slow nasty start so there aren't as many coddling moths stings as in previous years. We manually thinned the apples so the fruit will be uber delicious and size nicely.
The geese spend their days cruising in the orchards, eating the fallen fruit, weeding, and preening. The goose on the left gives a very visual demonstration of what "goose neck" means!
June, these are ridiculously cute sheep!
Our Golden Delicious apple orchard has benefited from sheep this year. The trees are mowed around the trunks, the sheep have been fertilizing as they go and enjoying the shade the trees provide.
The photo at the left is of our new Babydoll Southdown lambs. We have seven other Babydolls that we picked up in Kansas as well, at the beginning of the month. They are a beautiful starter flock and we are grateful to Diane Spisak and Kay Applebee for providing such good animals, perfect examples of the breed.
We applied a foliar spray to the grafted apples towards the end of June. The leaves showed signs of micro-nutrient deficiency (yellowing on leaves at the terminus of the branches) and foliar spray was the quick way to fix it. There are still no apples on these trees, but next year — the wood will be old enough and strong enough to produce.
Other orchard news — the peach orchard has been sprayed with BTs for insect pests, mowed and fertilized. We might have to do some hand thinning, but not much since Jack Frost more than thinned for us this spring.We will have to hand thin the apples though, they were not as affected.
Photo to the right: The white buds are sweet cherries and were so pretty until the frosts came! Our peaches bloomed heavily but certainly don't need the usual hand thinning now. The stamens on the apple buds in the upper right corner are frosted (black), the fruit did not set. Two buds in the background are forming apples.
Above: Wink checks the water level in the soil to determine the amount of irrigation needed at the start of the season.
We have pruned all the apples, peaches, and trained the grafted apples. This year we are determined to improve the quality of our apples and do a better job to control the biennial nature of apples.
When an apple variety has a large bud set, that suppresses the fruit bud development for the following year. If the farmer can thin the buds as soon as they blossom, the fruit buds for next year will not be reduced. The harvest will be profitable each year instead of every other year.
Pruning also affects the amount of buds. We pruned "hard" this spring to increase the amount of sunlight that can enter the tree, reduce the number of this year's buds at the outset, and encouraging more budding for next year.
Will the result be the "right" amount of buds and even crop load? Or have we sacrificed too much fruit already? It is difficult to tell fruit buds from leaf buds in February.
Even if we guessed correctly, we will have to guess again in the next few weeks — when and how much chemical thinning spray to apply to the trees? I heard from a bee man yesterday that many conventional (non-organic) farmers on Rogers Mesa thin their apple trees with Seven, a pesticide that is fatal to bees. Yikes! We use a combination of lime and sulfur, organically approved materials, to "burn" the pollen tubes of the blossom which prevents the blossom from becoming fertile.