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Trees and Chores

March 7th, 2013 at 10:06 pm

Joan of the Arch published her recent entry about raising some trees from seed. If you have read it, you'll see why her post elicited this response. It will be too long to post as a comment.

My father's hobby has always been organic gardening. He started back in the late 1960's when no one else had even heard of organic produce. He never has used any synthetic chemicals on his plants and always has the best harvests one could imagine. He had the first ever "compost pile" I had ever heard of, and he kept it out near the garden. All coffee grounds, egg shells, and other appropriate waste was correctly discarded there, including 100% of any plant or vegetable manner we did not actually eat such as husks, skins, pits, cores, or other jetsam of the plant/food world.

My father has always raised a wide variety of vegetables, and about 35 years ago, he decided to plant some fruit trees. He went through his seed catalogs and found some dwarf tree saplings that he purchased. These came as small sticks sticking out of burlap bags, to my memory.

My parents had four sons, each of us in our teen or near-teen years when the trees were purchased. Where I grew up, four teen-age sons is typically called "free labor." My father, at least, used us for any such purpose when needed.

My father decided the best way to plant the saplings was to dig holes in a very precise fashion. The holes were to be cubical in shape, and three feet (0.9 meters) on the side. They were to be 20 feet apart (6 meters or so). Once the holes were excavated, we were to layer one foot (30 cm) of rough gravel for drainage, then a layer of rough dirt for a few inches (10 cm) and then place a large rock directly in the middle of our now 18-inch hole. We were to spread the root ball around the rock, to encourage the emerging tree roots to spread laterally before plummeting to their ultimate depths.

The last layer of soil around the root ball was some organic concoction created by my father. We were emphatically told where the lowest point to be covered was on the saplings, and we were loathe to do any task other than how we were instructed.

My brothers and I, duly instructed in the above procedure - do you wonder why we're all very good at math? - commenced to dig the holes and construct the sapling beds accordingly. It never occurred to us to cut any corners, because we all knew that would mean only that we would get the pleasure of doing the chore yet another time, and this time correctly.

We used power tools to do the digging; arm-power and leg-power, that is. Our shovels were not particularly sharp and we had no pick. This was done by main-strength, as were almost all of our labor-intensive chores. Also, we were doing this in late Winter or early Spring, which in southern Virginia means "already hitting high 70's (metric mid-20s)."

We dug four such holes precisely arranged in an arc with our father's dimensions reasonably approximated. I don't remember how long it took to dig the holes - only three of us were harnessed to the task as our youngest brother was not very healthy at the time - but I can assure you that it was hard work and not done in a single evening.

The trees were planted precisely according to my father's plan, and watered precisely on his schedule. We were also tasked with keeping his garden weeded and watered, though it actually needed very little maintenance due to my father's year-long preparations.

Our tasks included turning the compost pile every two weeks. This was done by using the same shovels and, starting in the middle, digging down to the hard soil and putting a bit of hard soil as well as the decaying/composting material to the top of the pile, and the old soil/material that was on the top to the bottom or middle. Basically, it was using a shovel to stir the pile. The heat from the decaying material as well as the dry cold air that any growing roots so-turned would be exposed to meant that most of the compost pile had no weeds growing and nearly all the weed seeds killed before they germinated or shortly after sprouting. Still, we had to pull some minor weeds from the edges.

About three months after planting the trees it became evident that the trees were no longer in the realm of the living. They were rotting in the holes and one actually broke off and fell over. My father called the seed company and obtained new saplings without additional payment as we were all certain the saplings were DOA, as our preparations and care were precisely according to the schedule laid out by my father.

About the time we were waiting for the replacement saplings to arrive, my father was tending his garden and compost pile. He saw a "weed" on the edge of the pile and pulled it up, only to find it was actually a germinated peach pit. We had been to Georgia the previous summer and this pit must have been one from the bushel or so of peaches we purchased on our drive back to Virginia. My father replanted the pit and told all of us boys to avoid "weeding" it when we cleaned up and turned the compost pile.

About 20 years ago, I had a chance to visit the old house. The peach tree back by the tree line that originated from the volunteer pit was about 20 feet tall and gorgeous. The four replacement trees were also doing well, after having been re-established in place of the failed crop.

I'm always amazed that my father never mentions how the volunteer peach tree grew unaided, while the meticulously-planted and painstakingly-cared-for saplings died out of hand.

5 Responses to “Trees and Chores”

  1. mjrube94 Says:

    LOL, your post brought back great memories! My father was an engineer (and very precise). When my brothers planted his orchard, the holes had to be 3 feet around - measured to the inch with a yardstick! I thought he was the only one...

  2. creditcardfree Says:

    Thanks for sharing!

  3. CB in the City Says:

    I once grew a beautiful tangerine tree (in a pot) from a seed that my husband took out of his mouth and stuck in a poinsettia pot! If it hadn't been exposed to bad conditions on a move, it might still be going strong!

  4. Joan.of.the.Arch Says:

    Hey, my Dad was an engineer, too, and the main garden chore I recall him doing was mowing the grass, sometimes with a weed whip, sometimes with a mower. The other thing I recall was Dad planting the pear and pecan trees in grids. The pecans died and I don't remember the pears bearing. There were two old apples left in the yard from the previous farmer who'd had a large orchard...Guess what? Our peach trees were from the compost pile, too! My Mom and the kids did most of the food gardening --yes, organic-- and I grew up with a compost pile in the 1960's.

  5. Jerry Says:

    That was a great read. Smile It sounds like that peach pit took full advantage of all that work intended for the other trees, but I guess as long as you had the insurance of getting the other four replacement trees as well, it was a worthwhile endeavor. Thanks for sharing! Wish you had a pic of that peach tree...

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