Growing up on a dairy farm, I always suspected that my dad’s first love was not the cattle but rather his small orchard of fifty or so trees (that’s of course after his unspoken love for my mom, me and my brother and sister!). My memories of the orchard however were coloured by the weekly spraying of toxic chemicals – my dad would send us kids indoors before generating huge clouds of poison that drifted over the full-size apple trees. Later in life when I had embraced an organic approach to gardening I had become convinced that the only alternative to poison-soaked fruit was wormy, scabby fruit that was barely edible and that fruit trees in the home garden were not worth the effort.
But, stop the presses!! I had the opportunity last week to listen to a presentation by a very enthusiastic young woman who established a small urban orchard in an underused Toronto park a few years ago. She has since written a book describing her experience and the knowledge she gained and now gives seminars and workshops including topics such as choosing the right varieties, recognizing and dealing with diseases, dealing with pests and harvesting. I am a convert and now believe that it is possible to produce excellent fruit without resorting to chemicals!!
I toured the nascent public orchards of Mississippi Mills on Saturday with my new-found enthusiasm in hand and was excited by what I found. The planting of fruit trees at several locations in Mississippi Mills took place in late-April of 2012. The project was suggested by community leaders and was quickly embraced by the leadership of Jeff Mills and the Neighbourhood Tomato. The Edible Trees project captured the interest and hearts of residents from each of the Hamlets of Appleton, Blakeney and Clayton, as well as those residing in the Almonte Ward and the Village of Pakenham. Working closely with community partner groups, 70 volunteers were found to locate, plant, and offer ongoing care for the established trees. A grant was obtained from the Edible Tree program of Tree Canada; trees were ordered and planted in early 2012 just in time for an extremely dry summer. A total of 74 trees were planted – four varieties of pears and six varieties of apples.
So what does the project look like now?
Ten pear trees were planted at the Clayton Community Centre. They have grown extremely well and produced a reasonable amount of fruit this year.
Fourteen apple trees were planted at the Boat Launch Park in Appleton and are starting to look like a ‘real’ orchard.
At Blakeney, ten apple trees were planted in a couple of locations and produced so heavily this summer that there was concern that some of the branches would break.
In Pakenham a total of ten apple trees and ten pear trees were planted in a variety of locations including the Arena and the United Church.
The largest plantings took place in Almonte – ten pear trees and ten apple trees – in a number of locations including Mills Community Support office, behind the Post Office, behind the Library and at Country Haven.
In general the trees all appear to do doing well with a near-perfect survival rate, which attests to the care from volunteers – two of the last five growing seasons have had extended periods of drought. My new-found enthusiasm did find a few things that perhaps could be improved. Some trees need remedial pruning and a number of volunteers have expressed some concerns about diseases and pests over the years. I am hopeful that the Neighbourhood Tomato will be able to offer one or two half-day workshops in early spring – something like “A Dummy’s Guide to Growing Organic Apples and Pears”.
One other observation from my tour was that there are large quantities of fruit in our municipality that go un-harvested. I have heard a rumour that our newly formed youth group hopes to be able to do something about that next year.