Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association
Maine Heritage Orchard Update: A Successful Spring Planting

Publications \ The Maine Organic Farmer & Gardener \ Summer 2015 \ Maine Heritage Orchard: Successful Spring Planting


Colby College students digging in at this spring’s Maine Heritage Orchard planting. Abby Verrier photo

By Abbey Verrier

The 2015 spring planting week at the Maine Heritage Orchard was an incredible success. It began on April 15 when a group of sophomores from Mt. View High School spent a day in the orchard with MOFGA's Jason Tessier, planting nearly 500 native woody shrubs. A few days later, on the big April 19 planting day, 40 volunteers ages 8 to 80 planted 75 historic apple trees as well as another 600 native shrubs. The shrubs, which will act as perennial companion plants in the orchard, include highbush cranberry, American plum, black pussy willow, highbush blueberry, elderberry, nannyberry, juneberry, chokeberry, pagoda dogwood, silky dogwood, redosier, winterberry, witch hazel and clethra. Each species will contribute to the orchard ecosystem for many years to come.

The depleted soil in the orchard is in some areas mostly sand and in others, full of clay. As the site was once a gravel pit stripped of its topsoil, our focus is to select plants that will prosper in and improve poor soil conditions. Redosier dogwood, nannyberry and chokeberry will help stabilize the wet, erosion-prone slopes on the southeastern end of the terraces. Highbush blueberry and highbush cranberry planted on the dry slopes of the north fence line will do the same. We planted America plum and 'Ruby Spice' clethra, a beautiful shrub that attracts pollinators, near the front gate of the orchard. After planting his hundredth cranberry plant, one volunteer proclaimed that he would be back in a few years to pick his share of the berries for a good pie. We can indeed envision a time when volunteers will come together not to plant but to harvest the berry shrubs now scattered throughout the orchard.

This year's batch of apple trees went into the ground with a healthy dose of fungal inoculant, compost and mineral rock powders. In some areas the ground was still hard with frost, a challenge that people took on with vigor. I won't forget watching a group of Colby College students all tackling one hole, digging and chiseling until their tree had enough space to spread its roots.

With the spring planting, the heritage apple collection has expanded to 175 different apple varieties. That's 175 heirloom apples that were cultivated in Maine before 1900. Some, such as the 'Stowe' and 'Rolfe' apples, actually originated in Maine (Perham and Guilford, respectively), while others, such as the 'Blenheim Orange', 'Drap d'Or' and 'Charlamoff' (from England, France and Russia), were imported to New England and migrated to Maine sometime in the 19th century. Every variety in the orchard has its own story, flavor and use. Explore our directory of apples at mofga.org to learn more about each. Or, better yet, come visit us. The best time to see the scope of the Heritage Orchard project is now, throughout summer and early fall, when the trees and shrubs are at the season's peak. Come check it out and get involved. Weeding, fertilizing and other maintenance tasks are ongoing, and we'd love to have you join us any time.

For more information about the orchard and to get involved, visit mofga.org or write to us at [email protected]

About the author: Abbey Verrier is the Maine Heritage Orchard research assistant.