Sunday, January 29, 2023

Lessons Learned From My Apple Trees


Lessons Learned From My Apple Trees
They're Really Not That Much Different From Me

by Bob Summerfield
Brovold Community Orchard
Alberton, Montana

Managing an orchard is a lot of work. While I’m getting an abundance of physical exercise working in the orchard, my mind and spirit often have an opportunity to get a workout too. There’s something about walking among a grove of young and old apple trees that causes me to reflect on life, both theirs and mine. The youthful vigor of the young trees contrasted with the scarred and misshapen figures of the old trees makes me think about the journey of my own life and the lessons life teaches us along the way. In the end, my apple trees are not that much different from me. Our youthful potential is shaped over time by the many triumphs and defeats we experience in our daily battles to exist. If we’re lucky, those battles teach us lessons that accumulate over a long life. These accumulated lessons are the origin of wisdom.

The Stages of Life
This narrative will speak about the life stages of apple trees, but the subliminal message is that people experience just about the same stages of life. As you read about the life of apple trees, think about how the same principles apply to your own life. In reality, I am speaking about both apple trees and people. 

When a new apple tree comes into the world, whether through seed or some form of vegetative propagation, it holds all the potential that its genetic makeup allows. Not all trees are exactly alike, of course. Its genes will determine if it will be cold hardy or not, to what extent it is disease resistant, and whether it will produce red or yellow apples. Other characteristics, like whether it will be a tall or short tree, and whether it will be long or short lived, may be determined both by genetics and the environment in which the tree is planted. Young trees must be trained to grow in the way we want them to be later in life. If not, they will become wild and unruly and not very productive. The training comes by way of pruning, or cutting away undesirable parts, and by bracing or bending them in the way that is best for them to grow. Young trees need to be solidly rooted and well fed to achieve their growth potential. Sometimes, they seem to shoot up overnight like a teenager. They also need plenty of sunlight and fresh air to be at their best.

A middle-aged apple tree is in its most productive working years. It produces a lot of fruit for the people who are dependent on it. Year after year it goes about its job with no complaints. Occasionally, though, it will take a year off to rest. A sort of vacation if you will. But then it goes right back to work and is even more productive. Inevitably, storms come into the life of a middle-aged tree, and these can cause damage, like broken limbs. If sufficiently severe, a storm could even uproot a tree and end its life prematurely. External vectors, like animals or equipment, may damage a tree, resulting in wounds that may never fully heal. Microbes may enter these wounds and cause a tree to rot from the inside out. Similarly, insects may lay eggs on the tree’s young fruit, and the larvae will burrow inside, spoiling the apples. These bad influences will sometimes cause the fruit to become rotten to the core. When an apple tree produces good fruit, though, the sweet, crisp apples are a delight that will bring a smile to any child’s face. “By their fruit ye shall know them,” is a familiar adage, and you’ll certainly know a good apple tree by the wonderful fruit it yields.

Old apple trees are gnarly and misshapen, bearing wounds accumulated over a lifetime. Their trunks and limbs may be moss-covered, and ants or other insects may live in their rotten centers. They are weakened by years of exposure and the stresses of a hard life. Some of their largest limbs may even be missing. Yet they still do their best to be productive. Their apples may not be as plentiful or as large as in the past, but they are just as sweet as ever. You can tell when an apple tree is nearing the end of its time. Their lifespan is not much different from a human’s really. One hundred years is a very old age for an apple tree.

12 Lessons We Learn from Apple Trees
1. You are a product of your genetic makeup and your environment. You can’t do much about your genes, but planting yourself in a good clean and healthy environment will improve your chances of having a productive and successful life. If you have good genes AND a good environment, count your blessings. We take our blessings for granted far too often.

2. Plant your roots deeply. Establishing a connection to place and values will allow you to weather the storms life inevitably brings. Be an active part of your local community and allow it to be a part of you. Know what you believe, and hold strong to your values. There is good and bad in the world. Always work for good in the place where you are planted.

3. Just because an apple tree didn’t produce fruit last year doesn’t mean it won’t this year. Let the disappointing parts of your past go and look to the present. Each day is a new day; each year is a new year. Strive to be your best each day. It’s never too late to do the right thing.

4. Sometimes an apple tree takes a year off just to rest. Being busy every moment isn’t being productive, it’s being a workaholic. It’s okay to take time off for rest and relaxation. Take care of yourself, and then when you do get back to work, you’ll be that much more productive.

5. Apple branches grow some each year. A good orchardist encourages the desirable growth by pruning away the undesirable growth. Prune the undesirable parts out of your life, and the things you want to keep in your life will grow stronger.

6. There are no perfect apple trees or perfect apples. A small blemish on an apple doesn’t stop it from being sweet to the taste and nourishing to the body. Don’t let your imperfections stop you from bringing comfort and happiness to others.

7. In my orchard, bears sometimes break limbs off the trees to get the apples, and a deer can kill a young tree by rubbing its antlers on the bark. I must protect the trees from these destructive influences. Who and what are the destructive influences in your life? Protect yourself from them.

8. An apple tree is a good thing, but a bunch of apple trees is an orchard, and that’s even better. Surround yourself with compatible people who you know and trust, and you’ll be a part of a greater good.

9. Apples don’t benefit an apple tree directly. Rather, the tree is benefitted when people or animals spread the seeds from the apples, and the seeds produce a new generation of apple trees. Likewise, share the fruits of your life with others. It may not benefit you directly, but the seeds of your generosity may come back to benefit the world in unforeseen ways.

10. Apples come in many colors, shapes, and sizes, and most of them are good. The same can be said of people. Sometimes apples start off good but then become rotten to the core. That can be said of people too.

11. Plants grow toward the light. Follow their lead and avoid the dark things of life. Surround yourself with the light of truth and kindness.

12. Old, gnarly apple trees and elderly people may look disfigured and unproductive, but both have fed and cared for many during their long lives. Respect and honor them for what they have done. Learn the lessons they share. Treasure the gift of the last fruits they have to offer.





Saturday, October 22, 2022

Autumn Update

Bear damage in the orchard.
It’s late October already, and the end of another year will soon be upon us. This has been a different sort of year at Brovold Community Orchard. We mentioned in our last post that fruit production was abysmal this year. Well, things only got worse as summer ended. Bears had been frequenting the orchard since early August. Not only was it a bad year for domestic fruit, but the berries and other wild foods that bears usually depend on were also scarce this year. This forced them to not only take advantage of our fruit trees, but to also raid garbage cans and other unnatural sources of food throughout Alberton. The amount of bear activity in town was very high this year. By mid-September, the bears hit the orchard even harder, breaking limbs and doing considerable damage to the trees. There was hardly any fruit left by then, so we picked the remaining apples and pears before they were fully ripe to prevent further damage.

Alberton badly needs to implement a Bear Smart Community program aimed at securing unnatural bear foods – garbage, bird feeders, pet and livestock food, small livestock, and fruit trees – so bears are no longer attracted into town. This would reduce the nuisance bear and human safety concerns while also protecting the bears. At least one bear was shot by enforcement officers in town this year, and several others were hit by vehicles on nearby roads.

Brovold Community Orchard intends to set an example for Alberton by constructing a state of the art multi-strand high-tensile electric bear exclusion fence around the orchard before next summer. The fence will cost a few thousand dollars, and we’ve been trying to raise the money through donations and grants. If you would like to contribute, you may do so at our Paypal donation link near the upper right corner of this post, or on our Go Fund Me page at . Your support is greatly appreciated.

Kids learning about bears.
Fall is cider pressing time at the orchard, and every year school kids arrive to learn how to
pick apples and turn them into delicious apple cider. This year, two schools came over a two week span – Alberton school as well as DeSmet school from Missoula. But with there being no apples, we had to improvise. Instead of making cider, the Alberton kids enjoyed an excellent presentation on bears by Montana Fish Wildlife & Parks’ Laura Collins and Center for Wildlife Information’s Chuck Bartlebaugh. Using mounted bears and other visual aids, the kids learned to differentiate between black and grizzly bears as well as why it is important to secure attractants from bears. The DeSmet students brought their own apples and pressed them into cider. They also toured the orchard and learned about bear damage to fruit trees first hand.

There are no guarantees when it comes to raising fruit in an orchard. Most years are good, but some years are bad. 2022 will go down as the worst fruit production year in memory. Regardless, though, we had success with completion of a new parking lot this year, and we enjoyed hosting the school kids once again. We’ve already started planning to make next year a fantastic year at Brovold Community Orchard.

Orchard tour.




Wednesday, August 31, 2022

2022 Fruit Harvest Will Be Limited

In any type of agricultural endeavor, there are good years and there are bad years. Usually, it’s driven by the weather. This happens to be a bad year for fruit production at Brovold Community Orchard. Most of our apple trees never bloomed at all this Spring. The pear trees, plum trees, and the few apple trees that did bloom failed to set much fruit. Now, with the hot weather and natural windfall, the crop is looking even worse. The very hot dry summer last year may have stressed the trees and reduced this year’s bloom, and then the cold wet Spring this year appears to have affected fruit set. We were hit by a double whammy.

In light of this, we have decided our priority must be on the school kids who visit the orchard each Fall to learn about picking apples and making apple cider. We have two schools scheduled this year, Alberton on September 30, and DeSmet School from Missoula on October 7. If there are apples left after the kids visit, we will open the orchard to public harvest then. But honestly, we expect the opportunities to be very limited. This makes us sad because our mission is to share our fruit with the community. Last year we gave away over 3,800 pounds of apples, pears, and plums. But you can’t give away what you don’t have.

As an alternative, depending on interest, we may offer a day, probably in October, when people could bring apples from their own trees, and we would help them turn the apples into cider. Sort of a community cider pressing day. If this is something you would be interested in, please let us know.

There’s a saying in baseball that “there’s always next year”. The same holds for orchards. We have a lot of exciting developments going on at Brovold Community Orchard, and we’re looking ahead to next year when the fruit harvest will hopefully be a lot better.




Tuesday, August 9, 2022

Keepin' It Going


It takes a lot to keep a community orchard going. Equipment for mowing, weed eating, and repair parts to keep the equipment operating is always a big need. Fuel to operate the equipment is another big one, especially with toady’s fuel prices. Other needs include tools, products for pest and noxious weed control, fertilizer and other soil supplements, irrigation system repair parts, and supplies for hosting events like cleaning supplies, garbage bags, and a host of other disposables. We could use more tables and folding chairs, and of course there’s always electricity and water bills that come every month.

We’ve been successful in getting grants for some of our bigger infrastructure projects, like a new parking lot and replacing our drip irrigation system. But the day-to-day operation of the orchard is largely dependent on donations from you, the public who uses the orchard. Some people donate cash to the orchard, and that is very much appreciated. It ALWAYS goes to a good use. But we’re thinking some people may prefer to donate physical items instead of cash. So, we’ve decided to put together a “Wish List” of items that would benefit the orchard. These could be new items, but even used items may be helpful if they are in good condition. Yard salers, keep an eye out for these things. They can often be had for pennies on the dollar as you know.


Our Wish List (Links are just for examples. Other sources are acceptable.)

Riding or zero turn lawn mower Link 

Gas powered string trimmers (weed eaters) Link 

Tank/sprayer to tow behind UTV Link 

Large irrigation sprinkler Link 

Folding tables Link 

Folding chairs Link 

Metal T-Posts Link 

Field fencing Link 

Garden hoses, good quality Link  

High nitrogen fertilizer Link 

Grass seed, lawn & pasture Link 

Garbage bags, paper cups, paper plates, plastic spoons, etc

Home Depot or Lowes gift cards

Of course if you would prefer to give money in support of the community orchard, cash donations are easy to make and always welcome. Thank you for supporting the orchard and your community.



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