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In April 2014, Huey Coleman arrived at MOFGA’s Maine Heritage Orchard, camera in hand and ready to film. It was our first planting day, and a big group of volunteers was eager to put 102 apple trees into the ground. For us it was the moment this piece of land became an orchard. For Huey it was the beginning of a 1-1/2-year project documenting and learning all about apples, the heritage orchard and the revived culture surrounding both.

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This is often the unasked question that arises when I deliver library presentations or teach hands-on workshops on growing organic tree fruit. I can see the look on people’s faces change when I mention the backpack sprayer, as if a dark storm cloud has shadowed their sunny afternoon.

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This past winter was one of the coldest and longest winters we’ve experienced in Maine in recent years, and that brought up questions about the cold hardiness of our fruit trees and the potential for winter injury to them.

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When I speak of medlars, people are apt to assume that I’m referring to folks who stick their noses into other folks’ business, but in this case I’m talking about a little-known and less-grown fruit. Despite its botanical name, Mespilus germanica, and its long cultivation in northern Europe, the plant actually originated in southwestern Asia, especially the Black Sea coast of Turkey.

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Most Maine orchards typically grow apples and pears – hardy, long-lived pome fruit that withstand cold Northern winters and the tests of time. However, stone fruits of the genus Prunus (peaches, plums, cherries, nectarines, apricots) are a pleasant addition to the small orchard or backyard planting.

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Groundcover draawing by Toki OshimaIn the MOFGA orchards, three consecutive nights between 26 and 29 F during the last weekend in April caught plums in bloom, pears about to pop and apples mostly at pink – all stages that are extremely vulnerable to freezing temperatures, resulting in the loss of fruit buds.

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Top work on a MOFGA plum treeIn my last article, I wrote about shifting weather patterns and their effects on our fruit trees. I wrote that the 2012 season started about two weeks earlier than what has been considered normal, as in 2010 when we had a freeze near Mother’s Day, and that earlier bloom times meant a higher risk of blossoms and fruit buds being hit by a late spring frost or freeze when they are most vulnerable. I was hoping to avoid another frost during apple bloom, but that did not happen, so the MOFGA orchards have few fruits this year.

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Brown rotRegardless of where you fall on the climate change/global warming discussion, weather patterns are becoming erratic, such as the two days above 80 F in March. This season is on the same track as the 2010 season, when apple bloom was close to two weeks earlier than average.

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Preparing a whip and tongue graftEach of us carries snapshot memories of important and somewhat random events from our lives. In one of my memories, for example, I’m 30 feet up in a tree that I have named the Three Sisters because of its three huge trunks rising from the same spot in the ground. I grafted each of its branches over nine or 10 years, and 18 varieties grow on the tree.

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Cornell University Berry Program archived webinars for berry farmers.

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According to Stella Otto, author of the award winning book the Backyard Orchardist: A complete guide to growing fruit trees in the home garden, the secret to growing big fruits is to remember that less is more.

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Stella Otto, award winning author of the Backyard Berry Book and the Backyard Orchardist, shares these tips on picking and preserving backyard fruits to help you reap the full benefits of the harvest.

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Autumn olive (Eleagnus umbellata) is an easy-to-grow berry bush that could provide a lot of free freezer berries for a lot of Mainers; that grows almost anywhere, with zero maintenance or care; and that fixes its own nitrogen and improves the soil.

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Legend has it that George Washington’s pruning skills sent his cherry tree to an untimely demise. The fruit trees in your garden don’t have to suffer a similar fate, if you heed the following timely tips.

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Yellow raspberries, lingonberries and gooseberries are delicious delicacies that are often difficult to find in stores. However, as interest in unusual fruit spreads, aficionados are discovering that growing these and other small fruit in their backyard gardens is very rewarding and enjoyable.

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Mulberry Tree – Dover PublicationsAs a child I knew where every ripening fruit and berry grew, and I watched for them to ripen, eating a lot of unripe fruit in anticipation. Other than peaches, mulberries were the center of my attention. Not content with waiting for the berries to drop, I learned to climb trees to get to the first ripe fruits.

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“Amelanchier taxonomy is fraught with difficulty and certainly not clear-cut,” says Michael Dirr in The Interactive Manual of Woody Landscape Plants. "It is reasonably fair to state that what one orders and receives is not necessarily the same in the world of serviceberries."

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Amelanchier laevisWhile traveling through Ontario last summer, my partner and I stopped at Niagara Falls and then the Whirlpool Rapids. Neither of us is fond of crowds or tourist traps, but the energy of all that water inspired an awe that made our tourist status worthwhile. Seeking a quieter picnic spot, we stopped at Whirlpool Rapids. Next to the parking lot was a large stand of Juneberry trees, laden beyond belief with ripe fruit.

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An 82-year-old inventor from Nashua, N.H., has designed a new blueberry rake. Lester Gidge, a mechanical engineer who holds more than 100 patents, was in Down East Maine a couple of years ago when he happened to watch workers raking blueberries in a barren.

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Close to 2 acres of the Common Ground Country Fair’s permanent site is being planted to an experimental orchard. Another quarter acre or so will be a tree nursery. Both sites will be test plots for soil amendments, cover crops, rootstocks, and new and old fruit cultivars, hardy and tender. A portion of the orchard will be devoted to fruit cultivars that originated in Maine over the last 200 years or more. As you visit these experimental plots and watch them grow over the years at the Fairgrounds, you may cultivate your own desire to start an orchard. Here are some tips.

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