Over 40 people turned up at the North Charlestown Orchard last weekend to help restore it to its former state. Many were from Charlestown or grew up there, some serve on the Charlestown Conservation Commission, and others came from as far away as Keene and Concord. Aaron Cinquemani, the principal of North Charlestown Community School and Charlestown Middle School, welcomed the group and shared some history about the orchard.
The orchard was originally planted by Stanley Wilson in 1930, who lived across the street and stored the apples in the big barn. The Stacey brothers moved into the house and ran the orchard after him. The Allen Brothers took care of pruning and spraying the orchard for some decades. It became known as the Eisnor apple orchard during that time and was open to the public for autumn picking days until 1988, when it was purchased by the Farwell Trustees with the intention of preserving it for the school and other public use.
Though healthy, the trees in the orchard had not been pruned for at least 30 years. Under the guidance of professional apple pruners from Unity, Stan McCumber and Jenny Wright, volunteers learned the main principles of pruning old apple trees, which include removing dead wood, thinning out branches, letting light in, improving the shape of the tree and lowering the overall height.
Many of the limbs that needed to be pruned were very tall, so care was taken to cut them out in stages. Once the limbs were down, members of Boyscout Troop #31 from Charlestown, dragged them out from under the tree. Then, other volunteers used handsaws and pruning shears to cut off the smaller branches. The firewood was placed in one pile and the brush was piled up and then fed through Bruce Ferland’s wood chipper to make mulch. Some of the North Charlestown students hauled the buckets of mulch and spread them under the trees that had already been pruned. Applewood is rich in nutrients and chips should be spread around the drip edge (where water drips off the outer branches) of the growing tree. It was truly a family affair as even the youngest children helped out by picking up sticks to put in the brush pile.
In the middle of the workday, a special guest arrived, Russell Allen, one of the men who used to prune the orchard when the Eisnor’s owned it. He spoke of the days when the orchard was open to public picking, remembering that the orchard was picked clean in just a few weeks. At that time, there were more lower branches making the apples more accessible for harvest in the fall. They didn’t use ladders to pick, but climbed the trees. He was delighted to see so many people working to preserve this old orchard and restore it for the benefit of the school and community.
By the end of the morning, one third of the orchard had been pruned and cleaned up. This was an incredible success due to everyone’s willingness to help out. In fact, Victor St. Pierre was having so much fun up in the trees, he would have just kept on pruning if given the chance. A delicious lunch was served at the school cafeteria for the volunteers. But the work isn’t finished yet. In the coming years, the rest of the orchard will also need to be pruned. Then, regular maintenance will begin. The school is looking for volunteers or an organization to help take on the care of this orchard fulfilling the wish of the Farwell Trustees to see it enjoyed by future generations.
Donations will be accepted for this project and used to pay for pruning and to buy new apple trees and perennial pollinator plants that will bring bees to the orchard year-round. Students will take part in a Green-up Day this spring to plant the new trees and pollinator gardens. Donations will also go towards fertilizer for the trees, renting bee hives during the blooming season, and paying for biennial pruning. Sullivan County Conservation District (SCCD) will be handling all donations. Checks can be made out to “SCCD” and sent to 95 County Farm Rd. Unity, NH 03743, please write “orchard” in the memo.
Apple Pruning Manuals written and illustrated by Jenny Wright can be found for free on the Conservation District’s website: www.sccdnh.org/local-agriculture.