2017-07-26 / From the Forest

Take Care of What You Got

By Ryan Trapani, Executive Director, CFA

“After this, I’m just giving up,” said a member to me last week near Jeffersonville. I was visiting the member’s property on a forest consultation to inspect her second round of fruit tree plantings. Previously, her pear tree plantings had succumbed to fire blight – a destructive bacterial disease. On another property near Grahamsville, one highly motivated deer hunter planted over 400 apple trees about eight years ago to feed deer with future apples. He protected them inside cages from the browsing action of deer. Instead, he ended up feeding the voles! After four years, roughly 80 percent of his apple trees were dead due to the girdling action from voles. Voles are mouse-like creatures that hide beneath the grass or snow and chew on the young inner bark of trees.

A Plethora of Young Apple Tree Pests

The underlying theme here is that establishing fruit trees isn’t easy, and maybe it never was. Still, I’m thinking we have more challenges today than my grandfather and his father had in this realm*. (*My grandfather did live through the Depression & WW2). For instance, my grandfather – Constanzio (Cos) Trapani, born in Highland, Ulster County in 1921 – wasn’t a deer hunter. And my father – John Trapani, born in Highland in 1950 – was more of a rabbit hunter in childhood. It’s not that neither of these individuals didn’t aspire to be deer hunters; it’s that deer hunting wasn’t an option in Highland then. There were few, if any deer. Both my grandfather and father could plant a tree in the backyard without concern that their little seedling would become mother’s milk for a newborn fawn or a sparring partner for an angry buck.

And then there’s me, born in New Paltz in 1981. In 1980s New Paltz, it was a treat to see a deer. When we moved to the adjacent Town of Gardiner in the early 1990s, deer were as common as squirrels. Today, my fruit trees are protected behind an eight-foot fence. Trees that are outside the fence are protected inside tree tubes or cages. Of course, the one peach tree I left unprotected was stripped on one side by a buck rub; I should know better, right? I also do my part by harvesting some deer from the local woods each year in order to reduce deer-browse pressure and provide some locally-raised red meat.

Minimum security fences, tubes, and cages aren’t enough to repeal the ravages caused by fungi, insects, and diseases. I have my neighbor’s cedar trees raining down cedar-apple rust spores over the fence and onto my apple trees’ leaves. Speaking of rain. It took me two years to figure out where the wettest and driest spots are in the yard that are most conducive to drowning or saving a newly planted apple tree as well.

And Bears

So, what challenges face the next generation? Well, bears have been on the rise in the last 10 or so years and seem to be continuing on that trend. So, I’m thinking that when my apple trees begin to finally produce fruit, and my daughter – Metta Mae Trapani, born in 2013 in Samsonville, Ulster County – goes to harvest this fruit, she’ll be competing with black bears scaling the fence or at least “stalking the perimeter.” I’m not sure how I’m going to deal with that. Electric fence? I guess this Trapani and future ones might be less apt to be a rabbit or deer hunter, but instead a bear hunter?!

First, Use What You Got

The point is that these apples I’m trying to grow aren’t cheap. The fence is quite a bit of money in materials and certainly a lot in time. In growing anything, there are always variables unforeseen. However, many properties I visit already have established apple trees. I hope that member in Jeffersonville doesn’t “give up.” But, she does have an already established and healthy apple tree someone planted many decades ago. Other members have volunteers or wild apple trees on their properties, and some of these trees are good tasting or at least serve wildlife well. Apple trees – once established – seem extremely hardy and tough; they’re just sometimes difficult to establish. It seems far cheaper – in money and/or time – to restore an established apple tree via cutting out competing vegetation or proper pruning than it is to establish a tree; at least that’s my experience so far. Another option is to graft onto an established tree with a desirable variety and forego the variables of planting with uncertain rootstock in an unknown soil medium. So, before you begin planting, take a look in the woods or its edges and see if there is something worth taken care of that you already got, and “never give up, never surrender.” www.catskillforest.org.

Editor’s note: Ryan Trapani is the executive director of the Catskill Forest Association.

Return to top

Click here for digital edition
2017-07-26 digital edition