Then I put together what I like to call my wish list. Things that sound fun to grow, or to eat. Sometimes I find a new favorite- ground cherries were something I took a chance on a few years back. They look like tiny tomatillos and taste like a pineapple. They are fun, tasty, and folks now come by the farm stand looking for them, so they've become a must-grow plant each year. Others may take a few tries to get right, I'm trying salsify again this year. I planted it once but had no luck germinating. But something that looks like a white carrot and tastes like an oyster sounds intriguing enough to try again. Last year, I planted calendula for the first time. A flower similar to a marigold, it blooms all summer and through the fall, plus the flowers are used to make healing salves. It was a huge success, I saved seeds and am looking forward to growing them again, and I even have made some calendula salve that I love to use on cuts and scrapes. (We even offer it in our Etsy shop, and will be excited to have it at the farm stand when we reopen too!) I'm always interested in new herbs and perennial flowers, I'm planning on trying anise for the first time this year. Winter days are great for daydreaming and planning, so I'll be looking over the herbs and flowers one more time to see if anything else strikes my fancy.
One thing that has been on my wish list for a few years now are fruit trees. We've planted some in the past, but without protective fencing they were eaten by critters wild and domestic, as deer, sheep, and goats love apple, peach or pear saplings. We've also lost the last of the old apple trees that were here for years. Each time was sad, but even trees have a life span, and these apples were over 100 years old. Two years ago, Seed Savers Exchange began offering heirloom apple trees, custom grafted after your order and shipped the following year. This put stars in my eyes and a dream in my head. Apples are a prime example of how our focus on a few select cultivars has led to the loss of historic varieties and genetic diversity in our food system. Something like 90% of the apples found here in America in George Washington's time are commercially extinct. You can't buy an apple to taste or a tree to plant for 9 out of every 10 varieties that used to exist. Many are simply gone forever. Seed Savers has undertaken an orchard project to try to preserve rare varieties that are still out there and make them available again. I'm passionate about historic varieties of plants, bulbs and fruit so I would rather pay more for a tree and wait that year than just plant whatever is cheap and easy to get my hands on. If you're planting something that may be here for a century, it's worth thinking about what you really, truly want, and my heart says heirlooms. I've looked over the 12 varieties available this year and have picked out 2 that I'm thinking are what I want. Maybe 2 of each. And although it's over a year away, I'm thinking about where to put them. I am thinking that the space next to the garden, where we raise meat birds in movable pens, might be the ticket. 12'-15' trees won't shade out the garden, the space is underutilized and close to the house, plus the shade from the apple trees would be a bonus for the meat chickens on hot summer days. We've also been considering adding bees, and a fenced-in orchard would also make an ideal area to place a hive, and it would be on the edge of the garden where they would be finding food and flowers to pollinate.
Part of farming is learning to think ahead, not just to dinner tonight or plans for next weekend, but seasons and years in advance. In my winter daydreams, I'm seeing small, sturdy trees covered in white blossoms of spring and humming with honeybees, with the promise of crisp, juicy apples to come in the fall. The reality is that these trees don't even exist yet. They will be grafted only if I order them, then wait an entire year. Then planting and letting them become established, putting down roots and forming sturdy branches will be their job next year and the year after. It can take 3-5 years before getting fruit from an apple tree, so this is a long term project. But I don't let that discourage me, I choose instead to focus on the inspiration of a project that, if successful, should outlive me, and give me, my family, and eventually my farm stand customers, the opportunity to taste a part of our food heritage we would otherwise never experience.