Once there was a tree who loved a little boy. Every day the boy would come to the tree to eat her apples, swing from her branches, or slide down her trunk… and the tree was happy.
– Shel Silverstein, from The Giving Tree
Since moving to Farm Dover a dozen years ago, Ed and I have planted over 1000 trees. Trees of all kinds: Mostly native and all sizes (from those we grew from an acorn to those delivered in 20-gallon pots); trees that will fruit or flower or produce nuts, or just pretty leaves; trees that the birds will be happy to build nests in and eat the seeds from; trees that are good for climbing and trees that are good for sitting under.
The trees of Farm Dover fall mostly under Ed's domain. He is the one who checks on them most often, clearing away weeds and vines before adding a layer of mulch, sprinkling a scoop of fertilizer, or fastening a wire fence around the base to protect them from rabbits or deer. When first planted, he is the one who takes the watering job most seriously, heading out with buckets of water for weeks at a time to make sure new trees are adjusting well and getting plenty of water. He is the one to prune broken branches or straighten a misshapen trunk.
Unlike Shel Silverstein's The Giving Tree, I like to think that we have a symbiotic relationship with our trees – a give, as well as a take.
This week, the trees are in the giving mode.
Today, Ed and I headed out to check on the half dozen chestnut trees that grow along our drive and in the field behind the orchard.
From one tree we gathered a bucketful of spiky burrs that had just split, revealing one, sometimes two, shiny chestnuts. Warning: gloves needed! The burrs on the other chestnut trees are still green and tightly closed. I'll refrigerate the ones we harvested today until the others pop open and then we will roast them on an open fire and eat them hot, or boil them and turn them into a silky soup.
Daily I check the ripening pawpaws on trees that we planted five or six years ago. Once, they have turned from rock solid to having a bit of give, I pick them, before the opossums or raccoons get to them. Once they have softened, I'll turn them into ice cream or cheesecake or just slice them open and eat them cold, straight from the refrigerator.
Grandchild Hazel was here two weekends ago and we took a stroll down the path just past my Girl Cave, where four hazelnut trees (shaggy bushes) grow. We picked all that we could reach of the husky jackets, each containing three or four hazelnuts. We let them dry for a couple days before popping them out of their jackets. I'll crack them as I need them for recipes as they will last in their shells for several months.
There are walnuts and hickories (and someday pecans) to pick; mulberries, wild plums, apples, pears and peaches (occasionally) from our orchard to munch on; redbud flowers and magnolia blooms to add to salads; spruce tips to turn into ice cream; juniper, elder, sassafras, sumac and spice berries to flavor drinks, and maple and walnut trees to tap for syrup. The trees seem happy to share their bounty. We, in return, are grateful –– and happy to return the love by taking good care of them.