The Ford Family Orchard

Across Central Road and towards Ford Cove is a provincial park which contains the Ford Family Orchard. Since the park was created, no work has been done that orchard. In recent times, Heron Rocks has taken on a project to rehabilitate that orchard. A committee has been set up to work on that project. While they are part of Heron Rocks Friendship Centre Society and report to the Board, the Committee operates with a degree of independence

The Ford Orchard Project has two central goals:

  1. 1. to restore the orchard now known as the Ford Orchard, by consulting an arborist and undertaking the work necessary to identify and rehabilitate the productive fruit trees, clean up the ground around the trees by removing blackberry, and identify, assess and rehabilitate the sequoias planted by the Link-Parson occupants.
  2. 2. Leaf House will be assessed for modest renovation to restore it. Signage will be created to “interpret” the building and this signage will be installed in such a way the aesthetics of the building are not affected.

A management plan will be developed to complete these renovations and to maintain the Ford Orchard and Leaf House. This management plan will form the foundation of the fund-raising required to support the Ford Orchard Project.

. To get the project started, the HRFC Board provided funds for the Ford Orchard Committee to engage the expertise of Renee Poisson. That effort resulted in a report which follows.

OVERVIEW OF ORCHARD AREA

the beauty of the space as it is

Walking into the orchard from the Leaf House I slipped into another era. A sense of a mysterious past mixed with the present life of fruit trees standing in tall ochre grass. This historic orchard space felt lively and peaceful.

I wondered what First Nation had traditionally used this area. I do not know if this territory is ceded or unceded.

Walking into the Orchard area is also walking into a whole ecosystem now containing the orchard. Remarkably after more than a century, some of the trees are vigorous and productive. Perhaps the fruit from these can be used in some way to keep people involved and enthusiastic about this historical preservation. I don’t envision trying to re-create the orchard as it was—planted with production in mind. I think the gaps and spaces are important now for the different plants and grasses and wildlife that no doubt is at home here.

It is a rare opportunity for the public to experience in such a beautiful setting the history that has made what the province is today. It would be sad if the orchard was to disappear from lack of care. It’s a living museum of some of the vital history of this part of the island. It references a time of fruit export and employment. Using the Leaf House as an information centre makes it possible to offer all the historic information that has been already collected by the residents of Hornby Island. I was fascinated to learn that ships docked here in Ford’s Cove to load fruit from this orchard to take to the mainland, an ironic reversal of our current economy.

The location was well chosen. The living trees testify to this, having lasted well over 100 years with little care. The soil and the drainage appear to be excellent. About the edges of the orchard the alder trees grow with Red Osier. Blackberries have tangled in. The edge of the orchard close to the road is damper– the rich soil sprouting sedges and spearmint. In the middle of the orchard I noted some thistle in the tall grass. But not so much as to make me think the soil was impoverished. The grass is thick and even in its distribution. With some care now the fruit trees could be reinvigorated to last for many more years.

It is very fitting that it is now a park and open to and preserved for the public. Without BC parks the orchard and history would be lost; the permanent community on Hornby Island being too small to maintain this property as a park and orchard space. Now the thousands of visitors who come to Hornby every year have the privilege of exploring this magical place.

INITIAL CARE FOR THE ORCHARD PARK

First—- Recording the beauty of this space as it is. Photo documenting would be excellent, in the beginning and throughout the ongoing process. This would be displayed in the Leaf House Information Centre.

Second—- Give the remaining trees the chance to thrive and bear fruit:

  1. A. One of the first things that could be done without great expense would be to cut the grass from the trunk out to the drip line of each accessible tree leaving the clippings to mulch, compost and enrich the soil. Cutting it short leaves more soil moisture for the tree roots. Cutting paths through the grass from one tree to the other would make access easy, offering a pleasant walk through the whole orchard. Perhaps a picnic table or two could be built.

The tall grass has a beauty of its own. Areas can be left, paths cut through. This photo shows how the forest is moving in on the orchard

It’s hard to see the fruit tree in the midst of the vigorous alders growing up around and through it.

  1. B. As soon as possible fell the alder trees that are now shading and crowding some of the fruit trees at the bottom of the orchard, finishing the felling by cutting the stumps level to the ground and leaving the roots with their gift of nitrogen nodules to enrich the soil. The trunks can be firewood, the branches chipped and spread as mulch.
  1. C. Remove the blackberries where they cover the fruit trees. I understand blackberries are a resource for the local community so consultation would be important.  Patches for harvest could be left away from the trees.  Hiring a team of people and a chipper for this task would be ideal. The resulting chips (including those from the alder branches) could be left as mulch for the trees or compost.    
  1. D. Treatment of the existing fruit trees. I referred to Jed Young’s tree count and description from 2004, finding that in the last 13 years there have been some changes. However it has been useful information and a good starting point.

1. PLUM TREES

I believe from seeing the spacing and the shape of the leaves that many of the trees identified as plum are probably rootstock.  This understock produces small round fruit, is vigorous, grows and spreads from seed easily. If the community uses this fruit the trees could perhaps be thinned to an appropriate spacing, and pruned. Some have grown rampantly and would need significant pruning if they are to be kept.

an irregularly spaced group of plum trees probably rootstock. In some cases the original (dead) trunks can be seen

I also came across some varietal plums which are probably Italian prune plums, or perhaps greengages. The prune plum would have been best for shipping. However many of these now have black knot and should be removed and burned as this fungus spreads readily.

2. PEAR TREES

On the whole these have become giant and unproductive.

They are impressive to see and might be fun to climb. To become fruitful again they need radical pruning.

The first step, and the only one for the first year of renovation, is one major cut to bring the height down to half the present height. This cut would need to be made in sections, a series of manageable pieces of trunk and branches so as not to damage the rest of the tree. The finished cut should be to an available branch so as not to leave a stub that has no hope of healing. This major trunk removal is best done in the summer in July or August. This will result in less of an over-vigorous growth reaction to this severe pruning. Over the next 3 or 4 years the tree can gradually be pruned into balance.

This pear is picturesque; to be fruitful it will need to be reduced to half its size over a period of 3 or 4 years.

3. APPLES AND RECLINING TREES

As it is the middle of July the trees are in full growth so it is easy to see the state of their health or lack of vigor. The fruit, far from mature, is still small and mostly green. These examples will give a sense of the presence of the trees, unkempt as they are, and of some of the issues and possibilities of the orchard now and in the future. A typical renovation pruning program could be followed for these productive apple trees.

Reclining trees still bearing could be left and cared for a testament to the trees will to live and be productive. They could be pruned and cleared of grass and brambles. With roots still in the ground the tree is still a tree!

This is no ordinary orchard!  These survivors have created shapes of beauty.

4. RESTORATION BY REPLANTING

There are known problems with replanting in an orchard where trees have grown for years. See article tp://extension.psu.edu/plants/tree-fruit/news/2013/avoiding-orchard-replant-problems The area planned for replant would need to be dug deeply and all old roots removed and the soil either fumigated or replaced. This is the general rule. There could be of course some experimental planting in open areas or perhaps at the edges where the alder have been cut.

There looks to be a lot of empty space in the orchard, but replanting is complex. Perhaps the best way to keep the varieties is to graft scions onto rootstock that can be planted in individual orchards or gardens.

Thanks to Don Peterson for the photos.

Please find in the link below a pdf report on the Leaf House Inspection …
Leaf House Visual Inspection Report


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