Guest Rant: Low-Hanging Fruit


Y’all welcome Friend of Rant William Alexander, with this interesting horticultural report:

It seems like I’d just barely picked the apples from my 4-tree orchard at my home in New York’s Mid-Hudson Valley last fall when a freak October snowstorm come through, the foot of wet, heavy snow clinging to the leaves like glue, dragging two of the semi-dwarf trees to the ground, leaving them uprooted. When the snow melted I tried to upright them in case some roots remained intact, but it was impossible – and pointless. The average life of a semi-dwarf fruit tree is 15-20 years, and these were 18 years old. Plus there were virtually no roots left attached. The next good storm was going to fell my old friends one way or another. And these trees are my old friends. They were the first things I planted on my property (preceding even the vegetable garden) when we moved here.

I looked on the bright side: my 4-tree orchard was now an easier-to-manage 2-tree orchard, and I had the late fall pruning ­– an arduous task that I never look forward to – done in half the time. I’d planned to cut up the fallen apple trees for firewood, or even wood for smoking, but one thing led to another and I never got around to it before winter set in.

Judging by the photo, perhaps I ought to wait a bit. “I’m naught dead yet!” the trees are crying in Monty Python-esque fashion. “Feeling bettah now!” Both have leafed out, and one of them, an Empire, is in full bloom, roots or no. Well, you can’t cut down a living apple tree; it just isn’t done. So I’ve put away the saw for a while. I’m going to tend these fallen trees with the same care I give my standing ones, and see what happens. In fact, I rather like the idea of an apple tree that is no taller than a blueberry bush! No more arm-aching reaching to thin the fruit out; no stepladder needed for harvest; I’ll just bend over to pick the fruit! If this works out, I may plant a row of trees in a berm at a 45-degree angle.

Except there is one slight problem: if the fruit is so easy for me to reach, it’s also easy for any uninvited visitors to reach. My Empire tree could easily become the local snack bar for every groundhog, squirrel, and possum – and whatever else wanders by – in the neighborhood. Still, I’ve got nothing to lose except a little labor by trying. These trees have been very, very good to me over the years. This may be my last chance to pay them back.

I’ll check back during the season with updates.



William Alexander is the author of The $64 Tomato: How One Many Nearly Lost His Sanity, Spent a Fortune, and Endured an Existential Crisis in the Quest for the Perfect Garden and, most recently, 52 Loaves: A Half-baked Adventure. His website is


  1. Thanks for the introduction.

    Love his new book cover, looks like a Peter Mayle or Jacques Pepin book.

    Then I see the promo blurb BY Jacques Pepin…. small world.

    Wish bread didn’t need an oven. Too many months in summer, in the South, it seems like torture to use it.

    Garden & Be Well, Tara

  2. I look forward to reading your book. I’m working on a $64 Brandywine myself, as I do every year. And just finished writing about it.

  3. I like any story whose moral is “See what the magic of procrastination can bring!!”. It will be interesting to see if the tree can hold the fruit at that odd angle. I’ll definitely check out the new book, The $64 Tomato was quite entertaining.

  4. I’m not sure why, but I too like to see examples of plants clinging to life under what seem to be impossible conditions. I enjoyed the $64 tomato book and am sure I’ll enjoy the 52 loaves book as well, since bread-making has become a passion with me recently. (Although the Sullivan Street Bakery no-knead bread is pretty close to a perfect loaf.)

    (I’d also like Cindy to explain her interesting statement about So CA planters.)

  5. A very heartwarming story! I enjoy your writing style, too. I’ll have to pick up your book!

    And on Cindy’s comment . . . I grew up in SoCal and never saw or heard of that. It’s a big place, though.

  6. I had a similar thing happen with a plum tree. This one was particularly neglected by the old owners and one huge branch broke off in a windstorm in the fall. Procrastination had it hanging by a few splinters of bark in the spring. Come summer that branch was laden with plums that were very easy to pick!

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