I have a book called The Apple Grower that describes planting trees this way: "The planting of a tree is a sacred act. Each time we open up the earth, layer out the developing roots, and tamp the soil back in place we embrace our mutual destiny with trees...."
It’s a long book, full of lovely pictures of a bearded man tenderly interacting with his fruit trees. Many of the pages are spent discussing in remarkable detail the beneficial microbes, insects, mycorrhizal communities and ground covers that make an orchard thrive. It is all very specific.
We plated our 14 fruit trees on Sunday, and it was not in any way a spiritual experience, except perhaps in that way that some rituals are meant to push you to a point where you are totally broken down so that you can be rebuilt and made stronger.
There was hail, sleet, snow AND rain. Wind gusts of 50 mph (“Plant on a calm, quiet, partly cloudy day", specified the directions that came with the trees, seemingly oblivious to the region's Aprils). The rich “channery silt loam” soil of the farm gave way after 10 inches to clay, which meant that our 18" deep holes, in the completely saturated mid-April conditions in upstate NY, filled with water that did not drain. Even the channery silt loam soil that we were back-filling with was, by this point, just mud that stuck to shovels, boots and gloves. In other words, nothing like Book Soil. Book Soil must be somehow loose and loamy (even down to 18 inches!) and moist but not sodden (even in April!). I required several pep-talks from the Big Man (by this time very practiced in pep-talks).
But, by the end of the (extremely long) day, the sun came out, the trees all stood and had remained standing in the gusts, the weather report predicted drizzles instead of downpours that might give the soil a chance to dry out and the pep-talks had worked their magic. Trees want to live, just like the garden plants that I was so nervous about last year (reading too many garden books), the piglets that I was convinced were too small and silly to survive (reading too many pig blogs and books) and the uber-free-range chickens who, really at this point, are nearly feral and don’t seem to need us at all (reading too many magazine articles about chickening). Eight to ten inches of good, loose-ish topsoil, upon completing some research, is actually outstanding; the average is 2-8 inches. The numerous rocks in our ground, the existing roots of goldenrod, field brush and hay and the sloped planting site should help the drainage. It might not have been quite a spiritual communing, but it is extremely fulfilling to look out the back window and see rows of trees willing to give it a go.
We also planted hops! For making beer to drown our muddy sorrows in.