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Since the club’s founding, one of its major service projects has been preserving and rehabilitating the orchard at Johnson Farm. Before the BIFC stepped up to maintain the grove, its future was uncertain. There were even plans to turn the land into a barley field.
“My proposal at the time,” Murphy said, “was to try to create an orchard that would not only benefit us as far as providing a ready source of different fruit varieties for display and scion wood for grafting, but that would also give the public an educational opportunity—just to see what you can do with an old tree.”
For the last six years, the club has been pruning and grafting its way through the 67 apple, pear, plum and walnut trees on the property. Both on Johnson Farm and in backyards around the island, the grafting efforts have yielded varieties of fruit that aren’t widely available in commercial nurseries. One such variety is the Pendragon apple, which originated in 12th-century England. Its candy-red skin and matching flesh make the Pendragon not only one of the most beautiful apples, but also the richest in antioxidants. Although it’s a fairly rare variety, the BIFC is cultivating scions.
“Here’s this ancient apple that virtually no one knows about, and yet our club offers people the chance to grow it in their backyard,” Murphy said.
Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic has interrupted the BIFC’s monthly meetings and summer garden tours. Despite the obstacles posed by the virus, the club continues to operate remotely. In March, the heart of grafting season, it managed to provide islanders with enough cuttings to keep busy under stay-at-home orders.
“We had one of our members order 44 pear and apple trees,” Murphy said. That order may seem tall, but it perfectly encapsulates the giving relationship at the club’s core. As Upsall put it, “We are dirt-under-our-fingernails, in-the-garden-all-day kind of people, and everyone’s just really excited to help each other out.”
Whether cultivating one tree or 44, the BIFC is here to help. Although the coming months hold uncertainties, it may very well be an excellent season for apples.
More at the BIFC Facebook group or bifruitclub.wordpress.com.
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