By Meg Corey, from Sheila Connolly's Orchard Mysteries
I never thought I'd find myself saying that winter is too short, but if you run an apple orchard, like I do, it's the quietest time of the year. Not that there's nothing happening—there's plenty of clean-up, and you have to prune while the trees are dormant (and pruning is necessary if you want to encourage lots of apples to grow). Plus there's sitting down with all the inventory and sales numbers, to see if you actually made money on the last harvest. There's doing general maintenance on the farm machines, like our elderly tractor, to keep them going for at least one more year because I can't afford to replace them just yet. There's ordering things like picking baskets and crates, because some of the old ones fall apart each year no matter how careful you are. There's looking at the employment records for our pickers from the past year and figuring out if we need them all back, or even if we have to add a few. Too many pickers and I waste money; too few and it's a scramble to get the apples harvested and to their buyers on time. It's a real juggling act.
Last year was the first year I'd completed a harvest, and my orchard manager Bree had to hold my hand through the whole process. Just when I thought we'd figured things out, we ended up planting another three acres of baby trees, on land that I'm renting from my more-than-just-a-neighbor Seth Chapin. Not in the original plan! But there was this nursery that was going out of business, and they gave us a really good deal that we couldn't pass up. Which meant that Bree and I spent a chunk of time digging holes and planting baby trees. They won't even produce apples for a while, but it's an investment in the future of my orchard.
When I first arrived in Granford—was it really only a year ago?—I wouldn't have said there was any future at all. I was going to sell the house and leave as fast as I could. That plan didn't quite work out, but I'm glad things changed, because now I have a home, work that's hard but rewarding, friends, and Seth. Now, if I can just avoid tornadoes, hailstorms and a plague of locusts, this may be a very good year.
Here's a quick peek at the cover for the next Orchard Mystery, Golden Malicious (October 2013). We're still not 100% sure this is the final version, but close!