Five months after volunteers planted a community apple orchard in Great Bend Brit Spaugh Zoo, the dream has taken root and, so far, is flourishing.
Wednesday morning, Barton County Extension Agent Alicia Boor visited the planting and was pleased to note the growth visible on the young trees. There are three varieties of apples, and each have anywhere from 18 to 24 inches of new growth visible on branches that benefitted from a cool, wet spring and consistent watering throughout the summer.
This has been in part due to the efforts of Barton County Extension Master Gardeners, who volunteer at the zoo, taking care of barrel plantings throughout the grounds, as well as frequent visits by Boor, who has filled five-gallon buckets with water for each of the 12 trees throughout the hotter weeks of the summer, allowing the water to slowly trickle down to the root systems. The efforts have paid off, as evidenced by the fact not one tree was knocked down during the sudden winds that blew down branches and caused damage to structures in the city last week.
“The roots have become established and the top growth is amazing,” she said. “The orchard is off to a great start.”
Taking a closer look at the trees, it’s clear the wind did manage to do damage to some of the leaves, many of which appear torn, but the damage is only superficial. Also, some evidence of cedar apple rust can be seen, which Boor says is prevalent in the area, but can be controlled with regular treatment. The circular brown areas in the centers of leaves are the tell-tale signs. The disease only affects the leaves, and is not systemic, Boor said.
As fall approaches, the trees are beginning to show signs of slowing down, She looks forward to March, 2016, when she and Master Gardeners will be able to prune and shape the branches for optimum production.
“There are so many possibilities for what can happen with the orchard,” Boor said. “It’s really up to the community.”
The apples that are anticipated in a few years will have several uses. Volunteers who help with the orchard could take a share, and those that fall to the ground or are of lesser quality will become treats for the zoo animals. Branches from prunings will also be used by the animals. And there will be apples to donate to the food bank.
But food isn’t all the orchard will provide. Because it is set in a public space, photographers could easily use it for an outside backdrop. Picnics and play around the orchard are another possibility. If civic groups, church groups, and youth clubs are looking for projects, the orchard would be a ready resource.
The orchard is the result of a grant awarded through the Golden Belt Community Foundation, and has been well supported by the City of Great Bend, and the Great Bend Tree Board which lent muscle and equipment in April to turn strips of soil to prepare the planting beds, as well as providing the trees and assistance planting and installing weed barrier and donated mulch.
Since then, Kansas Brick and Tile has pledged pallets of red and black brick that Boor envisions lining the beds to increase the effectiveness of the weed barrier and enhance the beauty of the orchard. Exactly how the brick will be used is under consideration, as is a more permanent set-up for watering the trees. Plans for the area close to the Butterfly House, which is in the adjacent area to the orchard, are yet to be finalized, and Boor is reluctant to make any permanent improvement until it’s certain work won’t have to be redone. The Great Bend Tree Board will provide signs and markers for the orchard, and these, too, should be completed sometime in the spring, Boor said.