Update from the Hackley Orchard

The butterflies are finally settling in to Hackley’s orchard! Over 20 different types of butterflies and bees have arrived!

Walking through the newly-flowering Hackley orchard, Upper School Science Teacher and developer of the project, Tessa Johnson, notes the beautiful “hummingbirds and over 20 different types of bees and butterflies.” It has been a year and a half since the creation of the orchard, in which large amounts of progress have been made. Both new and original ideas have been implemented, allowing all to envision the orchard’s vibrant future.

As the apple trees were planted, the idea of bat boxes followed shortly and were placed near the vicinity of the Hackley orchard. This was influenced by the need for an efficient method of pest control; during the night, the bats would come out and hunt down mosquitos.

The use of bats to combat insect infestation replaces the reliance on chemicals to drive off insects, ultimately improving the health of our fruit trees. In exchange for the bats’ assistance, it’s imperative that we consider their health; due to the white-nose syndrome, a disease that disturbs the hibernation of bats, many bats are in danger of losing their lives. It is for this reason that our bat boxes were placed in the most ideal positions to assure their survival; they are positioned near water sources and in spots exposed to warm sunlight.

However, it wasn’t just bat boxes that were installed; In June 2022, many bee hives were created in the apiary. A few months later, in August 2022, the honeycombs were harvested from the beehives and placed into freezers. “They need to be spun,” Ms. Johnson says, a process where the honeycombs are aggressively spun in a circular motion, allowing raw honey to seep from the cappings and be put into jars. The cappings, or the remaining comb, are cleaned and dried, which will be melted down to be used as wax for candles.

Other improvements such as the creation of a fence have been put forth. The fruit trees being surrounded by fences would halt the advance of mice, who are the main carriers of ticks and can bring diseases to our greens.

The summer of 2022 was quite harsh, with no rain for two entire months. To counter this situation, Ms. Johnson decided to buy “doughnuts” for the trees. Once filled with water, these doughnuts would give a constant supply of water and boost their growth greatly. In addition, Ms. Johnson contacted SaveATree, a planting organization that services in helping greens. Interested in assisting the growth of the Hackley orchard, they suggested trying out an organic spray program. “After we started that, the trees almost doubled in size,” Ms. Johnson excitedly stated, “With tons of new growth, the trees are doing really well now.”

Now that our orchard has started off wonderfully, it is vital to be able to maintain its condition. As such, a steady routine must be upheld. Once a month, the SaveATree program arrives at the Hackley orchard with their organic spray to maintain the trees’ constant growth. Once a week, Ms. Johnson heads off to the orchard and sprays each tree with deer spray, a chemical that refrains disturbance of our greens. “It smells really bad,” she commented, laughing in her seat.

Now, with a strong routine implemented for the health of our orchard, it is only reasonable that the focus shifts toward the future. Ideas such as setting up Adirondack chairs in and around the orchard have been mentioned. Ms. Johnson has also contacted the technology department in hopes of obtaining a strong wifi connection within the vicinity of the orchard.

“I’d like to have classes out there,” Ms. Johnson exclaimed, “I really want it to be a community space for our students… My only worry is that I won’t be able to get people out there to see it.” The apple trees have only just begun to rise, and awareness of the orchard is something that must be raised. When one truly cares about the development of the orchard, Ms. Johnson believes the students will realize that “part of gardening is not seeing what’s there, but seeing their potential.”