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Life on the family farm under an open heaven: The cat-killed apple tree

Tom Heck for Progressive Dairyman Published on 11 March 2018
Apple Tree

Sometimes in life, we take on a project and, no matter what we do, it seems to go wrong. And no matter how hard we try to correct it, it still keeps going wrong – but if we stick with it a long time, it will turn out well, although it may be entirely different than what we planned on in the first place.

Such is what happened here over many years with one of my supposedly simple projects.

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My family really likes to eat fresh apples and, since our part of the country here is great for growing apples, we’ve planted several apple trees on our farm over the years. After a while, I decided it would be nice to have an early maturing apple, so we could start enjoying them earlier in the fall.

I also decided the perfect place to plant it would be on our small grass island between the house and barn. It would look nice there, and a person could easily pick an apple off of it on the way to the barn.

Since our power pole with all the electrical lines going off of it to the different buildings is also located there, I bought a semi-dwarf apple tree and planted it a little ways away from the pole. Since it was a semi-dwarf tree, it shouldn’t interfere with the pole or power lines.

I thought I had a really good plan. I couldn’t imagine how anything could go wrong with such a simple plan. But things don’t always work out like they’re supposed to.

I ordered my tree and planted it in the spring of the year. It took off and started to grow really well. I was pleased with it. After a few years, the totally unexpected happened: Our barn cats decided they really liked that tree too and started going to it, constantly clawing into its bark. Now I’ve never before or since ever had them do it, but that tree they loved doing it to. They did it so much that, over time, they killed our beautiful apple tree. They literally clawed it to death.

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Now, the apple tree I had planted was grafted onto wild rootstock. The wild rootstock sent up a shoot that really took off and grew. So after a while, I cut off the old dead tree and let the new one grow. For some reason, the cats didn’t bother this one. And boy, did it grow. It was a beautiful tree, and it hardly looked like an apple tree. After several years, it started to get apples on it that were mostly a good medium size, bright red, very firm and super-delicious – and that ripened later in the fall.

We were very disappointed the cats killed our early maturing apple tree but very thankful for this one. We have no idea what kind of an apple tree it is, since it grew from wild rootstock, so we just call it our “cat-killed apple tree.”

As I said earlier, that tree took off and really grew. It wasn’t a semi-dwarf anymore at all. It wasn’t long and it was up to the power lines. And it showed no signs of stopping any time soon. I realized too late I had planted that tree in the wrong place, considering our cats and the power lines. So what was I to do with one of my favorite apple trees? I decided I’d better prune it way back to about 12 foot, which I did. I figured I would have to keep pruning it way back the rest of its life.

There was one other problem with the tree I really couldn’t fix. When it grew up off the side of the old dead tree, it grew at quite an angle, thus making it more of a hazard to go down on our driveway someday. Well, a couple years after pruning it way back, we got a powerful storm through here out of the south, and it tipped it way over so it was leaning just above the driveway. Why it didn’t take it down on the driveway, I don’t really know. But there it was, leaning way over.

What to do now? I hated to cut it off since it was such a beautiful tree, and we really liked the apples; they were some of our favorites. Yet I couldn’t leave it like it was and, if I straightened it back out, it would soon grow too tall for the power lines again. I was in a predicament with it.

I finally decided there was only one possible solution: transplant it. I had never transplanted that big of a tree before in my life but, since we all liked it so well, we decided to give it a try. The first thing I had to do was to cut it way back if it was going to have a chance of making it. And did I ever cut it back, down to 5 foot tall. Then I put the tine bucket on our skid loader and stuck it in under the trunk of the tree.

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Since the storm had broken a number of roots off already, my skid loader was able to lift it out without too much trouble, bringing a bunch of roots with it. Then I hauled it up the hill, up by our old shale pit area and planted it there, where it’s out of the way of everything and it can grow as tall as it likes. And, yes, produce a lot of super-delicious apples for us.

Joshua and I dug a large hole to get all the roots in and then, as we planted it, I took a level and made sure we had it perfectly straight. That’s the first time in its life it’s even been close to straight. Well, the tree lived and now, this last fall, I picked a 5-gallon pail full of “cat-killed apples” off of it.

I had to overcome many difficulties with that tree to get an excellent apple tree out of it. Sometimes it looked hopeless. It was very challenging to say the least, but I’m glad I didn’t give up on it.

There have been many things in my life over the years that looked almost totally hopeless, but this one thing I know: With God, there is always hope. We just need to look to Him. And if we do, God will work on us and for us, for our good and His glory.  end mark

PHOTO: Cat killed appple tree. Photo provided by Tom Heck.

Tom Heck, his wife, Joanne, and their two children own and operate a 35-cow dairy farm in Wisconsin. Contact him at Life on the Family Farm or order his book at Tom Heck Farm.

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