There are, after all, thousands of varieties ranging from common MacIntoshes and Granny Smiths to mysterious and rare Black Oxfords or Roxbury Russets.
What kind do we have on the would-be farm?
Short answer: we don't know yet. We could go all CSI and send samples to the lab for genetic testing. But honestly, that would mean separating ourselves from a chunk of change to discover -- what? That we have a fussy Yellow Moon, three Pink Ladies, seventeen Romes?
Which will become clear (knock wood the weather cooperates) in the fullness of a growing season or two. A bit of observation can reveal so much.
As my Cornell farming classes have emphasized, the secret to agricultural success is in the detailed records-keeping. So we'll be tracking each individual tree. Because there are 100 or so individual trees growing wildly on the would-be farm, the process starts with differentiating every tree from its neighbor.
I'm reluctant to purchase tags from the nursery supply stores. Honest to pete -- a fluttering set of plastic twist-ties? Flimsy.
Painted-on numbers? Squalid.
Tiny wooden stakes with Sharpie-marker notations? Hokey.
Instead, I like the understated, businesslike appearance of aluminum tags. No fading, no becoming brittle from the UV. Elegant, in the Pirsigian sense...But I am a pinchpenny, and I balk at the price of pre-made tin labels.
Luckily, my reluctance to spend money is matched by a willingness to get crafty.
Paired with the judicious use of a spreadsheet, these tags are the the start of keeping track of the growth habit, health, blossom production, and fruiting tendencies of each tree. (I know, I know -- the excitement is palpable around here!)
Of course, a would-be farmer can dream: maybe a long-lost heritage fruit will be hidden in our neglected orchard. It's not quite a movement, but there are people in search of forgotten treasures like this.