There's an old joke among a certain crowd of dreamers: "Wanna know a sure-fire way to end up with a fortune running a resort in the Caribbean? Start with two." For the Would-Be Farm, I am happy to say it's not fortunes so much as it is applewood.
Our primary question has been to identify what SORTS of apple grow in those overgrown and neglected groves we found. Macs? Romes? Pippins? Sheepsnoses? The most sensible approach is to taste the fruit when it ripens in the fall. Weather willing.
The apples were sparse, sour, and small. Why? Who knows...Too cold last winter? Japanese beetles? Too wet? Too dry? No one could say; it was just one of those seasons.
Walking the pristine aisles of Douglas Orchards was like that bracing slap administered to the hysteric to bring him back to reality...The one where afterwards, the person says, "Thanks, I needed that."
At Douglas Orchards, not one single black locust tree or juniper sprouted up between the apple trees. No scratchy blackberry canes encroached on the lawn around the trees. Each tree had plenty of space. They were uniformly neat, trimmed to a reasonable height, and so VERY vigorous.
We stacked the wood (sorted by species) at every corner of the groves. It's not a practice that commercial growers would follow because dead wood can harbor pests and disease. But commercial growers nearly always have a tractor or a team of draft horses or something to carry things out of the groves. We have a chainsaw, a heavy-duty weed whip, some loppers, and two willing workers. And only so many hours of the day.
The wildlife can nibble on the twigs this winter. Maybe we'll get a tractor-like vehicle to haul things sooner rather than later. Meanwhile, even if the apples fail to appear next year, we'll have a good crop of well-seasoned apple-wood.