Lessons Learned From An Orchard Man
It was with measured sadness when I learned of the end of operations at the Ringing Hill Orchard last week. The Mercury reported the end after seventy some years in operation. Thinking back, it was seventy some years ago since I worked there. Mr. Bill Hampton, grandfather of the present owners, was running the orchard on a day to day basis from his roll top desk when he hired me.
Even during my elementary school days I was big for my age so Mr. Hampton assigned me to be a ground man. I was to walk along side of the wagon and lift the picked fruit baskets from the ground and place them on the wagon for another boy to slide them into place for the ride back to the sorting station. I was happy and willing to trade hard work for the experience of earning a few dollars. Dollars which went home to mom for house expenses except for a small allowance for me to buy candy or a movie ticket. At 30 cents an hour, I wasn't a big earner.
Mr. Hampton was old to me then, like an old gruff grandfather, running a tough business based on the weather and fruit trees which needed constant attention. He seemed to have plan and under his wing things happened in positive ways, the fruits matured and were brought in then off to final market places. He taught me one of life's universal lessons.
"Hey boy !" he hollered at me, " Get that broom stick and get in my truck". The truck was a car chassis, roof cut off with and a homemade stake body where the rear seat once was. Off we drove up through the orchard stopping at a quite young tree maybe 3 or 4 inches in trunk diameter just up from ground level. Hop down he said and take that broomstick handle and beat that tree trunk, all around it. I timidly hit at the trunk and he, very agitatedly, scolded me for my timidness and, with some strong language, urged me to be more aggressive which I was. The bark cracked in places which pleased him so we moved on to other trees of similar size and age where I applied my vigor to them and his pleasure.
On the ride back to his office in the storage barn Mr. Hampton explained the reason behind what we had just done. Fruit trees, like all living organisms, produce, when under stress, more flowers therefore more fruit which are the carriers of seeds. Seeds are the ultimate extenders of the species. Even in humans, stress in a sector of a society will increase the birth rate so that society will have a better chance to live on. Scarring the trunk was an early orchard man's way of tricking fruit trees to do his bidding. The scars healed and gave no lasting affect to the trees except getting them to produce earlier and in more abundance.
"Spare the rod, spoil the child" rings yet in my ears.
Ronald C. Downie