The apple trees, leafless and now snow boughed, hardly look like they did a few months ago when every branch seemed invisibly tethered to the earth by the weight of the fruit. Fall, 2015, will be remembered as a bumper year for apples in New England. Trees that hadn’t blossomed in over a decade produced a bountiful crop. Some of them still hold their fruit like splendid seasonal decorations. These old trees are two stories high; their fruit too high for deer, but perfect for crows and jays.
In the fall, when the days are shorter and the light decreases, apple trees drop their leaves and stop growing. They spend a dormant period with their stored energy like bears in hibernation. The trees start to grow again after they receive a certain number of chill hours followed by heat. Each variety has its own ‘chill’ requirement.
The chilling happens while the trees are dormant, seemingly lifeless. There is no reaching towards warmth and light; they are motionless. Their lives are not measured in growth, in doing; but in resting.
So much in the life of an orchard can be compared to a human life. Thinking about chill hours makes me ask. What might our chill requirement be? From what kind of chill hours would we most benefit?
In the days around the New Year, can we find time to rest, regroup, and refocus? The New Year offers us a chance to take up the questions of a transition time. What do I want to do differently this year than I did last year? How do I want to live my life? What changes would I like to make? To honestly reflect on these questions one needs a moment of dormancy.
I measure my own ‘chill’ hours in quiet time alone, in silent meditation, in working with our fruit trees. I can remember a day last fall when I was so filled with the constant demands of the outside world that I went back to the Asian pear orchard and began pulling weeds. The contact with the earth restored my inner balance. Other people find their chill hours hiking in the wilderness, singing in a chorus, or even cooking.
A chilling period that goes beyond the needs of a tree will often translate into a larger bloom, as if this longer period of dormancy energizes the tree beyond its normal capacity. How wonderful is that! Perhaps this is might be part of the explanation for the 2015 bumper year for apples. While most of us grew weary and frustrated with the frequency of heavy snowfalls and the endless cold, the trees appreciated the long chill temperatures. For apples, more chill time equals a better crop.
May you find chill time this winter in preparation for your own fruiting.