This is the 10th year of ReTreeUS planting orchards in schools!
ReTreeUS is an avid partner of MSGN. Richard Hodges, ReTreeUS Program Manager and Founder has served on the board of MSGN for nearly a decade. With apple season in full-effect, this is a fitting time for a spotlight.
ReTreeUS plants orchards in schools, supports school gardens and provides educational programs that empower people to be fruitful environmental stewards.
In the early days before ReTreeUS obtained the fruit tree mobile, Richard drove bare-root trees and compost around in a station wagon (testing its suspension capacity!), planting all the trees in schools at the beginning of May before the trees broke from dormancy. Although this method led to a lot of successful orchards, it made springtime hectic and posed some challenges due to soil conditions and summer water needs.
After receiving support from the Arbor Day Foundation and TD Bank through TD Tree Day events, they started planting some orchards in the fall with potted trees. The soil in the 7-gallon pots provided a nice buffer as the trees found their home in the soil at the schools, tree roots kept growing even after the leaves dropped in the fall and a nice blanket of snow in the winter assured that the trees were fully soaked and stoked in the spring. After seeing the successful results, ReTreeUS now primarily plants potted trees in late September and early October.
School visits currently take place in the spring to combine planning the orchard with students by measuring and flagging the tree locations followed by preparing the area for planting trees in the fall. To prepare the area for planting, students lay down cardboard with compost on top over the proposed tree locations and as the cardboard decomposes over the summer, so too does the grass and weeds underneath. This process also brings life up through the soil and provides great lessons for students about decomposition and the F.B.I. (Fungus, Bacteria and Invertebrates) while creating ideal planting conditions for the fall.
Now that ReTreeUS is planting so many potted trees, they created a nursery which currently contains 330 seven-gallon potted trees (6’+) and 500 fruit and nut saplings. These are nurtured with regular watering, organic amendments and extra love to set them up to thrive in schools.
ReTreeUS has now planted more than 80 orchards in schools across Maine!
In Addition to the school orchard program, ReTreeUS also created the Back to School Garden Program in order to align the school garden and the school year, minimizing summer maintenance and maximizing production for the cafeteria in the fall. By having students “sheet mulch” the gardens in the spring and direct-direct seed crops that require very minimal maintenance over the summer, schools produce a great harvest when students return to school in the fall, and then plant well-established kale, lettuce and spinach seedlings sourced from local farms. This process accompanied by the use of row cover enables schools to grow an abundance of nutrient-rich greens for the cafeteria through the fall.
This year ReTreeUS directly served 21 schools with the Back to School Garden program throughout Maine! ReTreeUS delivered compost, rolls of paper and customized seed packets to the schools while combining the visit with orchard maintenance and grafting and pruning workshops. Support was received by the First National Bank and a USDA Farm to School Grant.
If you are interested in seeing where the school orchards are located, explore their interactive map that shows the 80 educational orchards they have planted. The schools on the map represent more than 23,000 students that stand to benefit from building a relationship with living fruit trees and enjoying a mutually beneficial relationship every year.
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