Last March, professor of biology Dr. Drew Crain, in coordination with Mountain Challenge director Bruce Guillaume and Physical Plant director Andy McCall, planted four plots of apple, pear, cherry and tangerine trees as a part of the Maryville College Orchard Project.
Three of the plots were planted on the MC campus, two in the college woods and one at Crawford House, and the fourth at Penrose farm, the home of MC’s equestrian team, in Knoxville. The project, designed by Crain, was established after receiving funding from the Gerald W. Gibson Professional Development Fund, which supports long-term, interdisciplinary projects attempting to enhance existing ventures or create programs and procedures that benefit the MC community.
Crain, Guillaume and McCall planted the trees with help from students, faculty, staff and volunteers from the community. The group has been busy for the last nine months, working to maintain the orchards and ensure their progress and success. Despite a summer-long drought, the trees are thriving, and Guillaume and Crain agree that the orchards are living up to their expectations.
“The orchard plots did really well,” Guillaume said. “The knoll plot actually had blossoms…apple buds. I think it’s all pretty cool…In total, for all of the plots, we need to replace three [trees] So, that’s gone really well.”
“If you think about it,” Crain said. “Going from where we started with the privet, honeysuckle, to now. We actually have nice clear plots, trees that are doing well…I’m extremely pleased, especially with the low mortality we had.”
Crain noted that the collaborative efforts of those who assisted in planting continued throughout the summer, especially the assistance from the Physical Plant.
“Everyone has been so helpful… You enjoy, together, taking care of the trees,” Crain said. “We had a couple of dry months this summer. We had a drought. Thank goodness for the Physical Plant. They have a huge tank of water they took back there and watered all of the trees for us. The guys there really helped out.”
This year’s goals for the orchards include raising awareness of the plots, which will primarily involve incorporating students into activities involving the trees, and conducting maintenance, as well as adding variety to the plot. According to Crain, the orchards provide an opportunity for research, as he plans to observe the different environments the trees have been planted in and study the outcomes of each setting year to year. Students will be involved in a significant part of this research.
“One of my SCI 150 classes is going to evaluate the productivity [of the trees],” Crain said. “We’re going to go down and take diameters of the trees and get some quantitative data.” Guillaume is also working to make the MC community more aware of the orchards by incorporating trips to the plots during Mountain Challenge activities.
“In orientation…part of what we do is a walk in the woods,” Guillaume said. “We made an effort this year to get a lot of kids down there to at least see the knoll plot and tell them about it.”
As for maintaining the orchards, Crain has ongoing plans. Because of a recent donation from MC alum Ed Hawkey and the Hawkey family designated for sustaining the orchards’ long-term upkeep, maintenance will be possible, and even expansion of the plots can be anticipated.
“What my plan is…is to replace [the trees] that died,” Crain said. “Then we’re adding more apples, pears, nectarines and cherries…The thing I’m most excited about this year is adding more diversity. At the end of this year, we’ll have 10 different apple varieties, four pear varieties, three varieties of cherries and three varieties of nectarines.”
Crain hopes that another round of planting will also help raise awareness of the orchards. Planting will begin in early March.
In addition to contacting him at [email protected], Crain encourages those interested in the orchards or participating in this year’s planting to visit his YouTube channel, DrDrewCrain, for informational videos about the project.