An Apple Tree:

Just One of Many Reflections of the Value of Men.

(c) 2013, Davd

On New Year’s Day itself, i did make a Resolution of sorts—to continue propagating and “trialing” apple varieties to find those best suited to homestead use in “Northeastern New Brunswick.” I doubt any formal Resolution was needed; but formalizing one, emphasizes my commitment to this project, to regional self-sufficiency, and to an “economics of goodwill” (cf. Schumacher, 1973) where money is less important than friendship and co-operation.

So what has that got to do with manhood and the differences between men and women? Much: Let’s go through the plans that resolution confirms, for this spring, summer, and fall.

Late this winter, as the snow begins to melt away—which may be Spring on the calendar, since this is Canada—i am likely to tackle “dormant spraying” for the first time here. (In the part of BC where i had a dozen-plus apple trees, such spraying wasn’t really needed; there were no large commercial orchards near by, and fairly few apple trees other than mine; and the climate was “short summer Mediterranean”, with very dry summers that kept the populations of pest insects much smaller than they are here.)

The job, as i have seen it demonstrated in photographs, entails packing 5-20 litres of miscible light oil spray (approved by Organic Gardening [1961, 1978], by the way) in a pressure container on my back or side, while carrying a 1-4 metre long spray “boom” with control in my hand and nozzle at the other end, to direct the spray onto the bare branches. I have seven bearing-age trees, one 3-4 metres tall and at least as wide, two 2.5-3 metres tall and wide, and four “newcomers” averaging 2m tall and less wide, to spray; so if the boom is a more comfortable 1-2m long, then at some times i will need to hold that boom over my head while working, for 10-20 minutes or longer.1

This is the kind of work where, as i discussed further last August, men’s guided muscles are much more powerful–and accurate–than women’s. Marvin Harris [1989: 328-330] points out that it is where subsistence depends on the hard, accurate work of plowing with an animal, and inferentially where subsistence depends on other large-muscle, precision labour, such as hunting big game, that men have great honour in pre-industrial societies… and if “dormant oil spraying”, and quite possibly a few other sprayings later in the season, is “men’s work”, transplanting is even-more-so.

In the spring, as soon as the ground is thawed, i should dig 5-10 holes and transplant trees into them: Two or three in the prayer-garden, and 3-8 in the larger orchard area. One or two of the holes may “need to be” a metre deep and more than a metre wide; the lesser holes will need to be about a metre wide by 65-80 cm deep. They will be dug “by hand” using a spade, a shovel, and a digging fork; and while digging them i will probably remove dozens of stones ranging in size from a fist’s to perhaps as much as one cubic foot. The heaviest might actually weigh more than i weigh, though quite possibly the heaviest will be only about 50 kg—still more than half my weight.

Picture a 70-year-old woman doing that work.

As a 70-year-old man, i will do it more slowly than i did the same kind of work 20 years ago, or 40—but i expect to do it, steadily and without harm to my body, as my grandfather, and my friend Pat in BC, did such work when they were 70; and as i did such work last year, when i transplanted four two-year-old apple trees, three “tub stock” and one natural, full-root-spread specimen (plus several rooted layers which required relatively small holes).

I am not saying that no 70-year-old woman could do it; i am saying that a far larger fraction of 70-year-old men can, than of 70-year-old women—which, more generally, is what “men’s work” really means: Healthy, average men can do it safely and indeed, can benefit from the exercise; women who can do it safely and at least somewhat comfortably, are a small fraction of all women.

With the hole dug, and the dirt that came out of it piled on a heavy tarpaulin, i will screen some “pit run” by shoveling it onto a 2×3 foot box whose bottom is half-inch steel screening, then picking up the box with five shovelfuls in it, and shaking that box by hand. The sand and pea gravel will settle into a heavy wheelbarrow; the larger gravel will be tipped onto a pile, and the largest stones will be thrown on another pile, for later use on the work roads and paths.

The lighter wheelbarrow will carry firewood bark, garden trash such as Levisticum, Mentha, and Monarda stems, and compost or manure, to the hole. The firewood bark and trash will line the bottom of the hole; then a mixture of dirt with a little sand will just cover them.2 With the hole “lined at the bottom”, i will mix dirt taken from it, sand, and compost and-or manure, in the heavy wheelbarrow. Then i will dig up the tree to be transplanted, unless it is a bought-specimen—and i expect to buy two at most (if any), while moving five or more young grafts and seedlings that are presently in a “grow bed” and should be put in permanent sites before they start growing this year.

The trees that are dug-up here, with some of their old soil, will be set on a piece of very heavy tarpaulin and slid to the hole. This will minimize root disturbance—and should be done on a cloudy, even rainy day, for the sake of those roots. The tree will then be stood in the hole, and the dirt—organic fertilizer—sand mixture gently settled around the roots. This is hands-and-knees work, involving spreading the roots horizontally and vertically so they occupy the enriched ‘soil’ and compete little or none with one another, with good growing tips pointing outward to enter the surrounding ground during the summer—in other words, it’s exacting, heavyish, hand labour that depends on hand-to-eye coordination, and machinery can’t do it nearly as well.

(Probably, i will either drive a tall 1×1 stake into the ground at the bottom of the hole before putting in the tree, to which to tie the transplant for a few weeks; or else drive three short stakes outside the hole after transplanting is done, and anchor the lowest branches of the transplant to them with hay twine. The three-stake-and-anchor method is normal with tub stock, whose root ball should not be broken up; the single-tall-stake method is normal with bare-root “whips”.)

With the tree moved, placed, and surrounded by enhanced soil, i will walk 2-5 buckets of water to the site to “mud in” the transplant, perhaps adding more enhanced soil as the mudding-in settles the tree. Finally, i will “mulch” the spot, probably with “fines” of firewood bark, to provide temperature modulation, catch any heavy rains and pass them gently to the soil below, and begin building a normal soil profile3. Moving one tree, well, is 1-3 hours of hard, exacting manual labour. Moving 3-5 trees in a day, is a hard day’s work. Chances are that i, as an old man with other things to do as well, will move 2-3 trees in each day i work at that.

I will do that set of tasks which really good planting requires, at least five times, perhaps ten, and the earlier the better (once the ground has thawed, which requirement will automatically keep me from doing it too early.) My grandfather spaded his garden by hand at the age of 80, and he was smaller than average for a man—five feet four, if i recall correctly, though perhaps he had been a little taller when younger.

Again: Picture a 70-year-old woman doing that work, or even a 50-year-old woman. Humankind evolved with a sex-division-of-labour for good reason: To grow our big brains, humans needed to be born less fully developed than smaller-headed animals, and then spend several years dependent on our parents4 (Morgan, 1973; Morris, 1967). Human babies depend on milk and on food specially prepared for babies, much longer than do the newborns of other species; so mothers were tied to babies for most of their young-adult years, during human evolution. Women evolved to have higher proportions of body fat, more delicate hands, wide pelves, and backs unsuited to many kinds of heavy manual work, for good reproductive reasons.

It’s a man’s job, to plant and spray apple trees. During the summer, there may be more spraying to do (cf. Rodale et al, 1961: 642-8). In the fall, there will be picking, some of it with a specially built basket on a pole; this picking is less “man’s work” than the planting and spraying, but still goes a bit
easier for us at the long reaches. As winter approaches, we may have heavy mulch and compost to wheel to the larger trees, and spread under them; again, this is less “man’s work” than the planting and spraying, but still goes a bit easier for us. Protecting the trunks is about equally easy for either sex.

Apples are remarkably good food for people who live where winters are cold. They can be eaten many ways, even drunk as cider. Their pectin and other peculiarities are good for us, perhaps to the extent of ameliorating the ill effects of saturated fats—which are commoner in Northern than in tropical diets. Many apple varieties store well, including Brunswick, Empire, Honeycrisp, Jonagold, Liberty, and especially Spy; so even in mid-winter and the “hungry gap” before spring vegetables and strawberries begin to produce, they allow some variety within the apples we eat from the cellar. Cooked apples are easily preserved because their acidity prevents botulism, giving us the flavours of less-storable varieties for modest effort.

As a man who likes perennial plant horticulture, i chose apples as one of the foods i would grow—and “trial”—well beyond what i need personally, to be one of my contributions to neighbourhood and regional self-sufficiency. Not everyone should grow a big orchard; but many other kinds of subsistence work, including firewood, hand gardening, even farming and fishing, also call for men working hard and accurately with our muscles, and with a diversity and rhythm which is not the same as conventional “fulltime” wage work.

More generally than growing apples to share, i’ve resolved to do what i, as an old man, do best. Transplanting apple trees is among the heaviest of that work; and if last year is any guide, it’s healthier than driving to the grocery store. The natural man is more valuable than “the consumer” whose main way of acquiring his—or her—needs is by spending money at retail outlets.


Harris, Marvin, 1989. Our Kind. NY: Harper and Row.

Morgan, Elaine 1973 The Descent of Woman. NY: Bantam.

Morris, Desmond, 1967. The Naked Ape. London: Jonathan Cape Ltd. Bantam Paperback, Toronto, 1969

Organic Gardening magazine staff, 1978. The Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening. Emmaus, PA: Rodale Press.

Rodale, J. I., and the staff of Organic Gardeningmagazine, 1961. How to Grow Vegetables & Fruits by the Organic Method. Emmaus, PA: Rodale Press.

Schumacher, Ernest Fritz 1973. Small is Beautiful:Economics as if People Mattered. London: Blond and Briggs. (1974, New York: Harper and Row. Cited in a 1974 Abacus edition, London; several other editions exist.)


1. In 2014, one or two more trees might begin bearing very small crops. In 2015, there might be 15-20 trees that need spraying, of which 7-10 are three metres tall or taller. Spraying is going to become a strenuous, important job demanding the kind of strength and steadiness that Harris associates with men’s prestige “across cultures”.

2. Because the ground is somewhat stony, i do not worry much about drainage—there should be enough.

3. Bark contains much more mineral nutrient per weight and per volume, than stemwood, which is one reason i peel much of my firewood—i want to save those nutrients for the garden and orchards rather than “have them go up in smoke.”

4. The human brain reaches full size at or after age 7, depending what source you read.


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About Davd

Davd (PhD, 1966) has been a professor, a single father keeping a small commercial herb garden so as to have flexible time for his sons, and editor of _Ecoforestry_. He is a practicing Christian, and in particular an advocate of ecoforestry, self-sufficiency horticulture, and men of all faiths living together "in peace and brotherhood" for the fellowship, the efficiency, and the goodwill that sharing work so often brings.
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