Harvesting Performance – Planting the Orchard

Once long ago, in a monastery in an ancient land, lived two monk brothers, who agreed together that after they passed on they would like to leave something of real value behind to enrich the life of their community. And so they decided to plant an orchard. A winding road passed through the middle of the monastery lands – the elder brother said he would plant his trees in the west, and the younger agreed to plant in the east.

It was a brilliant, hot summer’s day, and the younger brother was vigorous and energetic. He immediately set out for the village, where he bought a brand new spade with a bright shiny blade and a shaft varnished glossy red. He also made a deal with a passing tree merchant and negotiated the delivery of a job lot of saplings at an excellent discount. He set to work – thump, dig, lift and place the sapling – and in a very few days, all his trees were handsomely planted in the eastern orchard, before the elder brother had even stirred from the veranda in front of the monastic dwelling house.

Weeks passed, and the elder brother still sat on the veranda sketching and re-sketching the plans for his orchard in the west. As the season began to turn, the brown fields resting after harvest, the dampness of autumn in the air, and the scent of woodsmoke drifting across the land, the elder brother travelled many miles to a plantation he knew of, and chose 361 saplings, selecting each one with individual care. It took him a great deal of time and cost just as much as his younger brother had paid for his 500 young trees.

In fact, the elder brother spent even more money, for he then bought 361 bags of compost (one bag to nurture the roots of each little sapling). He bought a strong garden fork to break up the soil, a hoe to weed between the rows of his trees as they grew, pruning shears for when they should be needed, and a simple irrigation system to keep the ground moist in dry weather. During the cool and gentle autumn days, he prepared for each tree a deep hole positioned according to his plan. He lined and filled the holes with the nutritious compost, watered it well and finally lowered the saplings one by one into the rich beds he had made for them.

As the days shortened and the colder weather came, the two brothers retired into the dwelling house to spend the winter months in the warmth within. From the window they could see their orchard and watch the progress of their new young trees. And every day, the elder brother ventured out in the frost and snow, though in his western orchard, nothing seemed to change. Above ground the little trees looked much as they had when the elder brother planted them – thin brown sticks about two feet tall.  But below the surface, as well he knew, busy root systems were thickening and multiplying juicily into the cool rich compost, burrowing deep into the soil beneath.

In the eastern orchard it was a different story. The younger brother was now pre-occupied with other pressing duties indoors and too busy to visit his orchard, but from the window he saw with horror how his little saplings were beginning to turn black and rot away into the ground.

The months continued to pass and eventually the frost and snow melted away in the thaw. By springtime, in the eastern orchard there was nothing left. There, the roots of the new saplings had burned up and shrivelled during the heat of last year’s summer as they scrabbled towards the surface of the dry earth looking for nutrients and moisture. And so in winter the shoots had starved for lack of sustenance, and had blackened in the frosts without strong root systems to feed and support them as they developed.

But in the western orchard, as day by day the spring advanced, the saplings stood firm and straight, supported by strong white roots which tunnelled deep into the rich soil. Above ground tiny green buds appeared like promises on the slender brown twigs. In years to come, there would be an excellent harvest of fruit.

“Brother,” said the younger monk to the elder, “what has happened to my saplings? Why have they failed to take root and develop? For as soon as we made our decision to grow an orchard, I made my judgements quickly; I acted at once with energy….. and I also spent a great deal of money,” he ended bitterly.

The elder monk smiled gently as he answered: “To grow an orchard, brother, requires investment not expenditure. When we invest not only our money and energy, but our time, our care, and our attention, and when we sustain this over many months, our young saplings will grow, our orchard will flourish, and our investment is repaid and returned to us many times over.”

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