First to bloom this year was an ornamental crabapple tree, the Indian Magic. Had to use Photoshop for the first time in a while to get this, a blend of two LR treatments. I like Lightroom’s B&W conversion tool, but I wish I could control the overall saturation of the application to the color image. Nice to know I still have my PS blending chops.
This month has been hard on the ranch-hold budget. First I ordered 500 custom-grafted cider apple trees for 2014. Yes, we have 100+ in the ground and another 100+ on order for this coming April. Yes, we need more. Then today I mailed a check to Earth Tools BCS for a rotary plow attachment for the walking tractor. All planned expenses, but it is a big chunk of change out of the saddlebag.
The plow is scheduled to arrive in mid-March. No point in having it now to store while the ground is still frozen. We will use it to prep garden space, but more importantly to manage the irrigation flows from the main ditch to wherever we need it to go. In the park, Wayne uses a “marker” to drag a custom-welded implement with teeth down the rows of trees, the teeth cutting little channels to water each tree. He also has the use of a government-owned 90 hp tractor to drag it with. We have an 11 HP Honda engine, but the plow should create a furrow just about anywhere we want it. I’ll post an unboxing when we fire it up next month.
Buying the plow was easy (can’t say enough good things about the Earth Tools folks). Deciding which apple tree varieties to plant on the dozen or so likely rootstocks was far more complex. Multiply the fruiting wood choices to the rootstock options and there are literally tens of thousands of possible combinations. Limiting it to cider varieties brings it down to just a few hundred. That still too many possible ways to say “or, or, or.” R calls it “oring” and it drives him nuts when I do it discussing the dinner menu, and that decision is limited to what’s in the fridge. Give it up, there is no way to optimize a solution, especially with so many unknowns about how cider fruit will grow in our locale (the Mormon pioneer lore, if they grew cider varieties, is lost or obscure).
There is some urgency to this process. Because these trees will be grafted for us, the good folks at Cummins Nursery have to go out into the cold and collect the scions (the fruiting part of the grafted tree), and they have to do it right now while the tree is dormant. Nature enforces a limit on procrastination here, and if I miss her deadline, it could delay my trees for an entire year.
And I self-imposed some other limits. These trees are going onto a nearby but not quite adjacent bit of land. We call it the Apricot parcel, an original name for ann old alfalfa field with a single apricot tree, no? With the trees outside the front door, in what we call the Kingbird orchard, I can get a hose to them to spot-water in between irrigation turns. New plantings may need extra water in the hottest weeks of summer for a couple of years while getting established. We haven’t access to any culinary water over on the Apricot parcel. That means hauling it over in IBCs or some other improvised solution. That period of my life needs to be as short as possible. So we are planting the Apricot parcel out all at once.
And while the Kingbird orchard is partially a study plot of a half a dozen rootstocks that haven’t been grown here and too many varieties to easily manage, I’m not willing to add that level of complexity to another orchard. I set a limit of 8-10 cider varieties on a single rootstock choice. Then I called Alan at Cummins Nursery.
One of the great things about working with people who know more than you do is they will help you, if you let them. Alan asked me a bunch of questions about our land and came up with a suggestion for a rootstock that hadn’t even occurred to me, the MM106. It used to be more popular than it is now. It is susceptible to crown rot, a problem of orchards in wet climates, like the east coast. Standing water is not our problem here in the high deseret! So they don’t offer any trees in their catalog grafted to it. But they can get the rootstock for us and it has features that we want: tolerance for alkaline soils, good “anchorage” which means our Torrey winds won’t uproot them, and the right compromise between height, longevity and precociousness (earliness to start bearing fruit) for our goals. So while Alan went to source 500 MM106 rootstocks, I had to come up with the final, really final, list of scions.
The first thing to consider is what will ripen here before it gets too cold in the fall. A Granny Smith takes a couple months longer to ripen than a Gravenstein. The benchmark is that we know our neighbors regularly harvest crops of Golden Delicious apples. Then consider the bloomtime. Later is better in a place liable to be hit by a late frost. We will lose some years’ crops to frost, there’s no doubt, but you can improve your chances by choosing later blooming varieties. And then the trees have to bloom at the same time to pollinate each other. Few apples are self-fertile, and they need a different variety nearby. Some, the ones with triploid genes, won’t pollinate anything, so you need a pollinator for the triploid and another for the pollinator.
For the cider-making part of the program, you want to have a balance of acidity, sugar and tannin in your fruit. Sugar makes the alcohol, acidity and tannin the flavor. English and French cider apples are classified as sweet (low acidity, low tannins), sharp (high acidity, low tannins), bittersweet (low acidity, high tannins) and bittersharp (high in both tannin and acidity). We have the sweetness factor well covered in the Kingbird orchard and can probably source other aromatic apples locally, so I concentrated on a mix of the other three kinds and some all-American blends. Figuring all this out involved a ridiculously complicated spreadsheet and several iterations.
To throw one more variable into the mix, I set my heart on at least one cider apple whose juice is red. This is, after all, the heart of redrock country, how could we not? So it was easy to start the list with 50 Redfields.
Eventually, this options got whittled down. We may throw in a few more crabapples at some point to further insure pollination, but it’s a reasonable selection:
|Brown’s apple||50||Sharp (some call it a bittersharp)|
|Centennial Crab||25||University of Minnesota, 1957, bittersweet|
|Dabinett||50||English, bittersweet, reliable|
|Frequin Rouge||25||French, bittersharp, early harvest with Somerset Redstreak|
|Harrison||50||Rediscovered American heirloom from New Jersey, early 1800s, blend with Campfield or Graniwinkle|
|Kingston Black||50||English, late 1800s, bittersharp, can make a single varietal cider|
|Newtown Pippin||25||New York, early 1800s, also called the Albemarle Pippin, can make a single varietal cider|
|Redfield||50||New York, 1939, bittersharp, red juice, West County Cider is making a single varietal cider|
|Roxbury Russet||50||Massachusetts, around 1650, sharp, can make a single varietal cider|
|Somerset Redstreak||50||English, mild bittersweet or bittershapr, early|
|Virginia Crab||25||Virginia, 1700s, planted by Thomas Jefferson at Monticello, Albemarle CiderWorks has made a single varietal cider|
|Campfield or Graniwinkle||50||Both from New Jersey, before 1817, traditionally blended with Harrison. We have a few Graniwinkles in the Kingbird orchard.|
Done, decided, the list emailed off to Alan for 500 trees. We won’t know if it turns out well for at least 5 years. I say this a lot about this entire cider enterprise: “We expect that not everything we try will work, but something will, and then we’ll know what to do next.” That leaves 14 months to sharpen those shovels for the mother of all planting parties. You can put that on your calendar for April 2014.
Remember last year, we went to Thomas Jefferson’s home, Monticello to taste apples with the legendary Tom Burford? Probably not, since I seem to have neglected to blog about it. Anyway, it was a catalytic experience that launched the Stray Arrow orchard project. I knew if we planted apples, I would want to do a similar thing here.
I am not a patient person. We planted an orchard, but we will be lucky to see a fruit or two next year. That fact, however, has not stopped us from organizing the first Stray Arrow Ranch Apple Tasting event for the first Saturday in October.
The necessary, enabling action is then to acquire apples, preferably something other than the six grocery store apples everyone is familiar with. Thus, R and I have been on a hunt for apples. Seasonally, we are in the transition between summer apples and fall apples. Summer apples typically don’t keep well. They need to be eaten right away or processed. I would love to have some Pink Pearls, but they may not last. The long-keepers tend to ripen late. Granny Smith, which reportedly can keep a year in cold storage, is one of the last apples to be harvested.
Our friend Tom in Salt Lake has set aside some fruit from his personal orchard. Tom says he even may be to send us some Esopus Spitzenberg, an apple we planted based on its reputation, but have never tried. R is in NYC doing an important science experiment with Bryan, and they will check out a Greenmarket farmers’ market near their hotel. They are bringing back whatever they can manage in their luggage.
In the meantime, I am scouring the county for apples. I want to bother some people who have a tree known locally as the “One pie apple,” which is probably a Winter Banana variety. Most folks just have Red or Golden Delicious, if they even know the name of the variety. Luckily, just eleven miles from our place are the heritage orchards at Capitol Reef National Park.
The Capitol Reef Red apple, our local specialty, is a more of summer apple. I collected some in August; they went mushy. I made applesauce with them yesterday. So we went back to the park to see what is ripening up and came home with a bunch of treasures from the Jackson orchard. None of the trees are labeled so I need to confirm with a park interpreter which apples these might be. All I know today is that no two varieties taste remotely alike (think lemons vs limes) but they all have that apple-y goodness of tree-ripened fruit.
When you go to a small town grocery store like ours in Loa, the local wedding invitations are taped to the checkout counter with a note that says something like, “In all the excitement, if we have missed you, please consider this your invitation and come join us that day!” We aren’t putting any such sign up at the local Foodtown, but that sentiment applies to you blog readers. If you want to come to Torrey to taste some apples and to a potluck to meet the neighbors, send me an email for directions and instructions on what to bring and where to park. It’s going to be a tasty time.