Monday, September 7, 2009

Apple o' my eye

My first apple harvest! In 2006, I planted two semi-dwarf trees in our backyard - an Enterprise and a Liberty. Unfortunately, although I selected a pretty good site, I didn't do a great job of planting the trees. I blame the fact that I ordered eight saplings and had to plant them all in the same day. I'm not sure which tree is which, and one of them is leaning about 30 degrees North. Despite the neglect, I harvested six lovely apples this year, all that was left after the birds and squirrels got (more than) their fair share.

I selected apple trees to plant because the fruit can be stored without processing (in cold storage) and because supposedly it is one of the more pest-resistant fruits in Oklahoma (peaches and plums get infested with buggies - still edible, but I have to discard about 30% of every peach). The Liberty and Enterprise apple varieties are disease resistant and were also recommended by the OSU extension fact sheet.

My husband, two-year old son and I shared two apples today and, may I say, they were some of the most delicious apples I have ever eaten. The funny thing is that they would never be picked up in a grocery store because they have all sorts of funny little warts and growths and things that would put off your average suburban shopper. Nevertheless, my fears that I had gotten a shoddy deal from Burnt Ridge Nursery were put to rest with the first bites.

Coincidentally, I've been reading about apples in Michael Pollan's The Botany of Desire. He describes the apple as THE key fruit in settler America. To the settlers, the apple symbolized not only civilization, but also sweetness and sociability. Sweetness because sugar and honey were not all that common on the frontier (cane sugar often was shunned for it's association with plantation slavery), so apples were the sweetest edible item a settler could usually hope to encounter (and afford), and sociability because many, if not most, of the apples were transformed into that lovely drink, hard cider. Versatile!
Unfortunately, like many of the other of our food crops, the genetic diversity of the apple is dwindling. According to Pollan, most of the apples we eat today, including favorites like Fuji and Gala, are simply crosses of only five of the sweetest and most consistent apples - Red Delicious, Golden Delicious, Jonathan, McIntosh, and Cox's Orange Pippin. Thousands of apple varieties, slowly (or not so slowly!) being reduced to only five! So if you plan to plant an apple tree, you might consider something different or particularly suited to your area.

As the trees grow larger, I hope to keep more of the harvest, both from sheer numerical growth of apple yield and from figuring out some way to protect the fruits. Over the last few years we have not bothered protecting our two peach trees from four-legged and flighty friends, as there are too many peaches for us to even harvest. I hope the same will be true of our apple harvest, but if not there are several ways that I have read to protect the apples: 1. Drape the tree with netting, 2. Hang reflective bird deterrants and 3. Bag each apple individually.

How are your backyard orchards growing? Any suggestions for the best ways you've protected your apple harvest?


Aimee said...

odd; I've never had a problem with birds or squirrels eating my apples. Maybe because I have a cherry tree too and they all flock over there. Plant a diversion! I moved two years ago and boy do I miss my two apples trees that I planted in 1992, when I moved into that house. They were a gravenstein and a melrose (don't know for sure, but I think gravenstein is an older variety not developed from those you mentioned.). I planted two apples up here (Liberty and Braeburn) but my goats made short work of them when they got out one day. I have to replant. In the meantime, I'm enjoying my pears and plums!

Kate said...

Very few of our apples are pecked by birds. Perhaps this is because it's such a large old tree that there are simply plenty of apples left for us. But it could also be because it's such a very late maturing variety. We suspect it may be a Winesap type, as it does not ripen fruit until mid to late October. Perhaps by then most of the birds have gone south.

I too find it unpleasantly ironic that the gorgeous, too-perfect produce specimens at the grocery store have little flavor compared to the "uglies" that grow in home orchards and gardens. More the fools, we.

CambridgeLady said...

This is a great blog. Very pleased to have stumbled across it and I'll be dropping by again.

Tony R. said...

I too stumbled across your blog and have been enjoying it a lot. We use Mylar ballons to keep the birds away from our grapes and plan in using them when we plant our fruit trees. I didn't know that about the five types of apples...I think well do some more research and pick a different kind to plant.