We started out with two pears and six varieties of apples. Very shortly after we planted them, one of the pears succumbed to fire blight. Unfortunately, I did not know what was wrong with it before the fungus had been transferred to the apple just to its north on the row. After several years of severe pruning and a lot of praying over that apple, it also died.
Last year, the apple I planted because it was Thomas Jefferson’s favorite, the Spitzbergen, also died. Frankly, I didn’t mourn its passing much because for the life of me I could not figure out what was so great about that apple. It was mealy, and not very flavorful. However, perhaps it made wonderful applejack, as that appears to be the reason most of the Colonials were growing apples in the first place.
Last year was also the year I discovered that the rubber tree rings we had placed around the young apples in hopes that they would keep the weed eating job around the trunks to a minimum had turned into tree girdling apparatus. The lesson here is, those rings do not work. They don’t slow the weeds down much, so you wind up doing the weed eating anyway. Once the weeds have gotten thick it is very easy to forget that those mats are there, and as the years pass the trees grow larger and larger. Eventually they run into the mats and begin to girdle themselves.
Last year, all my apples were looking SO unhappy, and I attributed it to the drought and heat until one day I happened to be clipping the weeds around the trunks while I was watering them deeply and realized what was really going on. I spent a couple of hours creatively and productively releasing negative emotions as I ripped the mats away from around the trees. Fortunately, I noticed this problem before the girdling was complete, and once the restriction was removed the little trees recovered well.
I am so grateful, because this year they bloomed beautifully in spite of the cool spring, and were pollinated well despite the rain that fell on the blossoms. I managed to get the fruit thinned in a timely fashion in between my peripatetic spring wanderings. Then we installed a squirrel/bird barrier when the fruit started looking really good.
This is one of the children of Jim’s fertile brain and is designed to be easily moved and installed. Each panel has chicken wire as the fence, and they are independent of each other. The whole thing can be connected panel to panel using wire ties. Over the top we put a flexible black plastic bird net and clip it to the chicken wire with clothespins. Apparently it is far enough off the ground that the squirrels have not discovered they can chew through it. I think they get stymied by the chicken wire at ground level and don’t even bother to climb up to the top.
Whatever the reasons, the barrier serves its function well and keeps the squirrels and the birds out quite nicely. If only it would do the same for bugs and fungus. Despite that, I picked the crop this morning. The results were I got 46.8 lbs. of apples that are essentially perfect: no fungus, rot, or insect damage. Some of them I will put in the refrigerator for future reference to eat out of hand. The rest of them will be peeled, treated with citrus acid, and frozen for pies and crisps.
There are also 38.4 pounds of apples that have active rot going on. Those I will cut up and start cooking for apple sauce as soon as I am done with this post and the client who is due to arrive within moments.
At the prices we have to pay for organic apples, this amounts to about $150 worth of apples. The squirrel barrier cost us the same amount, so we break even this year. The barrier is re-usable, a one time cost that as far as I am concerned, more than paid for itself considering that a couple of years ago I had a nice apple crop and the squirrels got ALL of it.
For the record, the Moonglow pear tree, which is supposed to need another pear tree to cross pollinate itself, produced two dozen beautiful and tasty pears despite the fact that the Bartlett pear that was designated as its pollination partner is long dead. I think the ornamental Bradford pears planted in the savanna may be standing in for the Bartlett.
The apple crop consists of Granny Smith, Fuji, Gala and Golden Delicious:
I sat down and ate one of the apples as I was picking this morning. It was wonderful.
I took a little time to express my gratitude to the trees, the weather, my husband for the ideal squirrel barrier, and to the Universal Deity for the conditions which provided us with this very nice crop of apples. Next year there will be more!
And this, dear readers, is why we go to all the trouble to grow our own food.