Monday, December 14, 2015

Planning the Orchard

Emily (when she was 3) apple picking
I grew up outside of Boston, Massachusetts.  One of the best memories I have as a kid is apple picking every fall.  My brother, sister, and I would run wild in the orchard, picking Cortlands, MacIntoshes, and Red Delicious apples.  Once, I picked an apple that was as red on the inside as it was on the outside, and as a city kid, I was in awe.  Who knew that apples could be red inside?!  I haven't seen one in an orchard since, but as I recall, it was one of the best apples I've ever eaten fresh.

I've been bringing my kids apple picking since they were little.  I live just below Western New York's apple growing region, so a "quick" 1-1/2 hour drive is all it takes to have a fun afternoon picking a couple of bushels of apples.  A lot of growers here tend to only have "popular" apple picking varieties like Cortland, MacIntosh, Mutsu, Empire, Gala, Honeycrisp, and Delicious... I like to branch out a bit and find heirloom varieties if I can get them.  My late step-father's favorite apple is called Northern Spy.  Every so often, I can find those at a farm stand locally, but they're gone in the blink of an eye--sometimes, the same day the sign proclaiming their availability is posted!  That was the sad circumstance this year, and I was only able to get a bushel each of Cortlands and Pippin apples (another heirloom variety).

Since some varieties are so prolific here (Cortland!) I don't think I'll be planting those.  I can usually buy a bushel for under $25.  The apples I want are the ones that can't be found on the commercial market.  I want to can applesauce and apple pie filling, have a slew of apples to eat fresh, and some more to dry for morning oatmeal.  Here is the list of the trees that made the cut:

Calville Blanc d'Hiver-

This variety has been dubbed one of the world's best culinary apples, and also one of the least pretty.  It is also notoriously winter-hardy in the aspect that it flowers much later than other varieties, so less chance of a late frost destroying my apple crop entirely.  That pretty much sealed the deal for me.

Queen Cox -

A self-fertile apple, this one doesn't need a pollinator.  This is good, because it's the only mid-season apple I'm planting, so it'll set flowers before the others.  It is great both fresh and cooked, and it is like an improved version of Cox's Orange Pippin.

Northern Spy -

Of course I'm growing this one.  Bonus?  It keeps for 3 or more months if properly stored.  Fresh apples all winter?  Yes, please.

Mountain Rose -

While this one just has a blush of red on the outside, it's rated at one of the most delicious red-fleshed apples.  It also holds its shape for cooking purposes, and also retains its color.  Oh, and it's simply gorgeous!

Smyrna Quince -

I'm also planning on planting a quince tree, since I can only find them at the supermarket in tiny quantities and at $2 each.  Each!  They're inedible raw, but cooking them for a little while softens the fruit, turns it a rosy color, and tastes like a cross between an apple, pear, and the smell of flowers.

George IV Peach -

One of my besties and I make a ton of bourbon peaches every year.  We usually try to get a bushel or two put up, but we got one bushel of really bland-tasting peaches that ended up in the jam pot.  I'm hoping that by growing my own, I can pick them when they're just ripe, and I won't have to settle for bland peaches.  This one is known for cold-hardiness without sacrificing flavor.

The Site:

The orchard is going to be on the side yard, toward the front as the vegetable garden will likely be somewhere behind it.  Since the trees only have to be about 10 feet apart, I'm going to stagger them in two rows so they don't throw shade on the vegetable garden.  I'm also planning on planting berries, but they'll go near the shed somewhere, probably by the row of shrubs in the back.  I'm hoping to have some chickens at some point, and the coop will be near the shed as well, and I don't want to have hungry chickens right next to my berries.  More planning is going to be required, and the chickens are still a potential addition.

The actual site is just above the back yard on a slope, which could be ideal for avoiding cold air that will gather on the low points of the lawn.  It gets sun the entire day.

One of the major issues I've noticed is that I very likely have voles in the yard.  Voles are rodents that look like mice, but with shorter tails.  They are plant eaters, and will chew the bark off of new trees.  Vole damage looks like shallow tunnels running across your lawn, not to be confused with mole damage, which looks like small piles of dirt on the lawn (moles also eat insects, like Japanese beetle grubs, instead of plants).  I poked around and found several holes in the lawn that are likely housing the beasts.

vole damage + the runoff drain
They're going to have to be eradicated, or at least controlled, before new trees are planted.  Spring is already looking busy as can be, but in the end, the results will definitely be worth it!

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