All babies are cute, right? Well, just about, anyway. Baby rodents are kinda creepy-looking; like something out of a Dr. Who episode.
But baby fruits are definitely waaay cute and so full of promise. They start out as lovely blooms, and in no time at all are cute little mini-fruits as pictured here: fuzzy baby peaches, shiny baby plums, perfect round little Asian pears, and slightly fuzzy mini-apples.
In another month or so, these cute little babes will go through their gawky adolescent phase. They’ll be not quite as cute, and they’ll be a bit tart and sassy. We bide our time, waiting patiently ’til we can chow down. In the midst of a drool-fest dreaming of biting into a ripe juicy peach, one can feel rather vulture-like…hovering over the babies…waiting…and waiting…until, YUM!
Meanwhile, all through the baby and adolescent stage, we’ll try our best to help them towards a successful outcome. We’ll protect them from what diseases we can, and we’ll try our best to discourage the wrong crowd (ie. nasty insect pests) from hanging out with them. Some issues we’ll have no control over but will do our best to help them through the challenges, such as pockmarks from acne (i.e. hail) or the losses of their friends (via hurricane-force winds).
No matter what strikes or challenges, we will continue to love and nurture them as they continue their journey to adulthood. Most of our babies and adolescents will become fine, upstanding adults. And some…a select few…will be absolutely outstanding in their fields.
And then we eat them. (You know this analogy had to stop somewhere)
The beauty of orcharding is we get to go through these stages of hope, nurturing, and development every year. But we don’t have to pay for the little dears to go to college.
A couple weeks ago, Ike hopped on a tractor and doused the Asian pear trees at one of our farm locations with what some may think is really toxic white stuff.
It coated the tractor…
Sheesh – has he gone mad? What’s going on here?
The product Ike used is called Surround. It is an OMRI certified (ie. organic) product made with kaolin clay which gets mixed with water and sprayed on the trees to act as an insect deterrent. The mighty-fine clay particles cling to everything, and work their way quickly into the exoskeletons of insects, which, as you can imagine, they really do not like. It is kind of like getting sand in your underwear. Or sand in your eyes. Ouch! So quickly the very annoying and problematic spring insects are outta there!
It coated the orchard…
In this case, Ike is hoping to cut down on our yearly influx of pear psylla, but Surround has also been effective at deterring (and I rely on what they say about the product, here; we haven’t tested all of these!): cutworms, pear midge, pear slug, apple sucker, climbing cutworm, eastern tent caterpillar, gypsy moth, japanese beetle, june beetle, grasshoppers, green fruit worm, leafrollers, lygus bug, mormon cricket, cicada, stink bug, tarnished plant bug, thrips, fabria leafspot, apple maggot, codling moth, plum curculio, rose chafer, aphids, naval orangeworm, husk fly, blueberry maggot, blackberry psyllid, flea beetles, grape leaf skeletonizer, bean leaf beetle, mexican bean beetle, powdery mildew, cucumber beetle, boll weevil, armyworm, black vine weevil, and fruit flies.
It coated the newly budding flowers…
Fortunately Surround, being clay, washes off with water. So by the time we’re in there thinning the Asian pears (check out the video here), the only remnants of the clay will be in deeper crevices in the bark, so not a worry at all for our own eyes (or underwear!).
Since Surround does wash off, Ike has to reapply the Surround in order to keep the insects away. That costs time and materials, of course, but also ensures that whomever has the task of cleaning the tractor really has to find and hose out all the nooks and crannies. Thankfully, the tractor is bark-free.
So, if you drive past our Avondale orchard location anytime soon, and see pale ghostly-looking trees, rest assured they are not scary to us, but are very hard at work scaring away the insects.
(More info about how we protect our fruit and vegetable crops can be found here)
Things are in full swing in the vegetable garden these days. We are keeping our new crew busy with planting, setting up irrigation and row covers and of course, weeding! We have had several large field plantings including our onions, potatoes, peas, and spring brassicas. Keep your eyes peeled for blue potatoes this year. They are beautiful!
We also planted all of our greenhouse tomatoes this week. You will recognize our favorite green heirloom from last year, Malachite Box, and we are bringing back a delicious red heirloom from previous years called Cosmonaut. This year we are also growing my personal favorite, Cherokee Purple. Heirlooms are a little fussy to grow and certainly look very “unique” compared to a traditional red grocery store tomato, but the flavors are simply unbeatable.
Many farms choose to grow heirloom tomatoes in an unheated hoop house or greenhouse during the main growing season. This is less for the extra warmth and more to increase quality and overall health of the plants resulting in higher yields. Many tomato varieties crack from excess rain and disease can spread very rapidly when leaves stay wet during extra humid times during the summer. When growing tomatoes in a hoop house or unheated greenhouse, we can better control the amount of water the plants receive and keep their leaves dry, which helps reduce the spread of fungal diseases. We will also grow tomatoes in the field, but for our more delicate heirlooms we like to give them a little extra care and comfort.
Do you ever wonder what we farmers do all winter? We get asked that question quite a bit as the farmers’ market and CSA season wraps up in fall each year. I’ll often say something like, “Oh, we just sit around eating bon bons and watching the soaps. Or we go to the islands.”
Of course, that’s not really what we do, or we’d end up being very tanned but plump couch potatoes.
Sure, as I write this, it is not winter anymore. In fact, we’re right about in the middle of bloom season in the orchard. So why write now about winter work? Because that’s what I’m still working on.
Winter is a time of special projects, planning, pruning, and otherwise getting ready for the new season (after a wee bit of rest around the holidays). So pruning and planning started just as the fall wound down last year, and continued on into January, February, March (and, I must say, even now we’re just wrapping up the pruning).
The special projects likewise started then, but seem to have continued on and on ….and on.
As I type, I am in the ‘storage area’ of the two bedroom apartment we built for farm helpers as the carpet is being laid. During honest-to-god winter, we built the walls, hung the doors, replaced some windows, tore out and rebuilt the staircase, and painted (and painted, and painted, and painted). Last week, I waited around for the internet installer to do his thing and two weeks ago waited around for the washer and dryer delivery guys. Today, I’m waiting on the carpet gang to work their magic.
And speaking of winter projects, just outside the apartment window right now, a crew is re-roofing the old barn, and another adding board-and-batten siding to the garden shed.
It being actually spring, we’re also working in the garden and orchard a lot. Well, that is to say everyone is but me. I’m still doing winter work….and I’m having a hankering for bon bons.
1. Pick up this year’s Gold Rush Rush order (order here if you haven’t already)
2. Take and then submit your ONE favorite happy-time Gold Rush photo
Get creative; this photo could be any number of fun, silly, or delicious-looking things:
-A car filled to the gills with your happy family exhausted from loading it!
-A kid (of ANY age!) merrily munching one of “The Best Apples on the Planet”!
-A shot of your prize-winning hard cider bubbling away in a 5-gallon carboy!
-Your favorite Thanksgiving pie with everyone fighting over the last piece!
Hey, whatever! If it’s got Gold Rush apples or Gold Rush cider in it, submit it!
Rules: 1. Take pictures with Gold Rush apples or cider as your theme, then choose your favorite ONE photo.
2. Email your photo, by December 1st, to Lisa@northstarorchard.com (note: you agree that any photo submitted we may use on our website, in an email newsletter, or post online elsewhere, although for privacy we will not identify you by name if we use the photo)
We will judge all the entries in December and we will notify and announce the winners before Christmas.
Three runners-up winners will be sent a special, limited edition canvas totebag and one of our funky-cool tie dye North Star tshirts!
One Grand Prize Winner will receive the tote bag and tshirt, as well as Gold Rush next year – up to 2 bags of apples and 4 gallons of cider!
(Who will be the judges, you might ask? Well, we the farmers, of course!
After a long hard work season, we’ll be happy to sit down with some hot cider and pie and take a look at some of your awesome pictures!)
There may not be much more to be said about Gold Rush that you don’t know already, but we’ll give it a try with a bit of interesting history….
Gold Rush is a variety out of the Purdue Rutgers apple breeding program (using natural plant sex methods, NOT GMOs!).
The breeder decided to discard Gold Rush because it ripens too late in the season, so most growers would not be able to deal with it.
However, the assistant to the breeder loved the apple and, using buds from the original tree, saved Gold Rush from the dump heap!
Over time, more and more people discovered and fell in love with Gold Rush, and so ta da…here we are!
However, it does still ripen very late in the season. We often do not finish picking them until the second week of November. So frost (and late-season massive hurricanes!) can be a major concern. Because of this, many growers who do have Gold Rush pick them in October when they are still too green. You may see green Gold Rush here and there from those farms. Of course, if Gold Rush is picked green, it doesn’t taste like much of anything but green apple. It also does not keep for months like the properly-ripe apples do.
We want Gold Rush that taste mighty fine (ok, we’re a bit selfish here…because that’s what WE want to eat!). So we take the risk, year after year, and let Gold Rush get properly ripe. Some years it’s no problem, and other years we have send a lot of the apples to the ‘seconds’ bin due to cracking from frost or too much rain.
But we feel good, ripe Gold Rush are worth their weight in gold…so enjoy!
(PS. We are also using Gold Rush as a parent in our own apple breeding projects, so you may very well see some delicious Gold Rush offspring coming along in a few years!)
This is a great undiscovered, never-to-be-appreciated except by North Star Orchard fans kind of apple.
It has an excellent, sweet flavor and very juicy and crisp. Around here, we like these way better than Honeycrisp, both for its eating qualities and tree growth habit. It will never be a ‘commercial’ variety because it bruises much too easily, which is a bummer because otherwise, Honeycrisp would be in BIG trouble! It doesn’t have the funny off-, sometimes bitter flavor Honeycrisp does. It’s sweet without being too sweet and the juice and crunch qualities are awesome.
Besides the bruising factor, the other “strike” against it, from a consumer standpoint, is the yellow color. Over the years, most folks have gotten tired of eating absolutely ho-hum flavorless Golden Delicious, which has made them completely balk from buying yellow apples. But at our stand, you need not judge an apple based on its color or on your previous less-than-satisfactory yellow-apple-buying experiences.
So, poor Stellar is nearly doomed except for trees that thrive in a few small orchards like ours because we can appreciate their fine qualities. These are fantastic for fresh eating and they make great no-sugar-needed applesauce as well. We hope you enjoy them as much as we do!
This time of year in the garden there is a lot of clean up work that happens- tilling in beds, pulling up plastic mulch and drip tape, storing away greenhouse tables to make room for greenhouse planting, etc. One fun change of pace has been harvesting and threshing 5 different varieties of dry beans that we grew this year. We waited until the plants had completely died and dried in the field before we harvested the whole plants. Because of all the rain this fall, it was a challenge to get the plants completely dry even though they had died down. The first batch had to spend over a week in the greenhouse to completely dry out.
To thresh the beans we placed a layer of plants on a tarp, and with clean boots stomped away until the beans broke out of their pods. Then we collected them for winnowing and sorting. To winnow, we poured a bucket of beans with the plant debris in front of a strong fan into a clean bin. The fan blows all of the debris out and the heavier beans fall straight into the bin. The most tedious part is definitely sorting out the bad beans from the good.
Right now we do all of this by hand which can take awhile, but everyone seemed to enjoy the process. Many small farms don’t grow dry beans to sell because the labor involved in the processing makes it difficult to make even a small profit which is unfortunate because fresh dried beans are nothing like what you find in the store. Store bought beans can be extremely old and as a result have very little flavor. I’m convinced this is why a lot of people think they don’t like beans. Fresh dried beans are amazing and worth the price if you can find them at your market which is still very rare. Hopefully as the demand for all things local continues to increase we will see more staples showing up at our local markets.
Winecrisp is a complex, crunchy, sweet, and very hard apple with a fruity sweet flavor (with hints of berry!) and a beautiful dusky red skin.
When we planted this new variety, it was simply known as Co-op 31 (the poor nameless thing). We only planted one tree, just to try it out. With the first apple, came our “Wow!”….so we planted a lot more of them.
We couldn’t let them remain nameless, however, so we dubbed them “Emperor” (we are challenged in the naming department, but that’s what we came up with). A few years later, the breeder named them “Winecrisp”, which of course is an infinitely better and much more appropriate name; why didn’t we think of that?
Farmer Ike says of Winecrisp: “It is just a damned fine apple!”
So try one (or three or more) this week, and see why!