July 17th, 2014, by Lisa
June 26th, 2014, by Zippy, translated by Hannah
Farming Curious? Learn from our expert, Farmer Ike!
From 7PM until dusk every 2nd and 4th Tuesday of the month through September, join Farmer Ike for walks through the orchard and/or garden and open discussions about various seasonal happenings on the farm. Topics will vary depending on the season. Open to those curious about how a farm like this works and for those looking for gardening and orcharding tips and tricks!
This Coming Tuesday, July 22nd:
There’s not much easy about growing staple crops such as dry beans, wheat, and flint corn on a small scale. Running from the rain last time cut Ike’s staples talk short, and now the wheat harvest is nigh! Learn about the trials and tribulations so you can appreciate your autumn chili and cornbread more!
How to figure out when fruit is ripe without gorging yourself on underripe individuals. Yes, this part of the Hike will include samples straight from the trees!
AND your questions welcome on other subjects!
Free admission; all are welcome.
Light refreshments provided.
Location: 3226 Limestone Rd. Cochranville
Have a topic you’d like Ike to cover? Let us know in the comments below!
May 27th, 2014, by Zippy, translated by Hannah
Lisa took me up in the Brownie today. I didn’t want to go up at all, but the farm helpers who drive the Brownies talked me into it – they said it was going to be fun. It wasn’t.
It was REALLY scary. So scary that I kept my eyes closed the whole ride down.
Good things about being up on the Brownie: I could see all the way across the orchard. It’s really cool looking from way up high – you can see the whole layout of the orchard, which you can’t see from the ground. I could see the tops of the trees up close, too – they’re really young and bendy at the top, and super green. We even found a bird’s nest in one of them!
Bad things about being up on the Brownie: Everything else. It’s REALLY high up, and there’s only a thin metal rail separating you from the edge of the platform. It’s super noisy – it made my ears rattle. And every time Lisa presses the pedals, it moves! Up, down, back, forth, side to side. Moving down is the worst.
Ike and Farmer Josh use the Brownies to prune the trees, and Lisa and Farmer Justin use them when we’re fruit thinning. I think it sounds like an awful job – I don’t know how they do it. I thought we were going to fall the whole time. I don’t care what the farm helpers say – I’m never going up on the Brownie ever again!
Here’s even a video of my scary ride up in the Brownie. See what you think…would YOU go up in it?
April 3rd, 2014, by Lisa
I’m thinning Asian Pears today! This is the first time I’ve helped with the thinning, and it’s a lot to learn all at once, but so far I think I’m doing okay.
The trees make lots of baby pears on each of the branches, and Farmer Lisa says we have to cut some of them off so the ones that are left are able to grow bigger and sweeter. See the baby pears next to me on the ladder? Aren’t they cute? The ones that are left on the tree are going to grow into big yummy Asian pears before the summer’s over! We use big orchard ladders – six and seven feet tall! – to reach up into the higher branches, and they’re hard for me to climb. Some of the farm helpers who know how to drive the Brownie (a giant hydraulic lift that’s even scarier than the ladders are!) come down the rows after we’re done and thin the upper branches that short sheep like me can’t reach.
The clippers we snip the fruit with are almost as scary as the ladders are. Farmer Ike keeps the clipper blades really sharp, and I have to be careful not to cut myself when I’m using them! So, I have to hold the clippers with one hoof, a branch with the other (keeping track of where both hooves are so I don’t snip one by mistake!), AND stay balanced on the ladder – all at the same time! I sliced one hoof already – it hurt! Since then I’ve been much more careful.
So far, I like thinning the Asian Pears! It’s hard work, but there are other farm helpers working at the trees next to me, which makes it more fun! I can’t wait to learn how to thin other kinds of fruit as the season goes on . . . or to taste the Asian Pears once they’re ripe!
(Is there something you’d like Farmer Zippy to explore during his farming adventure? Let him know
April 1st, 2014, by Lisa
Do you engage in spring cleaning? I know it was a big deal for my grandparents and great-grandparents. I think that was because (as I recall my great-Aunt Dot explaining) the coal soot from heating over winter (and having windows closed up that whole season) left the house and the drapes with a coating of crud. Ick.
I am glad I don’t have coal dust crud to deal with. I only have plain old dust!
We still hear about spring cleaning a lot, however: marketing ploys, magazine and media articles, etc. (uh-oh, I guess I’m guilty here on this one). But in my case, I’m not talking cleaning of house and switching of wardrobe, but rather the spring cleaning that comes with the routine nature of farmwork.
We long ago said goodbye to fall crops, and we’ve been pruning like mad since the snow and uber-cold finally left. Some of our major spring cleaning (as pictured above) included what we call ‘ground-level pruning’. This is the type of pruning that doesn’t require much know-how other than how to operate a chain saw.
And what brings about such pruning? Various things like disease or other major damage, or perhaps we just don’t like a particular variety. In this case, it was a partial row of peach trees that were a part of a trial, grown simply to see if we liked the varieties or not. After about two years of fruiting, we cut down the trial trees to make way for others. Those varieties which ‘made the cut’ (so to speak) we’ll plant more of. Those that we didn’t like made another cut in our minds, and will not grace the farm again with their presence. So, “Out with the Old”!
We’ll “In with the New” in a few upcoming blog posts – stay tuned!
What kind of spring cleaning do you do?
(BTW, if it’s of the interior sort – can I hire you? I’ve still got that dust…)
January 1st, 2014, by Lisa
So many things come in threes, wouldn’t you agree?
Right now, just off the top of my head:
-Red, white, and blue
-Flyers, Sixers, Phillies (and this coming from a NON-sports person!!)
-Ham, beans, and potatoes (a non-favorite dish from my childhood)
-Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram
-John, Paul, George, and Ringo (oops…)
-Harry, Ron, and Hermione
So, hey, why not the same on the farm!
Here we have an example of the three bears of orcharding: Papa, Mama, and Baby orchard ladder. As in the story, Papa is just way too extreme. Mama, in this case, is middlin’. Baby is (both in story and orchard) “just right”.
And by “just right” in a ladder sense, I mean tall enough to reach into the trees a few feet higher than you can normally reach, yet not so high that you’re afeared for your life. (yes, pity and pray for those who climb Papa ladders…)
I found it so amusing this morning that the “family” decided to take a nap lined up just so.
And now I’m off to enjoy my own personal favorite three: coffee, a small nibble, and a listen to some crazy prog rock. Working with Baby Ladder will, for me, wait until May. Until then, wee one, sleep well!
October 3rd, 2013, by Lisa
While walking in the orchard first thing this New Year’s Day morning, I happened to notice the apple trees Ike was pruning yesterday.
How very like the New Year’s holiday is pruning season.
While we reflect on our personal experiences over the past year and look forward to things to come in the new year, so it goes during pruning. While pruning the trees, one reflects upon that particular variety’s flavors as well as how well it grew and produced; its challenges and successes. As the cuts are made, one thinks of the crop yet to come and how the pruning may help the growing tree succeed in having a fruitful year.
As people, we also take this time to prune… to ditch bad habits perhaps, or try to carve more personal time into our hectic schedules. And we also look forward to having a fruitful year with the so many experiences life has to offer.
Pruning an apple tree well takes many years of experience and observation to learn how to make the best cuts to help the tree along its journey for the new season. May your own years of pruning experience likewise help you towards a fantastic start for a fruitful new year.
October 1st, 2013, by Lisa
Got your attention, eh?
The other day, I came across an article online which I found really interesting. As Ike (who normally doesn’t even peruse the internet unless he absolutely has to) was passing by, I said, “Hey – there’s a picture online I want to show you.”
He gave me a funny look, presumably because he was thinking, ‘oh great, she wants me to look at a computer…’. I responded to that look by saying, “Hey – it’s apple porn!” – which quickened his step in my direction.
Turns out there’s a fellow in the UK who has a tree (a SINGLE tree) onto which he has grafted – get this – 250 varieties of apples!
Our 400 or so varieties here at least have one tree apiece. Sometimes there are two of each, and sometimes 200 (like Gold Rush!).
So this fellow’s 250-variety apple tree is quite an amazing feat. And quite a sight for the eyes (hence the “apple porn”).
You can read all about it here.
September 27th, 2013, by Lisa
You’ve been asking for a fall farm event, so here it is!
Saturday, October 5th from 4 to 7 PM
Plan to join us for the whole timeframe, as it’ll be chock full of fun (and apples!)
(you can arrive anytime between 3:30 and 4 and have plenty of time to get your apple on – facepaint that is – before further activities start)
Apple face painting for kids of all ages
Apple-of-a-different color art (also for kids of all ages!)
Feats all can enjoy:
Apple packaging competition (in groups, with prizes!)
Pass the apple
(and if the kids are rowdy, an applehead race)
An Awesome Apple Tasting Tour of the orchard with our resident apple-head, Farmer Ike!
The Apple Concoction Contest! (Yes, this is an apple-themed potluck)
Things to bring:
1. Your apple concoction (see below)
2. Your own dishware and utensils (beverages will be provided)
3. Pocket knife, if you have one, for the Apple Tasting Tour
4. Chairs or blankets to sit on while you feast!
Volunteers Wanted: (please let us know if you are interested!):
1 or 2 photographers willing to take and share some shots of the afternoon!
1 or 2 acoustic musicians willing to play for part of the time
UPDATE: The Bent Benjamins will be providing some musical entertainment! CSA member Jim Donsky and friends will entertain us with acoustic Americana folk rock! They plan to start at 4PM, so they can later join in on the festivities and good eats! Come out and give them a listen as you enjoy some simple games and other activities.
1 or 2 face paint helpers to help our in-house artist. Simple art – an apple with stem and leaf!
Location: 3226 Limestone Rd. Cochranville, PA 19330
Parking: Watch directional arrows for parking when you arrive. Please negotiate carefully. There will be an area for unloading and special needs parking for those with disabilities.
Contact: If you have trouble finding us, call Lisa at 610-406-1780. If you have other concerns or questions, please call 610-593-0314 or email us: Lisa@northstarorchard.com
THE APPLE CONCOCTION CONTEST!
Bring a dish, be it sweet or savory, containing apples in some way.
(If you’re really stumped, you can bring something which doesn’t have apples in it, but we hope you’ll try!)
Judges: Everyone who attends!
Sweet – including any desserts, sweet breads, jams, etc.
Savory – including all main dishes, side dishes, soups, casseroles, salads, etc.
Most Creative – that which the crowd judges to be the most interesting and creative (maybe in presentation, ingredient pairing, etc.)
Prizes per Category: 1 bag of Gold Rush in fall (or another apple variety of your choice) + 1 bottle of cider at the Applepalooza.
Recipe Request: We would like to start a webpage on the NSO site for recipes from this year’s Applepalooza and future events. It would be great if you could bring your recipe with you, or email it to us.
August 28th, 2013, by Lisa
Farmer Ike walked in last Tuesday at noon with 21 new-to-us apple varieties to try!
I prepared for the tasting (which was held at 3:30) by eating a protein and carbohydrate-heavy lunch, as I knew I’d soon be filling up with juicy fruit sugars!
Ike had all of the apples labeled, which was kind of cool-looking, and it was neat to exclaim about the name before we took a bite: “Crown Prince Rudolf? What kind of name is that?” and “Junaluska – you gotta wonder!” So while it was fun, it maybe would be better to do it as a blind tasting. Apples named “Cinnamon Spice” and “Nutmeg” definitely give us pre-conceived notions about what they’ll taste like. In some cases it was correct, such as with “Green Sweet” and “Spice of Old Virginia”. But with the aforementioned “Cinnamon Spice” our hopes were dashed as we tasted a rather bland apple. We’ll give it another try, though…sometimes great flavor comes along as the trees mature.
We got through all 21, with Ike taking notes on our consensus about the merits (or not-so-meritorious virtues) of each variety.
I believe our favorites were Pixie and Fiesta (which, honestly, was like having a party in your mouth!)
And that was it for me for the day – no more fruit, please!!
However, I’m looking forward to the next tasting. And I’m looking forward to next year (2014), when we plan to host tastings that YOU can come to as well. It’s great fun…and I promise I’ll have some carbs handy to balance the fruit!
One may wonder how on Earth an apple variety ended up with a name like Monolith. The apples are neither tall nor imposing in appearance in any way. They are, however, imposing in flavor. This is one apple which demands attention while it is eaten.
Monolith is the result of an apple breeding project we farmers (Ike and Lisa) started way back when we were in college. We had a number of trial apple seedlings (offspring of the variety ‘Liberty’) which started out their lives growing in pots in our college apartment (which was certainly a conversation starter at parties).
To differentiate the individuals, we gave them working names based on characters from the films 2001 and Alien (hey, why not?). That first apple breeding project eventually resulted in our apple “Monolith”, which is, you must admit, a more interesting apple name than the others had. Apples “Hal”, “Floyd”, “Ripley” and “Bishop” had definitely less-interesting names and apples, but “Monolith” is still a conversation starter…both by name and by flavor.
Monolith was a long time coming, what with us graduating from college and then moving several times over the next five years before we started North Star Orchard and could give it a permanent home.
The young variety showed great promise as far as its growth habit and overall hardiness. The first apples were interesting, to say the least. But we still had a waiting game with Monolith. The apples on young trees tend to vary greatly in flavor and quality from those on mature trees, so a few more years passed before we could taste what Monolith could really do.
Several years ago, we found out. Wow! We quickly grafted and planted more trees.
The apple is a mix of a gorgeously shiny cherry-red with green on the opposite side. The cheery color might lead one to believe it is going to be deliciously sweet. But wait – grab it before the kids take a bite. This is an apple to be reckoned with.
Monolith is quite tart but has the most amazing complex flavors we’ve ever tasted in such a tart apple. People who like tart apples are stunned at the complexity of it and are quickly drawn in to Monolith adoration (like the proto-humans in the film/book?).
Forget Granny Smith, tart apple lovers – Monolith blows her away (or maybe towers over her??)
Enjoy this impressive apple. It is available only a short time around the end of August/beginning of September, and it is available nowhere else.
Like the Monolith of the movie and book: it’s stunning, imposing, and one-of-a-kind. Unlike the Monolith of story fame, this one tastes amazing! (not that I’ve tasted the original, but it certainly doesn’t look very appetizing…)