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Hit the road, Jack!

April 21st, 2016, by Lisa

Frost pics for blog postJack Frost nipping at your nose around the holidays is seasonal and song-worthy. His playful nipping in April around opening fruit blossoms? Not so much. An extraordinarily warm March had the trees (and birds and bees) thinking spring, but old Jack? He had other plans!

While frosty nights are an inconvenience to most people, they can be downright scary for your produce farmers, whose tender plants and trees risk serious damage or death when Jack bears down on them. For those with vegetable plants in the field, a freeze means the need to replant and explain to customers why the first crops are a bit late to market. For those with blooming fruit trees, a bad freeze can mean crop loss for an entire year.

Interestingly, what a ‘freeze’ means on tender fruit blossoms is rather more complicated than you may think. Charts with confusing-sounding terms and dire predictions such as this one are consulted when a freeze looms:

CROP                       ( 10%Kill (temp)  ,  90%Kill (temp))

Apples
Silver Tip              ( 15     2 )
Green Tip             ( 18    10 )
Half inch green   ( 23    15 )
Tight cluster        ( 27     21)
First Pink             ( 28    24 )
Full Pink              ( 28    25 )
First Bloom         ( 28     25 )
Full Bloom          ( 28     25 )
Post Bloom         ( 28     25 )

Pears
Bud Scales separating        ( 15        0 )
Blossom buds exposed      ( 20        6 )
Tight cluster             ( 24        15 )
First White               ( 25         19 )
Full White                ( 26        22 )
First Bloom              ( 27        23 )
Full Bloom               ( 28        24 )
Post Bloom              ( 28        24 )

Peaches
Swollen Bud               ( 18          1 )
Calyx Green               (  21          5 )
Calyx Red                  ( 23            9 )
First Pink                    (  25          15 )
First Bloom                (  26          21 )
Full Bloom                 (  27          24 )
Post Bloom                (  28         25 )

European Plums
First Swelling         ( 14         0 )
Side White              ( 17         3 )
Tip Green                ( 20         7 )
Tight Cluster           ( 24         16 )
First White               ( 26         22 )
First Bloom             ( 27         23 )
Full Bloom              ( 28         23 )
Post Bloom             ( 28         23 )

We don’t grow them, but rest assured, the numbers for cherries and apricots are ‘worse’ (that is to say – you are likely not to see ANY local cherries or apricots this year).

Basically this shows how much crop might be killed at certain temperatures. And it can be scary. Peaches in full bloom? At 27 degrees, you’ll lose 10% of the crop. But just down a few degrees to 24, and you’ll lose 90% of the crop. Yikers!

It’s definitely enough to keep some orchardists up at night. And some of them were this year. We know of orchards in the area that lit literally hundreds of fires in their orchards to try and keep the temperature up just a wee bit around the trees….as every degree counts at these temperatures.

Some farms which stoked fires all night long encountered no major problems other than a lack of sleep (although maybe they got s’mores??). But other orchards going the fire route ended up with police and fire companies on the property insisting the fires be put out. Ouch.

Here at North Star, we opted to not go the fire route. We have a site which is usually windy AND is right on a very busy road. So the thought of hundreds of fires causing rubber-necking accidents, multiple calls to 911 and the fire department, and the threat of blowing plumes of fire kept us from those s’mores. Had the temperatures been predicted to be a wee bit colder, we may have hired a helicopter to buzz the place overnight and keep the air stirred up (another freeze-avoidance tactic which sometimes works). Of course, that would probably have caused accidents and 911 calls to the police as well.

So, we opted to just let Jack have his way.

One frustration we had was that we have two thermometers on the property, and they both recorded different temperatures on each of the 3 freeze nights that week. We always opted to side on the one with the higher reading!

So, how did things shake out? Believe it or not, we still can’t be quite sure.

Oh, yes, we definitely have a crop.

At the time of the freezes, many of the apples were between the ‘green tip’ and ‘half inch green’ stage. Some were still in ‘silver tip’. So we’re mostly ok there. In the Asian pears, things were more advanced. Certain varieties in particular were hit harder than others. The peaches and plums were all over the place in their stage of bloom, depending on variety, so some were completely wiped out (or nearly so), while others look pretty darned good.

The frustrating thing at this point is that wee baby fruits which are on the tree now may grow up to have visible frost damage (which makes them a bit ugly, but they still taste good!), or they may simply give up the struggle and fall off over the coming weeks. We’ll see what happens.

Certainly, we won’t have to do as much fruit thinning this year. A crop loss isn’t all bad if it’s something like 30 to 60% loss or so.

Trees normally set LOTS of baby fruits. Like – LOTS!!! We orchardists need to remove most of those fruitlets most years so the remaining fruits grow to a lovely size and become absolutely delicious. So, losing a percentage of the crop to those freeze events will hopefully mean that our thinning job over summer has just become easier. So then we’ll be thanking Jack, I suppose.

But enough is enough… it’s time to:

Hit the road Jack and don’t cha come back

No more no more no more no more

Hit the road Jack and don’t cha come back

No more

Ray Charles – Hit The Road Jack Lyrics | MetroLyrics

Just Add Water…

March 30th, 2016, by Lisa

DSC04211
It seems like just about everything nowadays is tending towards instant.

Online, of course:
-Connect to the internet, in an instant
-Order a book for your Kindle, in an instant
-Download a song (or a whole album) to your iPod, in an instant

But even in real life:
-Drive-through Starbucks; get your coffee, in an instant
-Order a refill for your prescription at the pharmacy, in an instant
-Know where you’re driving to via your GPS system, in an instant

In this day of ‘instant’, it’s nice to be aware of and appreciate things which do not take an instant:
-A long walk on the beach just prior to sunset
-The growth of your child from babe to functioning adult
-Following the cycles of the farm, from planting, to care, to harvest

I was startled one late winter day when I received a phone call for someone looking for instant. In this case, an instant orchard. What they were looking for were adult Asian pear trees to put on their property. Not just one or two to fill a spot or two in their landscaping, as I was originally thinking, but a whole orchard’s worth.

The usual cycle of an orchard starts with ordering trees from a nursery. It can take anywhere from one to three years to receive the trees, depending on the nursery’s supply, how rare the variety is, etc. The trees arrive generally looking like long sticks with a few stringy roots attached. Planting, training, and waiting follows, followed by more training and waiting. And more training and waiting. Finally, several years down the road, you are (hopefully) rewarded with a fine crop of fruit to eat, share, and/or sell. Along the way, you, as an orchardist, make mistakes, learn more about how to be a better orchardist, and attempt to fix mistakes you previously made. In the end, if you haven’t made too many mistakes, the trees have grown tall and strong and pay you back in many ways for all earlier troubles.

This sounds oddly similar to parenting, actually, although we don’t get to (usually) pick out the specific variety of baby we want to raise.

So, these folks who want an instant orchard…well, it just startled me. Firstly, pulling a fully-grown tree from the ground and transplanting it elsewhere is a very delicate (and expensive) operation. The tree will be in shock and may not even survive the process, much less grow and be healthily productive. I suppose if you have enough money to throw at the project, chances of success would be better, but no matter what, it would still be hard on the tree.

And secondly, what of the heart of the grower? Carefully selecting and nurturing plus years of care and mistakes are all part of what makes a fulfilled orchardist. We feel great pride when our ‘children’ grow and become the best that they can be.

But an ‘instant’ orchardist? I can imagine that the only pride to be had is in the ability to stroke one’s ego. “Look, I spent $X and have an instant orchard”. Indeed; one that has been shocked through transition and struggles to survive with a caregiver who perhaps has little or no experience tending fruit trees. The heart and soul just wouldn’t be there, much less the knowledge how to help those struggling trees reach their full potential.

Instant is great for lattes, MP3s, and streaming videos, but for growing children, be they human or tree, I’ll take the long road any day.

PS. We’re grafting and planting trees right now – it’s an exciting time in the orchard!

Farmer Ike’s Pick of the Week: Gold Rush!

October 30th, 2015, by Lisa

Gold Rush
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 earlier in the season when they are still too green. 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!)

If you haven’t staked your claim yet in this year’s Gold Rush Rush, you can do so here!

Terrifying Tales (and Mad Libs) from the Orchard…

October 28th, 2015, by Stephanie

pumpkin Yoinashi
Since Halloween is coming up, I thought I would step outside the box and do something a little different. Cheesy ghost stories are one of my favorite parts of Halloween (after the candy of course) and there just aren’t enough mad libs in the world today so I decided to combine the two….

Fill in 1-15 before continuing
1. Adjective
2. Verb ending in ing
3. Noun
4. Verb ending in ing
5. Noun
6. Type of fruit
7. A famous person’s name
8. Noun
9. Adjective
10. Adjective
11. Adjective
12. Noun
13. Favorite apple variety
14. Noun
15. Adjective

READY? SET? HERE WE GO!

Ike and MollyOn a dark and (1)__________ afternoon, Farmer Ike was (2)________________ through the orchard at 3226 Limestone Road. Everything was in its place and nothing was out of the ordinary until a (3)________ caught his eye. As he crept closer to get a better look, it began (4)_________ towards him. He let out a startled yell and ran for the (5)___________. But just before he could reach it, a hand shot out of the (6)__________ tree and grabbed Ike by the sleeve. He spun around and came face to face with (7)______________! He was so surprised to see his old college friend that he momentarily forgot about the (8)__________ that was after him. However, just as Ike was about to give his old friend a tour of the orchard, a (9)___________ growl was heard to his left. With terror in his eyes and his heart beating fast, Ike turned to see none other than a (10)___________ and (11)_____________ (12)____________! He grabbed the nearest (13)______________ and threw it as hard as he could at the beast, but his aim was off and only angered the (14)___________ more. With no other weapons and no chance of escape, Ike did the only thing he could think of. He cut open a perfectly ripe Gold Rush apple and offered it to the creature. Since, as some of you might already know, Gold Rush is a pretty magical apple which has been known to defeat even the pickiest of eaters, the monster took the apple into its (15)_____________ paw, took a tentative bite, and smiled happily. This is how the not-so-scary monster came to live deep within the trees of North Star Orchard.

The End….Or is it?

Farmer Ike’s Pick of the Week: Winecrisp!

October 15th, 2015, by Lisa

Winecrisp
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 quite challenged in the naming department, as you may know, so that’s the lame name 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. My feeling is after one bite, you may not want to share!

October, NSO-Style

October 14th, 2015, by Stephanie

Hosui

Now that summer is officially over, you might be wondering what still gets done on a farm like North Star Orchard. It’s true that we no longer have peaches or plums, tomatoes or cucumbers, but we still have plenty to keep us busy.

In the orchard, we have Asian pears like Olympic and Niitaka to pick, European pears like Clairgeau and Sucre de Montlucon to pick, and so many of our favorite apples (like Golden Russet!) that we have run out of crates to put them all in! We are also making weekly trips to Bauman’s in Sassamansville to make Asian pear cider, apple cider, apple butter, and Asian pear butter. All of the jarred products are great for the winter when fruit is scarce and the cider freezes really well and tastes great warm or cold!

Kale DropsMeanwhile, in the garden, we are still harvesting lots of vegetables like broccoli, kale, spinach, and leeks. We are also busy seeding our fields that are no longer needed this season with cover crops like rye, field peas, and buckwheat. This allows nutrients to go back to the soil and to keep moisture in. The cool nights and eventual frost won’t even stop us from growing vegetable because we are able to keep planting and harvesting inside our plastic-covered greenhouse and high tunnel. The extra few degrees of warmth make a huge difference in December!

As work in the orchard and garden start to slow down, there will still be quite a bit going on here. Ike and Lisa will be interviewing potential new staff members for next season, there will be planning meetings for planting in spring, cleaning up and organizing equipment, the Gold Rush Rush!, plans for opening our very own, on-site market in the blue star barn next August, and much more.

And even though the nights are pretty cool now, the days are just right for working outside- mostly sunny and mild. This is pretty much our favorite time of year to be working so we don’t mind that there’s still plenty of work to be done!

DIY Applesauce!

October 2nd, 2015, by Stephanie

applesauce
Making applesauce is a great way to deal with all the apples that come with a fall fruit CSA share or big trip to the farmers’ market. Whether you are into water bath canning or just want some to freeze for the winter or refrigerate for a week, here is an easy, rainy day project!

Easy Applesauce Instructions:

Step 1: Rinse apples and peel if you want (I don’t peel mine since the skin on our NSO apples is pretty tender)

Step 2: Cut apples into small chunks, avoiding the core, seeds, and stem (the smaller the chunks, the faster they will cook down)

Step 3: Add to a deep walled sauce pan or a large stock pot depending on how large of a batch you want to make

Step 4: Add enough water to cover the bottom of the pan/pot so that the apples don’t burn as they start cooking

Step 5: Stirring often, cook on low to medium (depending on the thickness of your pan) until applesauce reaches the consistency you desire – starting the cooking process with the lid on will help get the temperature up quicker but then remove it so that moisture can evaporate and your sauce can thicken up

Step 6: If you like chunky applesauce, you don’t need to do anything here but if you want a smoother applesauce, you can use a potato masher or immersion blender to mash the apples a bit

Step 7: If you are going to use a water bath canner, fill (1/2 inch head space) sanitized jars with hot applesauce and boil for 20 minutes. If you are going to freeze or refrigerate applesauce, let it cool to room temperature before putting it into your preferred containers.

Step 8: Enjoy!

There are plenty of different recipes out there for applesauce including some that add sugar or cinnamon/nutmeg/cloves but this is how I like to make mine- no extra ingredients and not a lot of hassle.

And applesauce can be used in many different ways such as in baking as a replacement to eggs, oil, or butter, on pancakes- especially potato pancakes!, with peanut butter (trust me, when it’s April and we are out of apples, it is a great alternative to our favorite snack of pb and apples!), with dessert, with savory entrées, as part of a Thanksgiving feast, and more!

What do you make with applesauce?

Pick of the Week: Sugar Snap!

September 25th, 2015, by Lisa

Sugar Snap

Not the peas – the apples! The name says it all: They are not-too-sweet and not-too-tart, have a great flavor and crunch, and they’re quite juicy. We think they have the quintessential apple flavor and texture when your brain thinks of the word ‘apple’, and most everyone just loves these striped beauties!

And now, for a bit of trivia: We named these Sugar Snap right away (it was love at first bite). They’re known, in the orcharding world, sadly and simply as NY-74840-1. They were discarded from the NY apple breeding program as not being a suitable ‘commercial’ variety: the color is too variable, and they develop some russeting and sometimes cracking, none of which suits the wholesale market. But here at North Star, you know we have NO problem with any of those issues. We say bring on the FLAVOR!!
Happy Sugar Snap
Smile! This is one happy apple. Well, it did had a little help from Lisa to look that way, but still.

Many fruits develop their own protective waxy coating, called ‘bloom’. That’s what you often see on grapes and plums. You don’t often see it on apples, since they get polished up in a brusher machine before they come to you. Varieties like Sugar Snap exhibit a lot of bloom, so sometimes we like to play with our food before we even pick it!

Too bad the rest of the world won’t get the opportunity to munch on these. But for you North Star apple aficionados, it’s time to dig in!

‘Tis the Season to Eat Local!

September 23rd, 2015, by Stephanie

Week 1
You may have heard terms like “locavore”, “locatarian”, or “seasonal eating” being used at farmer’s markets or local restaurants and wondered what all the fuss was about. These are terms that describe, in part, what you already do by having a CSA share with us or shopping at one of our market stands: eating food grown locally and in the correct season for the area you live in. Barbara Kingsolver even wrote an entire book on the subject called Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life (which we highly recommend!).

We live in a time where everything we want to eat is just a trip to the grocery store or a click of a button away. But what are we giving up for this convenience?

Fruit tastes best when it has been picked at the perfect time and doesn’t need to travel long distances to get to the consumer. Grocery store fruit needs to be picked “green” or under-ripe so that it can be transported from the grower to the distributor to the grocery store and finally to the customer. Some of the distances are greater than others like apples from Washington, bananas from the Caribbean, and grapes from Chile.

tomatoesEating seasonally may not allow you to make your favorite recipes year round, but it does insure that when you finally do get to the right season for it, you have the best ingredients available which will make your meals that much more enjoyable and memorable. And if you have patience and plan ahead, there are plenty of delicious options year-’round.

Summer is a great time for peaches and plums. Eat them in oatmeal, on salads, grilled, on pizza, in pies or cobblers, and in muffins. They freeze well for use later in the year when peaches and plums are not in season and peaches also dehydrate really well!

Fall is a great time for apples and Asian pears. Both can be frozen, canned into sauce, dehydrated, and stored in the fridge for quite a while. Of course we also recommend eating them fresh for snacks, with peanut butter, on salads, with roasted vegetables like beets, sautéed with onions (one of our favorite things to do with them!), in pies, crisps, tarts, cakes, and more!

Winter and Spring are great times to use up what you have stored up in jars or the freezer and what you dehydrated. Or as some of you may know, it is a great time to eat GOLD RUSH! I know it’s still a bit early to even think about it but we do have an amazing storage apple called Gold Rush which, if kept in a cool, dry, safe place, can last until March or later! The texture might change a bit but so will the flavor – it gets sweeter as the months go by!

Eating locally and seasonally applies to vegetables as well, and provides many additional options for all seasons but particularly for the fruit- sparse times like winter and spring. Early spring crops like asparagus, greens, or rhubarb are a nice fresh addition to storage crops like potatoes, beets, butternut squash, onions, garlic, and sweet potatoes. And the canning, freezing, and dehydrating options are abundant and delicious too!

It might seem silly to wait months and months for a particular fruit or vegetable to be in season when the grocery store has them available year round, but we think that locally grown produce that looks and tastes great is worth waiting for. And it feels pretty good to support growers in you own community as well. Thank you for choosing to eat locally!

Here are the fruits WE wait all year for….

NSO Staff Picks:

Hannah: Hosui Asian pears and Aurora European pears
Paige: Shinsui Asian pears and Hudson’s Golden Gem apples
Justin: Jupiter grapes
Susan: China Pearl and Loring peaches
Chris: China Pearl peaches and Shinsui Asian pears
Caleb: Any of our Asian pears
Lisa: Jupiter grapes
Abel: Any of our freestone yellow peaches
Ike: Purple Heart plums- the first plum of the season!
Stephanie: Imperial Epineuse plums and Russet apples
Josh: Purple Heart plums and John Boy peaches
Sarah: Purple Heart plums and Jupiter grapes
Maureen: Jupiter grapes and Hosui Asian pears

What do YOU look forward to?

Nothing Com-pears…to Asian pears!

September 18th, 2015, by Stephanie

Hosui
If someone has never had an Asian pear before, it is pretty hard to describe what they are like. Sweet, juicy, round, crisp, unique, and amazing can all be used but the best way to describe it is to just say “try one”.

We grow six varieties of Asian pears: Shinsui, Hosui, Niitaka, Olympic, Yoinashi, and Raja. There are differences between all of them but also differences within each type. Depending on where they were on the tree the color can range from bright orange (full sun exposure) to greenish brown (mostly shaded). They can also be the size of a small apple or as large as a cantaloupe!

Unlike European pears which are picked about a month before they are ready to eat, kept in cold storage, and need to sit on the counter to soften up before they are ready to eat, Asian pears are picked ready-to-eat right off the tree! No need to wait for the perfect moment because we do all the difficult work for you!

HosuiPlease refrigerate our Asian pears, as they are picked ready-to-eat. Some varieties will keep up to 2 months in the refrigerator, but will lose quality if they are left at room temperature. Larger pears may be cut in half, and the unused portion saved for later use – they will not brown like most cut apples or peaches!

Asian pears may be eaten peeled or unpeeled, and are a great addition to salads. They can be used in cooking in any way you would use apples or pears. Over the years, our customers have made them into pies, tarts, ‘baked apples’, poached pears, and more. They can be dehydrated but have a very different texture than dehydrated apples and will be much sweeter.

Asian pears tend to be more expensive than regular European pears because they are much more difficult to grow, requiring a lot more hand-labor and suffering from more horticultural issues (early bloom time, fireblight, etc.). We spend several weeks in late spring thinning the Asian pears which means we leave a single pear every eight inches and snip off all the pears in between! They tend to grow in clusters of two to five and about every inch so the ground is quickly covered in tiny round fruit. It is a bit like walking on marbles which adds great excitement to our days.

clipperWe also need to spot pick them as the tops and ends of the branches ripen faster then the bottoms and near the trunk. As large and heavy as Asian pears are, they have surprisingly delicate skin so we need to snip the stem off of each pear as we pick it in order to keep them from stabbing one another and making lots of tiny holes in the fruit. If you have ever seen Asian pears in the grocery store, they usually have some sort of foam woven sleeve to keep them from getting beat up while they are shipped from who knows where and handled by so many people in between.

Despite all the extra work and potential issues that go hand in hand with Asian pears, we still grow them because we think their flavor is beyond com-PEAR!

Don’t you agree?

North Star Orchard • Ike & Lisa Kerschner
Email: Lisa@northstarorchard.com • Phone: (610)-593-0314
3226 Limestone Rd. • Cochranville, PA 19330
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