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Spring Cleaning: Out with the Old

April 3rd, 2014, by Lisa

outwiththeold-s

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…)

The Three Bears

April 1st, 2014, by Lisa

Three Bears of Orcharding-s

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!

Pruning for the New Year

January 1st, 2014, 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.
Pruning
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.

Apple Porn!

October 3rd, 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!

Say what??

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.

Applepalooza!

October 1st, 2013, by Lisa

You’ve been asking for a fall farm event, so here it is!

ApplepaloozaSaturday, 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)

Fun:

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)

Flavor:

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!

Nitty Gritty:

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!
Apple Salad
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!

Categories:
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.

Fruitosis Update: 21!

September 27th, 2013, by Lisa

21 to try!Farmer Ike walked in last Tuesday at noon with 21 new-to-us apple varieties to try!

Gulp…

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!)

AftermathAnd 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!

Monolith: For the Ambitious Apple Adventurer!

August 28th, 2013, by Lisa

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.

The background?

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.
Monolith
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…)

Who Needs GMO Apples When there is Sansa?

August 11th, 2013, by Lisa

Pending FDA approval, we may soon be seeing genetically modified (GMO) apples hitting the grocery store shelves. Dubbed ‘botox apples’ by some, these altered Granny Smith and Golden Delicious apples are designed to prevent bruising and browning. (Read more about it in this NPR article and this New York Daily News article).

We at the farm believe that the development of GMO crops is like opening a Pandora’s Box (or can of worms, if you prefer). Things could take off and become big problems in no time. We’ve already seen that in pesticide-resistant monster weeds which have developed in response to GMO corn, soy, and other field crops.

And honestly, in the case of the GMO apples – what IS the point? Sure, some apples start to brown nearly immediately upon cutting them, but others do not. The non-browning characteristic already exists in some varieties, like the Sansa we recently picked.

Sansa is a delightfully fruity and sweet early apple. Not commercially ‘pretty’, perhaps, with its russeted skin and pinkish/orange/yellowish color scheme. But you know we at North Star do not care much about looks – it’s flavor that counts!

Sansa

Sansa, hours after slicing

Every year when the Sansa start producing I am reminded of how lovely they are. And then as I cut them up for eating, I remember that they also don’t brown.

Some varieties, like Royalty, will start browning within seconds, but others do not. When there are already naturally-occuring non-browning gems like Sansa around, why on Earth are food and Ag scientists fooling around with genes in a lab? So they can have nationally-recognized varieties like Granny Smith and Golden Delicious with that characteristic? Then people will have no idea if they’re eating a GMO apple or not (because, of course, there are no labelling laws in this country….YET).

Personally, I think it would be so much better if the apple industry would stop fooling around with unpopular varieties which “look good” (although many customers hate Golden Delicious now just as much as Red Delicious because the apple industry has ruined it – but that’s another story). Why not start growing some YUMMY varieties and NOT fool around artificially with the genetics? Consumers can be taught that delicious apples can come in “ugly” packages…we’ve seen that happen with our own farm. We routinely have customers pick out the “ugliest” varieties for sale at our market stand, as they know those apples will taste just awesome!

Cut Sansa

Sansa core 2 days after being cut


And so it is with Sansa….a very unassuming-looking apple with great flavor AND a nifty non-browning characteristic….and no GMOs are involved! Believe me, we’re planting more of these babies.

Just so you know, we don’t have many of these yet, so don’t be looking for them at the farmers’ market. But we’ve planted more, so by 2014 and 2015, you’ll have a chance to get a taste!

By the way – those GMO apples, when they come out (and I’m sure they will), will hopefully have the word “Arctic” attached to their variety name. So if you see “Arctic Granny Smith or Arctic Golden Delicious”, you know what they are. Of course, that is if that name is kept with them. I’m betting the “arctic” part of the name will mysteriously disappear.

One Tough Boss

June 18th, 2013, by Lisa

Tough BossEveryone has had a really tough boss somewhere along the line. One who will change his mind at the spur of the moment or will take your prized project away just as it’s nearing completion. One who will have you working harder and for more hours, only to reward you with less pay. One who’s personality seemingly changes on a whim – being lively and sunny one moment and stormy and scary the next.

As farmers, we may feel initially like we’re our own boss. Then also we may feel that “the market” is boss. Ultimately, of course, Mother Nature is boss – and she can be one tough cookie to deal with.

Our reminder of this came Monday afternoon with a freak super-severe, but very localized storm, which packed high winds and hail. We ended up with some broken and destroyed trees, broken gates, and lots of hail damage. We were thankful we replaced the old barn roof this year; the old one would have landed in the road.

Ike and I were vacationing at the beach when this freak storm blew through. Cutting our trip short based on reports from home, we arrived fearing the worst, but were relieved to see a farm still standing as we rounded the bend. After seeing pictures of the mid-west’s tornadoes of the past couple of weeks, we were honestly relieved!

Our Boss is a mighty tough one. We’ve been doing everything right, but Her hot temper saw fit to bang things up, knock things over, and give us a major dock in pay. And oh, yes – we have to use what’s left of our pay to fix the damage She wrought. Oh, what slaves we are to Her whims of fury. When She is of a more cheery disposition, we still work hard for little praise from Her. Of course, we as a society cause Her no end of grief as well, but I won’t digress into those matters here.

For this year, we will remain thankful there was still a farm standing as we rounded the corner. We will fix the broken things which we can fix and will remove and subsequently replace those which we can’t. We will tend the tattered vegetables, bruised apples/Asian pears, and hail-sliced peaches as best we can, and hope our customers and CSA members will be forgiving. That they, too, will remain thankful there was still a farm standing, and will enjoy the flavors our Boss will still gift to us this year, however ugly they may be.

(Below are pictures from the aftermath: shredded Swiss chard, hail-nicked Asian pear, collapsed grape trellis, hail-sliced baby peach):

Hail-shredded Swiss Chard

Hail-damaged Asian pears

Wind-downed grapes

Hail-sliced peach

Babies are adorable – and then we eat them.

May 8th, 2013, by Lisa

Baby PeachesAll babies are cute, right? Well, just about, anyway. Baby rodents are kinda creepy-looking; like something out of a Dr. Who episode.

Baby PlumsBut 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.

Baby Asian pearsIn 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!

Baby ApplesMeanwhile, 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.

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