Walking through the orchard on a summer day is a colorful affair. It’s not the oranges, yellows, and reds of ripening fruit which catches your eye first, but bright an gaudy flags of color fluttering from many trees.
Red, black&yellow check, white with orange polka dots, purple, blue&white stripes, etc. – the varying colors can seem endless. What, oh what, does it all mean??
Each color means something, of course, and trees are tagged accordingly.
For the most part, each flag color means a particular person did the thinning work on that tree. Nicole’s thinned trees have a green flag, Kelly’s are dark blue, Justin’s are white with orange polka dots, and so on. Each person uses that color throughout the year for particular tasks. Flagging trees helps everyone else know the task has been done on that particular tree, and also provides a way for us to check on how helpers are doing on the task, and where they may need some tips and hints to improve their technique. Fruit thinning isn’t quite rocket science, but there is definitely a learning curve!
There are a couple of flag colors we don’t much like to see, however.
A BLACK flag is basically the kiss of death. That tree is slated to be cut down. Perhaps it is sick or otherwise not performing well. Or maybe we’ve decided the fruit from it really, REALLY doesn’t taste good.
A RED flag indicates a tree which is struggling with fireblight, which is a very transmissible bacterial disease which can completely kill trees and wipe out entire orchards if not kept in check. So trees which are known to be infected, but which we’re keeping an eye on and trying to save, will be flagged with red.
A PINK flag means “look at me for specific instructions for this tree”
Red and black aside, the fluttering ribbons on a breezy day is a pretty neat sight to see. Not only does it just look cool, but it also means the work has been completed in that area….which takes us closer to fruit harvest stage. Hurray!
Brownies are most everyone’s favorite, and here on the farm the same holds true. Although in this case, we’re talking a piece of heavy machinery not a chocolatey edible.
This week, this Brownie will get seriously busy as we begin the two-month-long process of fruit thinning. Unfortunately, it can’t do it all on its own, but rather requires an operator who stands on the platform driving it around and lingering in the tops of the fruit trees thinning away extra fruits.
As of tomorrow, the Brownie will be running pretty much constantly. This year, if you were here to visit, you’d likely see either Paige, Josh, Justin, Nicole, or Lisa up there at any given time.
Last year, Farmer Zippy had a chance (see video below). He wasn’t too keen on it though, so I don’t think we’ll convince him to do it this year. Plus, his little hooves have a hard time manipulating the clippers needed to thin Asian pears!
Last fall saw the first fruits from many of the trees everyone has sponsored; how exciting!
Since we now have (at last count…) 353 varieties of apples out there, we set out on an ambitious project to not only taste them all, but also get on-the-tree AND staged photographs of each variety.
So here, then, are some of those sponsored apples in video format – is yours included? If not, no worries – it just didn’t provide fruit yet. Maybe this year!
For those of you who sponsored peaches: many of them fruited last year and will be going gangbusters this year. Sponsored Asian pear trees need an extra year, so this year will likely be the first we’ll see fruit on many of those.
PS. We plant new trees all the time, so if you’d like to sponsor a baby, teen, or adult tree for yourself or as a memorial or to celebrate the birth of a child, look here for more info.
We hope you’ll be able to visit the farm and your tree(s) sometime this year. We have one summer event scheduled (peach/tomato tasting), and three fall “Adventure in Flavor” days where you’ll be able to try more than 40 kinds of apples. Save the dates (all info is listed on our Calendar).
AND (shhhh…secret…still in planning stages…) a summertime soiree of a sit-down farm-to-table type of dinner! More news on that to come, but it’ll focus on our fruits & veggies, plus local meats and cheeses, all of which will be prepared by an amazing chef who thrives on all things local. Stay tuned – we’ll give you the lowdown as soon as we have the details!
Pointy little metal things stuck in trees at crazy angles. Egads, is this torture in the orchard? Well, we can’t exactly get the trees take on it, but I hope not!
As you probably know, sunlight is one of THE key ingredients for plant growth. It’s also instrumental in good flavor development in the fruit. So, when we have young trees where the branches are all crowded together reaching for the sky, there’s not much way for the sun to squeak through. Spreading branches not only allows sunlight in but also encourages good airflow, which helps keep disease pressure down. So, spreaders to the rescue!
In spring our gang goes out armed with these pointy objects of varying lengths (no running, gang!) and place them in strategic spots amongst the branches to encourage them to grow at a better angle for tree and fruit health. After a few weeks of training, the tree figures it out and we can remove the spreaders.
We get the question all of the time: “What is your favorite apple?”
Ike says something to the effect of “It’s the one I’m eating”. Which is true in his case. He has to sample and evaluate over 400 varieties of apples during the growing season. So if he’s chosen an apple to actually eat rather than just sample (like the old taste-and-spit method wine makers use), then you know it’s one he really likes.
Lisa will often say one or the other is on her Top Ten list, but to this point hasn’t really sat down to come up with a Top Ten list. Well, no more beating around the bush….here’s her list (in no particular order – that’s too hard!):
Interestingly, most of those listed are yellow, gold, or have a high percentage of those colors on them. The exceptions being Winecrisp which is so dark red it’s nearly black, and Ludicrisp which again is dark red an speckly. If you are familiar with these varieties, you’ll also know they are sweet (‘cept maybe early-season Gold Rush), hence you know where Lisa’s tastes lie as well.
It’s a shame that in commercial apple sales, yellow apples are much maligned. Indeed it can be hard to convince a new-to-North Star customer to even try a yellow apple, so ruined they have been on very icky Golden Delicious. You cannot judge a book by its cover, nor can you judge an apple by its color.
What do you think – do any of those apples make it on your personal Top Ten list? What other varieties really float your boat?
Note: These are estimates. Farmer Ike would argue we have 3000+ varieties on the farm, owing to his apple breeding program. But so far those are not named. I understand it’s not a good idea to name things unless they are truly going to be your pets (that may be for chickens, though, rather than trees). But in any case, coming up with 3000 names would be way too taxing, so we’ll stick to the 380 to 400 range for the moment…
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!