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)
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!
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!
Farmer Ike has planted many hundreds of varieties on the farm, and it’s about time we get to hear about thehows and whys behind some of them.
Here’s this week’s pick:
Golden Supreme Apple: Sweet with a nice medley of fruit flavors. Crisp, crunchy, and juicy. A delight to eat for this time of year. They would also make a nice applesauce without the need of much sweetener.
It is believed to have been a chance seedling discovered in Idaho. Farmer Ike became interested in it after reading about various taste trials it has gone through at university fruit breeding stations. We tried a few trees and liked it, so we planted a lot more, and this is our first large crop of them.
Sometimes, we meet in the mornings at the Avondale orchard (one of three sites that is part of North Star). We spend those days thinning– snipping off baby fruit so that the trees can devote more energy to producing good fruit. We each take a pear tree, and systematically work branch by branch until every fruit is 8 inches apart from the next. Sometimes we talk while we work– Friday, we played the word game Geography for a while– but usually, we fall into our own rhythms and listen to our ipods.
For me, the day feels like a very long moment, marked by the sun’s position in the sky. The early morning phase: a bit chilly, the sun glimmering behind trees. The late morning phase: I have finished my first tree, and moved on to the next. This American Life is playing on my ipod, which means I have probably shed some tears and also laughed out loud. The sun feels lovely on my back. John calls lunch; we all emerge from our trees, blinking sleepily from hours of quiet work. We eat together, sitting in the grass. The sun is full, and it is warm even within the shady trees. I carry a ladder to another tree. The work of thinning takes little mental effort after so much time for my muscles to learn it, and I am free to enjoy my thoughts.
I am not the only one whose day follows the sun. All around me, millions of fruit are producing ethylene, also known as the ripening hormone. Ethylene is one of the few plant hormones that is gaseous; it actually has a slightly sweet taste and smell. As the day gets hotter, the amount of ethylene in production increases. Cold, on the other hand, slows ethylene production. Aside from its activity in the natural world, ethylene is used medically as an anaesthetic, and in small doses, it appeals to the pleasure centers of the brain. At high doses, it can be fatal.
Not all plants produce much ethylene; but pears and apples produce a lot, which is why it’s important to refrigerate them once they’re ripe. When fruit is bruised or damaged in any way, it produces more ethylene as well– so try to eat bruised fruit first.
Have you ever wondered how it’s possible that bananas shipped from Ecuador get to your grocery store on the East Coast, and they’re still green-yellow? Or that tomatoes from California aren’t mushy and moldy by the time they travel all the way here? Most non-local, non-organic grocery store fruits are picked unripe, treated with ethylene-blocking chemicals, and often, treated with ethylene to ripen them at the right time. At high concentrations, ethylene is extremely flammable, so this process is taken seriously! USDA certified organic growers can use ethylene on tropical fruit and citrus, though not on tomatoes.
Thanks to the lovely Aubergine, who requested a post on ethylene. I wish you all a week with at least one sandwich bursting with veggies!
Back 25 years ago, when Farmer Ike (The Fruit Breeder) and I were getting married in between our junior and senior years of college (how about them apples?!), Ike was considering going to grad school for plant breeding (which he opted not to do) and was already working on developing new varieties of fruit (which he has done).
The first project he started, while we were still in college, gave us a number of trial apple seedlings which moved around with us as we finished school and moved on to work on farms. At one point, we had the apple seedlings 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 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” are definitely less-interesting names, but “Monolith” is still a conversation starter.
“Monolith” was a long time coming, what with us graduating and then moving several times over the next 5 years before we started North Star Orchard and could give it a permanent home.
The next fruit breeding projects yielded the new peach varieties “Margaret” and “Erin”, both of which are fairly petite, but very flavorful and juicy. “Erin” was named for Ike’s orchard assistant Erin. And “Margaret”? I have no idea. Ike says he just likes the name. (I notice there is no “Lisa” anywhere abouts….)
The Fruit Breeder is back to apple variety development projects now. One, started a couple years ago, is a cross of Gold Rush and Florina. Those trees, now over 6 feet tall are in later stages of selection.
Making selections in fruit breeding reminds me of some of those reality TV shows where people get whittled down to where there’s one left in the game. Same things go here. Potential varieties are culled out based on their lack of disease resistance, a poor growth habit, and eventually, by the taste of the fruit they bear. Unlike those TV shows, however, we don’t take great glee in tossing out the ‘losers’. But decisions are made nonetheless, and may the best variety win.
Please take note: The Fruit Breeder makes use of plain old ordinary plant sex to develop new varieties, not modern in-the-lab type genetic engineering or GMOs (genetically modified organisms). For more info about “Sex in the Orchard”, check out our blog post from last year here.
Just last week, The Fruit Breeder made a bunch of selections from new fruit breeding projects he started last year. Although to us, it looked like he was tossing them aside willy nilly, in each case he was making real decisions on these little babies’ first efforts of life. The ‘winners’ were planted out in rows in our front field, right next to the ‘teenagers’ who went through the same selection process last year.
Now that we have space to plant so many babies, we certainly don’t name them all. Back in the college days, we started with only five babies, so naming came naturally. Now, there are hundreds. But someday there may be only one or two “winners” from these crosses and then we’ll have to go about the difficult process of naming them.
We may have to go with names from some shows/movies which are more current. How about “Leela”, “Sheldon”, or “Schrute”? Hmmm….we may need to work on that. But with long-term projects like this, The Fruit Breeder has plenty of time to contemplate names. Although, I’d still like to know where “Margaret” came from!
1 big assortment of baby trees + 1 bunch of awesome helpers = 1 brand new orchard!
This project definitely deserved a video, so here it is!
PS. These are the trees I’ve been writing about lately in the posts “141” from last spring and in “20 Years of…” which celebrates the first orchard we planted as well as this new one. New Farm Helper Laura Beth also wrote about her planting adventures here.
If you’d like to share in this new adventure, you can sponsor one of these babies, for yourself, a special someone, as a memorial or as a gift to grow up with (for a baby). Click here to sponsor a tree and help to flavor the future!