Costa Mesa, CA Apple Industry

February 5, 2017 - One Response

Apple orchards are the last thing anyone thinks of when you say “Costa Mesa”.  They usually think of the nearby Newport Harbor, with yachts and sunny beaches, or maybe Disneyland in nearby Anaheim.  But in the 1920’s there were 400 acres of apple trees producing the finest quality crops, and even a packing house to process all the apples.  You can read more from the Orange County Historical Society at

In the book “Early Orange County” the story of one of the first apple planters, Donald J. Dodge states that he moved there from St. Louis to escape the hay fever he suffered in the summer, and had never farmed a day in his life.  His neighbors chuckled at this greenhorn who was attempting to grow a crop that was unheard of in the area.  He had the last laugh.

Skyrocketing land values and drought pushed farming out of the area, erasing any trace of the former apple industry.  I’m glad there’s photos and documentation, or nobody would ever believe it existed, or could exist again in other warm areas.  The below orchard was in the Newport Mesa area.


Start of a New Season

January 16, 2017 - Leave a Response


The Dorsett Golden is blossoming, which hails the start of a new season.  It seems odd to me because we just harvested the last of last season’s apples a week ago, and now we’re starting again.  Apple growers in cold climates get months of dormancy with snow on the ground, and they use this time to sharpen and maintain tools, look through seed catalogs, and plan for next season.  We don’t get that in warm climates, it is constant activity with one season running into another.  I guess I shouldn’t complain, we can do our grafting with the windows open and the scent of orange blossoms wafting through the window; most apple growers do it in the cold barn with snow outside.  Soon we’ll finish up the pruning and dive into grafting season, on with the new year!

Fire Survivor

January 15, 2017 - Leave a Response

20170114_111114_resizedFall of 2015 a sugar cane field next to our scionwood orchard at the Uganda nursery caught fire, and the fire spread to our mulch and killed the scionwood trees.  These were the trees that were supposed to supply the cuttings that we graft new trees from.

We’re planting the scionwood orchard again this spring, and while clearing the field of weeds we discovered that one of the scionwood trees not only survived, but had 45 apples on it.  This was a great encouragement to the Uganda team and hopefully a harbinger of the year to come when we re-build that nursery’s capacity.


High Chill apples in Low Chill Orange County

January 8, 2017 - 2 Responses


Tom Spellman from Dave Wilson Nursery held a pruning day at the high chill apple orchard in Orange County at UC Irvine’s South Coast Field Station, made famous by the YouTube video  My wife and I were invited, along with about 15 Master Gardeners and members from the Orange County chapter of the California Rare Fruit Grower group.

This orchard has 30 varieties of apples listed between 800-1,000 hours of chill requirement, specifically:

Yellow Newtown Pippin
Bramley Seedling
Ashmead’s Kernel
Belle de Boskoop
Hudson’s Golden Gem
King of Tompkins County
Golden Russet
Arkansas Black
Cox’s Orange Pippin
Sierra Beauty
Golden Delicious
Scarlet Sentinel
Red Fuji
North Pole

Tom had told me previously that he had a good fruit set despite lack of thinning, but we were all shocked at the size, quality, and quantity of apples still left on the trees, not to mention the pile on the ground under each tree. This orchard is 10 miles from the beach, next to the Orange County Great Park, the former El Toro MCAS, and surrounded by avocado groves on two sides.  This research station is used mostly for testing semi tropic crops like dragon fruit, avocado, cherimoya, and persimmon, and is watered exclusively with reclaimed irrigation (much to the stress of the avocados).  It gets at the most 200 chilling hours, and last winter was extremely warm.  Once we got past the New Year’s Day freeze (8” of snow killing thousands of avocados in Temecula), we had weeks straight of temps in the 80s and 90s through February.

We had a lot of work to do and not much time, and so we started pruning immediately, grabbing what apples we could out of the branches and off the ground. Some were past their prime this being January and all, but Dixie Red Delight, Golden Russet, Red Fuji, Sierra Beauty, and Belle de Boskoop blew your head off.  The hand’s-down favorite was Hudson’s Golden Gem, and exceptional flavor and crunch.  By the end of the morning most of the pruning was done and we all ended up with bags of apples to take home.

There are two trees of each variety, and they didn’t get a lot of training while growing. An eastern transplant to the field station who had extensive apple experience at WSU had recommended to Tom that he convert the trees to tall spindle, which I concurred, and so he decided to convert over one of each of the two trees per variety, and the other one to remain an open vase shape as to preserve some production for next season.  He also resolved to thin the fruit hard this spring for the best size.

The orchard could have easily supported a roadside stand, if it wasn’t situated in a highly developed area of Orange County on land probably worth hundreds of millions of dollars (2BR 1 BA single story homes start at $1 million). Being this close to the ocean, high temperatures are moderated to a max high of about 105F, but lows rarely get below 40F.

It was interesting to compare the apples here with the ones at my house farther inland in Riverside.  Braeburn and Ashmead’s Kernel turn to mush in our heat, but in the moderate climate of Irvine they were both fantastic.  I also have one tiny Arkansas Black tree that never produced, but the two trees of it in Irvine were loaded, showing that it isn’t the lack of chill that’s preventing mine from bearing.  I supplied some of the scionwood to establish the orchard, and so it wasn’t a surprise to me that the trees were bearing, but I was surprised at the crop load so early in the M111’s lifetime.  The farming conditions there are perfect; a deep sandy loam with good fertility, no pests or disease, no frost, and timed irrigation.

Tom had been discouraged by DWN staff and the Field Station management from trying this experiment, as all said it would result in embarrassing failure. I remarked that this is why most low-chill apple research is done by private individuals, who do not face ridicule or loss of funding if a trial doesn’t work out.  I run into the same thing with Tropic universities, with much of the research done and risk taken by poor tropic farmers rather than academia or government organizations.  The staff at the field station and the researcher from back East are bowled over by the results of the orchard.

I’m thankful to Tom for both the visit to the orchard, and also to the load of scionwood for our Uganda nursery he generously granted.  DWN in general has been hugely supportive of the Africa nursery project, and I’ve freely shared the results of our low chill trials and recommendations for new varieties for their lineup.

Apple Trip

November 14, 2015 - One Response


We visited the Horne Creek Farm Corn Shucking Frolic this October.  Horne Creek Farm is the home of the Southern Heritage Apple Orchard, a collection of 400 apple varieties that were collected over 30 years by C. Lee Calhoun.  It was indeed a beautiful day of frolic, with bluegrass music, clogging, farming demonstrations, crafts, musket fire, costumed interpreters, Southern cooking, and yes, corn shucking.  If you’re ever in North Carolina the end of October, I highly recommend visiting this State Historic Farm in northern North Carolina near the town of Pinnacle, at the base of Pilot Mountain (known as Mt. Pilot in the Andy Griffith Show).


East African Apple Growing

November 9, 2015 - Leave a Response


It has been a busy season for the Uganda branch of our nursery.  They’ve spent quite a bit of time traveling to client’s orchards in Tanzania, bringing neglected apple trees back into productivity.  They’ve also hosted growers from Tanzania and Ghana who have traveled to Uganda to learn apple culture by working along side the Uganda team.

We’re happy to say the apple trees are looking great, the training system is working well and the trees are responding.  We’ve shown that it is indeed possible to control the runaway apical dominance and vertical vegetative habit that is typical of apple trees in the tropics and convert it to a calm, productive tree.  While other people are just sticking their toes in tropic apple culture, we’ve dived in headfirst and have been swimming for years, and now the orchards are proving that we’re right.  Uganda site USA site

Annoyingly Productive

May 31, 2015 - One Response


The good news is we got a lot of apples on the tree.  The bad news is we got a lot of apples on the tree.

About a dozen varieties are doing this right now, with big clusters of apples like grapes weighing down branches.  This is not good, as it will result in tiny apples, broken branches, and bi-annual bearing.  The apples must be thinned to one per cluster, and at this point it must be done by hand.  It’s a lot of work for what you get out of it, but part of being an apple grower.

By the way, our winter was almost tropical, but we still got a heavy fruit set on the apples, even the high-chill varieties.  I’m not sure why some years are heavy and some are light, but we still have a much more reliable yearly crop than up in the mountains, which gets hit with late frosts and dehydrating winds.

We’re on TV!

March 25, 2015 - Leave a Response

In Uganda, that is.  We’re one of the experts on the “extreme farm makeover” show, Shamba Shape-Up, premiering in Uganda Thursday on Urban TV at 7:30 PM.  The episodes of this season filmed in Uganda will show there first, then in Kenya and Tanzania later in the season.  You can see their back episodes at   Let’s shape-up that shamba!

Shamba Shape Up

Santa’s Village Apple Orchard

March 13, 2015 - Leave a Response


In 2006 my wife and I did a survey of the remaining apple trees left over from the pioneer era in the San Bernardino mountains.  One of the key people in helping us locate them was J. Putnam Henck (“Putty”), who showed us all the old trees he knew of, including this tree and others on his family’s property behind the former Santa’s Village.  We tagged and cataloged the trees, and took samples of the apples to Oak Glen for some old timers to identify.  It was subsequently cut down by the logging operations that took place on the property in the ensuing years.


Fast-forward eight years, when we were contacted by Bill Johnson, asking if we could help restore the former orchard on the Santa’s Village property that was planted by the Kuffel family.  I told him he hit the jackpot, we had a lot of information on those trees and the varieties that may have been grown there.  He and Michelle were excited to hear this, and met with us to plan the orchard.

Last weekend we were up there and found that the stump of the tree by the road had not been sawn all the way through, and a sliver of bark had allowed a sucker to grow up from the main trunk above the graft.  We cut some scionwood from that sucker, and collected cuttings from the other remaining apple trees on the property.  We also went over to some 100-year-old trees in Twin Peaks and got cuttings from them of the other varieties we knew were common in the mountains at the turn of the century.  We grafted 100 seedlings that will be the basis for the restored apple orchard on the original Kuffel homestead behind the pond.  The below photo shows a bud from the scion variety grafted onto the rootstock; this single bud will form the new tree.


But don’t head up there with your picking basket quite yet, the trees won’t be ready for years to start picking from.  But on the other hand, we grafted them onto very vigorous rootstocks that can easily live another century, and so they’ll be there again for your grandkids and great-grandkids.  The varieties are neither rare or exotic; just the old-time ones you can still get in Oak Glen, such as Rome Beauty, Winesap, White Winter Pearmain, and King David.  But the taste and crunch will be identical to what Adam Kuffel and his family enjoyed over 100 years ago.

Incidentally, we’re not related to the Kuffel family, nor is our nursery located in the mountains; Kuffel Creek Apple Nursery was just a catchy-sounding name.  We’re sold out for the year too, so I’m afraid we won’t be filling any more orders.  I will admit we’re in a very fun business. – Kevin Hauser, Kuffel Creek Apple Nursery

We’re done.

March 9, 2015 - One Response


OK, we’re sold out for real for this season.  If your order is already in the mail, we’ll take care of it, otherwise thanks again for a great year, start planning for next season when we open up for orders again in September.