Archive for May, 2008

He’s Got the Bug Bad
May 31, 2008

A coworker has officially gotten the apple bug; he bought a cider press and is pulling out a bunch of grass out back to plant more apple trees.

Here in Southern California you’re not going to find a second-hand cider press at the flea market, and there aren’t any in the paper either.  The only way to get one is to buy it new, which is a serious proposition; the double-tub beauty above is close to $1,000 with tax and shipping from Kansas.  And of course, he doesn’t want to just leave it out sitting in the weather, so he’s building a cider pressing shed to house it.

And of course, once you have the cider pressing shed, you need to plant more apples to justify having it, and so he’s already hit me up for a bunch of Arkansas Black trees in the spring (they achieve good quality here and fetch top price). 

Now I’m all for pulling out all that silly grass you have out back that is just using up water and making you mow it every week.  And apple trees are a wonderful replacement that will actually give back something, and are also very little trouble to take care of.

I have a press also, so that makes two in this city, a fact we should herald on the city website somewhere.  I suggested he mount his press on a trailer so he can have a side business driving around pressing other people’s apples for them.  Looks like other folks are just going to have to get their own press …

Remembering Our Finest
May 26, 2008

While visiting my in-laws this afternoon we went for a walk, and passed a house of their neighbor that had recently moved in.  On each side of the garage door was an American Flag and the US Marine flag, and centered above the garage door was the photo of a handsome young marine.  There was also a star hanging in the window.  The man who was obviously the dad was sitting on the porch, so we decided to stop and introduce ourselves to him.  After making some small talk, the subject turned to the marine in the photo, his son.  He told us that he was 20 years old when he was killed in Iraq in 2006, and that Memorial Day was especially hard on him as a father.  His breath smelled like alcohol and his face was filled with grief.

Looking at the photo I couldn’t forget how in defending our country it seems the finest of our young men are sacrificed; men with their whole lives ahead of them but choose willingly to serve.  These are not half-wits who fell for some manipulitive talk from a recruiter because they had no other options; these young men are filled with purpose and knew exactly what they were getting into, and while on leave yearn to be back with their unit because they believe in their mission of defending this country and liberty they love.  The dad told us his son had passed up a scholarship to join the marines.

This liberty that is continually purchased for us at a terribly great a price should not be ungratefully squandered on immoral and ungodly pursuits; no, our appreciation to these men and women who sacrificed and their families should be to use this precious liberty to  build up, to raise a God-fearing generation, and to show the world our goodness and character in the face of moral darkness and societal decay. 

Before leaving we asked the man if we could pray with him; he seemed surprised, but willingly held hands with us as we thanked God for men like his son that willingly sacrifieced himself for us, and that God would comfort and console the grieving father.  I know God listened because he too sacrificed His Son so that we would be free from sin and death.  My prayer is that we would make the best uses of both of these sacrifices.


Big Apple Trees
May 24, 2008

Dwarfing rootstocks for apple trees have been a boon to both commercial growers and home gardeners alike.  They allow a much more efficient production and reduce the labor necessary to thin, prune, pick, and spray (if you do spray).

But there is something reassuring about an apple tree allowed to grow full-size; these are called “standard” or “seedling” rootstock trees; trees grown on roots that have been sprouted from an apple seed instead of on roots cloned from dwarfing rootstock.  They are the most vigorous, drought-resistant, best anchored, and longest-lived apple trees. 

As shown in the above photo (see the guy sitting on the branch) they can get humongous.  Depending on the variety, 20-30 feet tall is not uncommon.  The champion tree had a width of 75 feet, was 45 feet tall, and produced 450 crates of apples.  If the apples weren’t picked they piled two feet deep under the tree.

But I admit an apple tree on seedling rootstock this size is an abberation.  A more common size for seedlings is the above 90-year old Golden Delicious tree.  Seedling rootstock trees live so long because they basically outgrow anything that tries to harm them, from insects to storm damage.  Their tough, rope-like roots go deep and wide in search of water and nutrients, and extract them from even poor soils of sand and clay.  They are good for remote properties that may not get regular watering and are subject to harsh conditions.

Depending on the variety, they can take between 3-10 years to start producing.  But if you have the room and want a tree your grandkids can enjoy, plant a couple big apple trees. 

Pruning Video
May 22, 2008

It may seem strange for me to reference the University of Massechusetts Fruit Advisor program at their Cold Spring Orchard research facility, but who can pass up a central leader pruning video set to Star Wars music?  It’s also one of the best descriptions of central leader pruning I’ve seen.

Go to and type ” umass fruit advisor, central leader pruning” in the search box; the first frame is black with white lettering.   They have several other videos with Jon Clements hosting, and he’s written to me and is a great guy.  Hey! I have a video camera; what should we do a video on?  Picking apples in front of the roses at Christmastime in short sleeves with blue sky and palm trees in the background?  We’d probably get hate mail from folks back east…

How Deep Are Your Roots?
May 16, 2008

After a few weeks of cool weather, we had our first real heat today- around 100 degrees.  The poor little tree in the front center pot had been struggling along, but this heat just did it in, while the trees around it are thriving. 

It has to do with its roots; either they were undeveloped or something like a borer was choking them off from delivering nutrients.  All these benchgrafts looked the same from the top when I potted them, but the heat of adversity seperated the one that wasn’t well-rooted.

People are like this also; on the surface they may all look the same, but the heat of adversity will seperate those that whither from those that will thrive.  I want to be one that thrives, and I know the secret:

“Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the path of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His law he meditates day and night.  He shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water that brings forth its fruit in its season, whose leaf shall not whither, and whatever he does shall prosper.

The ungodly are not so, but are like the chaff which the wind drives away.  Therefore the ungodly shall not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous.  For the Lord knows the way of the righteous, but the wsy of the ungodly shall perish.”  -Psalm 1:1-6

Clark’s Ranch Mystery Apple
May 14, 2008


Part of the fun of messing with apples is their long life and link to the past.  In the middle of the San Bernardino National Forest is Clark’s Ranch, which the 1899 Clark’s Grade road is named after.  Clark’s Grade used to be part of the Middle Control Road, which snaked up switchbacks from the Santa Ana River to Big Bear and switched directions every three hours.  You can still clearly see the big switchbacks from hwy. 38 between Angelus Oaks and Barton Flats.

All that’s left of the original ranch are some cabin slabs, a couple rotting fenceposts, a squishy meadow that used to be a stock pond, and some apple trees.  A few of the apple trees are healthy and still bear heavily, but the sad example above is about to expire. 

The green bushy growth you see are only suckers from the seedling roots, which bear nasty-tasting apples.  The quality variety that was grafted onto it is that dead stick poking up in the air to the right.  Upon close examination I found a skinny twig that was still barely alive, and took a cutting from it and grafted it on my Pink Lady tree at home in August of 2006.  Last summer was record drought and in all likelihood that tree variety at the ranch is now dead, so I got it just in the nick of time.

This spring the cutting flowered and has a couple tiny apples on it, so I may get to see what variety it was.  I also grafted a few trees of it to plant at various places, and thus will make sure this exact tree will still be enjoyed far beyond it’s already long lifetime.  This is a ton of fun. 

Why Aren’t There Apples in Apple Valley?
May 13, 2008

It seems funny, a high desert area in Southern California that’s mostly sand and creosote bushes named Apple Valley, when there’s not an apple tree in sight.  It took me a while to trace down why this is.

Settlers found the dry, high desert climate with cold winters amicable to apple growing in the 1920’s, and pumped groundwater for irrigating.  These orchards are why the waters of Lake Arrowhead were never diverted to the other side of the mountains down to San Bernardino, as the farmers filed suit and wanted the water for their orchards.  The courts agreed, and Lake Arrowhead was used for recreation instead and the drainage maintained down its natural course to the desert.

By the late 1920’s there were thousands of acres planted in apple trees, and life seemed good.  But there was climate change even then, and the 1930’s turned cold and wet, with huge dumps of snow in the mountains.  The normally dry and warm desert climate turned cold and damp and Oak Root Fungus took hold, wiping out many apple trees.  Up in Barton Flats Richard Stetson testified of his battles with the fungus, and applied a mixture of lime and sulfur poured around the roots.  The lime can above was found on the ranch, confirming this account.

During the depression the cost of power to pump groundwater became prohibitive to the farmers, and by the late 1930’s the desert climate dealt hail, frost, and blazing heat that finished the orchards off.  Competition from Washington State growers kept any from coming back.  During the years of 1941 and 1942, firewood from the orchards was the only crop going to market in Los Angeles. 

With no groundwater within reach of the apple tree’s roots, it was a quick death for any tree bereft of irrigation.  The desert floor reverted back to sand, with not a trace of the thriving orchards once planted there.  But the name of the valley stuck, and maybe some day I can convince some folks there to plant some apple trees in Apple Valley.  Its seems a natural fit.


May 10, 2008

Behold our cherry harvest.  This one is a Royal Ann cherry, usually more bi-colored red and yellow than this.  We had tons of blossoms, but only three or four cherries on both our Royal Ann and Lapins trees.  I don’t know if its a pollination problem, that they’re too young, or that they just won’t fruit well here.  I’m loathe to give up yet, as I learned my lesson with apples.

Zaiger Genetics released a cherry variety that has shown itself to be very productive in a low-chill climate; Royal Lee, and its pollinator Minnie Royal.  They’re distributed in California through Dave Wilson nursery, a wholesaler that deals through retail nurseries. 

We have high hopes for it, as cherries are the last conquest from the high-chill areas that we have not been able to grow.  We already grow wonderful peaches, nectarines, plums, apricots, apples, persimmons, pluots, blueberries, blackberries, boysenberries, and figs; not to mention the world’s greatest citrus and avocados, olives, loquats, pomegranates, bananas, and guavas.  Year round.  It just doesn’t seem fair.

Winter Keepers- OTM
May 6, 2008

My article in the December/January 2008 issue of On The Mountain was on Winter Keepers.  This is a forgotten family of apples that were extremely valuable to settlers in the days before canning or refrigeration.

Read it at 

I wish I had a White Winter Pearmain right now!

On The Mountain- Rome Beauty
May 3, 2008

The below link is to On The Mountain’s October/November Issue where I detail the local history for Rome Beauty, beloved by both grower and consumer.  It ranks as our #1 cider apple (mostly because we have so many of them).

Contrary to popular opinion, it is well-suited to a hot climate and its attributes that made it popular with pioneer growers also make it wonderful for us; early and heavy bearing, consistent crops, vigorous growth, and wonderful taste.