Archive for October, 2008

Apples in Uganda
October 22, 2008

If this apple researcher looks happy, its because he’s in Uganda, not far from the equator.  They’ve been growing apples there since 2005, and farmers have been lifting themselves out of poverty and sending their kids to university from the income apples have brought to this highland area.

So far they have been growing Rome Beauty, Winter Banana, Anna, and Dorsett Golden.  I sent them a letter with my recommendations and will send them whatever scionwood they request, as I think they could do a lot better with longer-keeping varieties that will still fruit in their climate.  We’re doing the same thing with growers in Rwanda. 

The demand is high for apples in the tropics, but the price is out of reach for most people.  We hope to add to their subsistance to start with, and to their income in the long run.  This is a great frontier for us.


Oak Glen Orchard Inspection
October 19, 2008

I spent the morning Friday walking the orchards at Riley’s Farm in Oak Glen with Tom Spellman from Dave Wilson Nursery and a friend, along with the farm manager, Jeff Hammond.  Tom and I are actually competitors, but it doesn’t worry either of us; Dave Wilson Nursery has annual sales in excess of two million trees a year, and I’m lucky to get out 1,000.  I don’t think Dave Wilson is interested in carrying 100 varieties of apples either.

We inspected the older orchards, diagnosing some fireblight problems they had and recommending irrigating and mulching the older trees to boost production and prolong their useful life.  We sampled a Westfield Seek-No-Further apple from the 4-year old heirloom orchard that was wonderful, saw the heavy-laden Granny Smith crop, and remarked that it was good to see a grower planting more apples instead of tearing them out.

In a low-intenisity cultivated orchard like this, it became obvious that the best strategy for planting new benchgrafts is to start them the first year in a pot.  This allows close monitoring and watering, and also protects them from deer damage.  The next winter they can be planted out in the orchard as time and weather permits, avoiding the spring rush. 

We capped the morning with a wonderful lunch in the Hawk’s Head Public House tavern, the best post and beam colonial tavern in Southern California (OK, the only one in Southern California?)  Patrick Henry (AKA Jim Riley) came and sat with us a while and out the window I saw schoolkids dying (locked in a mock battle with Redcoats, AKA “bloody lobsterbacks”.  All in all a wonderful day.

Apple Hill
October 8, 2008

While in Placerville last week we stopped at a ranch in an area called “Apple Hill”, a collection of orchards and shops on the outskirts of town.  They have an array of craft vendors and food such as cider shakes, kettle corn and fudge, plus lots of apples.

We were there mid-season, and they had Stayman (still way too green), Golden Delicious (still a bit green), Jonagold (a little too ripe) and Empire (just right).  Against my better judgement I tried some of the Red Delicious.  They were poorly colored and I hoped that they were the old-fashioned Delicious that was just mislabeled, but alas they were indeed the inferior Red Delicious that were insipid and mealy.  We dumped the rest of them in the trash.

I bought a box of apples labeled “Pippin” in hopes that they are Yellow Newtown Pippin, and the green apples with a russet cap fit the description.  I put them down in the basement refrigerator and will test them around Thanksgiving.  If they have improved dramatically, they are indeed the Yellow Newtown (sometimes called Arbermale Pippin).  If they degrade in storage, it means I’ll have to keep looking. 

The apples were cheap, about $1.19 a pound.  I guess they are more common there, as fresh apples off the tree would command top price here locally.  After driving 500 miles, I wish the quality was a bit better.

Teardropping the Sierras
October 2, 2008

We took the Benkev (Kevin’s version of a 1954 Benroy) on a trip through the Sierra Nevada range this week.  It was a good test, as it poured part of the trip and we spent the night in the rain at about 8000′ elevation.  We were snug and dry however, listening to the rain pattering on the roof and thanking God we weren’t in a tent like 10 years ago this month.

We towed it with our 4Runner, and with the route we took I’m glad we didn’t have to tow anything heavier, as we crossed some high passes with 8% grades and harrowing dropoffs.  It was well worth it, as we saw one incredible vista after another on top of the world.  We’re already planning next year’s trip.