Archive for October, 2011

Apple Camping
October 30, 2011

Well, I thought I was going to finally give my wife an apple-free weekend, as we took advantage of glorious late October weather to take our neglected teardrop camping in the mountains.  It was near-record highs of 72 degrees during the day (felt much warmer in the sun) but the dry air from the desert dropped down to a chilly 28 degrees during the night.  We dropped the teardrop off at our camping space in the morning and then drove off on our business, which caused quite a stir.  The folks camping next to us came over after we returned and said we could have sold tickets for tours, as people were walking over all day to walk all around the teardrop, taking photos, trying to peer in the windows.  Indeed that evening a half-dozen groups came over to say hi and get a good look, with the tent-camping ladies being most impressed by the mattress, sheets, down comforter and feather pillows we’d be sleeping on.  We gave out a few business cards for the teardrop plans.

But the day before we left I got an email from someone in Seven Oaks near where we were to camp, asking some pruning questions and if I’d come see their club’s orchard sometime.  I responded we’d be in the area and would be happy to.  I then got an email from a neighbor who also wanted me to see their orchard and plans for expansion, and a couple of his neighbors would also like to tag along.  So Saturday we spent much of the day walking historic orchards, talking apples with folks, enjoying a tremendous hamburger at the Seven Oaks resturant, and they driving some mountain back roads enjoying the fall scenery.  We heard the fishing was good, but we were content just to stroll along the stream.  Not a bad way to wrap up the month of October.


Apple Radio
October 27, 2011

While speaking at Tower Hill Botanical Gardens I was approached afterwards by Lisa Mullins, who happens to host an NPR program called “The World”.  She asked if I would do an interview on the origins of apples and how they found their way to the USA.  They arranged for me to visit a studio that was on our way through Concord, NH and she interviewed me from their home studio WGBH in Boston.  It was a hoot to do and they even had me crunch an apple on the air, the radio debut of Black Oxford (saved from obscurity by John Bunker of Fedco Trees in Maine). 

You can see the article at and listen to the podcast at

Since the interview came out I’ve had a lot of people from the tropics emailing me with a lot of questions, specifically if apples will grow in their climate.  They can see our Tropic Apple Body of Knowledge at and see what’s entailed in ordering apple trees at


Arkansas Black?
October 26, 2011

The above Arkansas Black apples were on display at Tower Hill Botanical Gardens in Boylston, Mass.  where I spoke at their Taste of Autumn celebration Columbus Day weekend.  The place is stunningly beautiful and well-appointed, with a collection of 119 pre-1900 apple varieties.  They were gracious hosts to us and we’ll always remember our visit.

It gave us some examples of how different apples react to different climates.  If you’re wondering why the above apples are named Arkansas Black, it isn’t because of the flyspeck and sooty black fungus that covers them.  Here’s an example of the same variety grown in a much warmer climate.

This is Arkansas Black as grown in the desert foothills near Lancaster the other side of the mountains from Los Angeles, where it can get 115 degrees plus in the summer.  I think the heat plus a much longer season colors them up like this, as they color the same down at my place in the hot valley of Riverside.  You’ll also notice the lack of fungus in the dry desert air, and foliar diseases don’t stand much of a chance here also (sunburned apples and bark is more of a problem). 

Since Arkansas Black originated in Arkansas (brilliant deduction Sherlock) it’s no surprise that it favors a hot climate, where the flavor also is improved (although I’ve never been very impressed with the flavor, despite it’s almost cult-like following here).  This apple is one of several that never seem to properly ripen in the northern reaches of our country.

Wickson Crab
October 23, 2011

The description for Wickson is:

Wickson Crabapple California, 1930’s An Albert Etters hybrid named after Edward J. Wickson, who was called the “Father of California Agriculture” and a mentor to Etters and Luther Burbank. Originally bred for cider, the crisp, yellow-fleshed golf ball-sized apples pack a lot of flavor into a small package, and excel in making flavorful cider, both sweet and hard.  They’re also good for eating out of hand.”

The example shown here is actually humongous, as they usually run a bit smaller.  The ones we found in New England were much rounder and mostly yellow with a red blush on the cheeks, and decidedly hard and tart.  Here in our heat we found them to grow larger and redder, with a markedly crisp, juicy texture and sweet spicy flavor that packs a lot into a tiny package. 

 The tree is very dependable and gave us a good crop in a year codling moth decimated other varieties; I’m not sure why it escaped this fate, other than maybe blossoming later.  It definately favors a bit of summer heat and is well suited for our area.  Below is an example from the same tree in a previous year.

New England Tour
October 21, 2011

We just got back from two weeks in New England where I spoke at a couple places, did a radio interview, and we visited about a dozen orchards.   It was breathtakingly, heartbreakingly beautiful; you don’t realize the desert we live in here in Riverside until you visit somewhere with abundant trees and water. 

What they also have in abundance is apples, all shapes, sizes, and colors.  We tasted them up in the northern reaches of New Hampshire all the way down to the “Banana Belt” of New England in central Massachusetts.   Some were wonderful, others were not so wonderful.  Timing means a lot with apples; a week too early or too late will make a great apple mediocre, and I’m willing to give allowance for that.  But I will say that from what we tasted the best of our hot-climate apples proudly hold their own when compared to ones from these northern reaches in regards to flavor, texture, and color.   I’ll be doing some comparing and contrasting the next few days, as well as sharing some more photos from this rich, colorful region, like the one below (yes, all of these are real places, not postcards).