The ManyTracks Orchard
Four decades of Growing
in Michigan's Upper Peninsula
The very first planting on our new homestead was an apple tree. Several apple trees, and a pear, maybe something else. Purchased from a nursery downstate -- Macintosh, Winesap, Prairie Spy, Bartlett Pear -- it was what they recommended. We brought them north and planted them in the newly fenced (we did know about deer) cold and wind-swept (except from the west) garden-orchard area in 1978. We had no amendments to add to the old worn-out sod soil, no mulch to help the new trees get established, little water to help them thrive, no time to devote to the new orchard, and no knowledge of pruning. But most of those trees not only grew they lived to set fruit! They are amazing creatures. I have a great deal of respect and appreciation for them.
The Macintosh was not a good choice as it's not well adapted to this area, especially back then when the winter cold was more severe. I wouldn't plant a Macintosh now. I have a note of some fruit harvested in 1987 but then nothing. The Winesap could have been a good tree for here. I remember it fruited prolifically but the fruit was small. I didn't know about pruning or thinning for fruit size and it eventually disappeared from my scanty notes. The Bartlett Pear didn't make it past the first few winters. But the Prairie Spys. Oh those three wonderful hardy survivors, two of which live to this day, still providing us with wonderful crops. Well, actually, they turned out not to be Prairie Spys at all, but Beacons.
Fast forward and I was suddenly spending many enjoyable hours researching varieties, planning, planting and then grafting many little wild rootstocks in the new expanded orchard. So much work, so much fun, so many choices. I've learned to prune and graft and care for my trees, and I continue to learn as I expect I'll be doing for as long as I have trees to care for. With six mature trees in production, and another dozen or two that will be starting over the next six to ten years (I'm guessing), there are finally apples on the homestead. The grafting has slowed down as the orchard has filled, and only an occasional addition. It's amazing to watch them grow. A lot of other fruit is in my garden/orchard and it is much enjoyed and appreciated, but the apple is our mainstay, the one that would be most sorely missed were it not a part of our lives, and our diet.
2023 - Amazing Apples - With the strangest start to the season that I've ever seen I didn't expect much of a crop. Though there were a couple of the usual frost/freeze cold spells, overall May and June were not only abnormally hot (often into the 80's) but very dry. With 1/4" of rain in May and less than 1" in June my days were filled with hauling buckets of water. The larger trees were on their own but I did my best to get at least a survival amount of moisture to the youngest trees and bushes (as well as the garden, of course). Once I finally made my peace with the 'no rain' it became routine. I figured I'd be happy with whatever crop we might get. Finally into July the rains began and temps settled down. Though still considered a dry year we did get a much appreciated 3" in July and a couple inches each August and September.
It was hard to see leaves curling during the dry spells but then we'd get a little rain and they would recover. There was scattered tip blight and fire blight, more in a few trees, many with none. I cut it out at first notice and that kept it from being a major (or even minor) issue for which I was thankful. The leaves may not have look their finest this year but considering their challenges they all came through fine. Though obviously stressed, I don't think I lost anything in the orchard (or garden).
And to my great surprise the apple trees came through with moderate to very full harvests! We had apples on our apples! Was it their reaction to the drought stress? Or did they rather like the weather? Hard to say, but we made cider, I dried apples, I sauced apples, I shared apples, and filled the root cellar with apples. I started thinking seriously about organizing my plan to sell apples. And as a bonus there were seven new varieties to taste! What a fun year after all to be an apple geek.
2022 - Bumper Crop!Overall a good year. It was a cool/cold spring and a hot summer; dry late summer, enough rain in the fall. There was scab in the tree leaves, more on Dudley fruit but not a big problem. No fireblight, but a fair amount of blossom/tip blight - kept me busy pulling off affected blooms and that seemed to work. Sprayed any tree with issues early with Neem Oil and all summer with fermented comfrey/spinach tea. All made it through fine. Some grafting but that is winding down as the orchard fills.
We had fruit! Dudley and Beacons full, Haralson and Black Oxford moderate -- plenty for drying and sauce and fresh eating, and cider! A number of new apples to get first tastes of, so much fun, and good eating.
2021 - Big Harvests Coming? or Not -Maybe next year. May 25 the apples were in full bloom. It looked like a very good crop with the major players full, the ones I expected a good harvest from this year. It was their year. Plus there were some blossoms on many new trees and grafts. It would be a fun year. Two days later the night temperature dropped, and for four nights in a row we had 22° to 28° temps. Sigh. It happens.
So the year was still good, of course, and fun. And a few trees managed light crops. Black Oxford's blossoms were just starting to open when the freeze hit so it prevailed to give us 33# of well appreciated fruit. And I made use of Mr C's small apples and a generous 27# harvest (protected from the freeze by being in the edge of the woods), plus several road trees. So we had fresh apples to eat till the end of the year, and sauce (thanks to help from the blueberries and strawberries) for our breakfasts. A year like this lets different trees shine.
In spite of a dry winter and a very dry and early spring, then a very hot summer, overall the apple trees did fine. We grafted two new trees and added same variety grafts to branches to expand their coverage. There was no sign of fireblight in the apples, to my great relief. We did lose the young Norkent over winter but the graft in a wild tree did fine and vigorous. No other losses which is good considering the number of young trees we have and the weather extremes. It was a good year.
2020 - Lighter but Enough- Most of my apples are biennial bearing - they'll have a big crop one year, then a smaller one the next, back and forth, weather permitting. It works out as long as one has enough trees and they trade off their "on" years. This year was Haralson's turn and it took the job seriously, being the only full tree. The end of September I harvested since a few Bluejays had zeroed in on this great crop and were having a great game seeing which of the largest, best looking apples tasted best. I picked, and picked, and picked some more. Around and around and up and down to the tune of 132 pounds of nice apples! I appreciated the small harvests from all the other trees but Haralson definitely took the prize this year. Thankfully it is a great keeper. I made plenty of sauce all winter and we ate fresh Haralsons until early April.
October 30, 2020 -- The Tale of Two Apples (well, actually, quite a few apples but that didn't sound as poetic)
It's crispy fall, a full moon and Halloween tomorrow, and winding down of peak apple season. Apple crisp, apple bread, applesauce, apple cookies - I've had apples on my mind, and in my life, a lot lately! I mentioned the new (to me) Norkent apple earlier, when it first bloomed. It ended up with a great crop of beautiful apples. I harvested them Sept. 7 and found them to be crisp, juicy and delicious. We both really liked this apple. Now each apple variety has its peak time period for the best fresh eating and Norkent was great for a good month. I was hoping for longer (and it may be longer as the tree matures and in a not-so-hot year). But in early October I realized it was losing its special flavor zing, though still firm and juicy. And by the 25th it was tasting a bit blah though still sweet and firm and juicy. But it was time to make sauce of the last of the crop which, mixed with some damaged Haralsons, it did quite well.
The Beacons were gone, having been made into sauce mid October, being then past their peak fresh eating (but making great sauce). I had a lot of Haralsons but they were still on the tart side, though they made great apple crisp! It would be another month before they were ready for good fresh eating (they sweeten and mellow in storage). Of course, if that's all one has then they are quite good enough!
But I had one more variety - Splitter. A nice wilding, it got named at a time that Steve was doing a lot of wood splitting right next to it. A very nice smallish tree it usually puts out a light crop of medium size, what I call "Duchess type" of apple - late summer, more tart than sweet, a decent enough apple that usually got incorporated with other varieties in sauce or cider. I appreciated its crop as I do all my apples but never thought of it as special in any way, other than really enjoying the tree as it is right beside where we now park the car and I greet it often. But this year it got its rightful due - as a very good fruit - by being at the right place at the right time - in the cellar when no other apple was prime for eating. October 8 -I cut one up and, Hey! It was very good! I'd hit it at its prime, with a nicely balanced tart-sweet (enough sweet) and very good flavor. They had been dropping so I picked the rest Sept. 21. There were only 12 apples but we enjoyed every one after that. So now I know, they want 2 or 3 weeks of storage then they're ready to eat. From previous years I know they don't keep long but now they have a special place as fresh eaters after Norkent and Beacon are past, and before Haralson is ready. Yay Splitter!
Oh yes, one more apple - and it was only one. For its second year, Goodland (which is grafted onto one branch of the north Beacon tree) produced one beautiful large 8 oz apple, picked and eaten the end of September. Very juicy with a sprightly sweet flavor with a touch of ?grape? to it. Not real crisp but quite a very good apple. We grafted more onto other branches this year and I look forward to having enough of a crop to try it out for cider. I think it could be very good.
And yet one more, but this is indeed the last and the last to be harvested. Again just one apple, named Tebo after the original farm family who planted (or allowed to grow) the mother tree maybe 100 yrs ago. It was moderately crisp, moderately juicy, moderately flavor. No Wow but a decent eater.
2019 - Wonderful Year - BLOOM, Incredible blooming year! June 5 - Bulero first, full, and crabs, largest S two either side of drive so full & thick you can’t see any tree. MrC, too. Other crabs starting, also thick (and buzzing!). Dudley blossoming, Beacons starting. June 8 - Dudley full, Lilli full moderate, BeaconS moderate, more at top, BeaconN full on old, scattering bloom on newer wood; Splitter moderate, just opening; Sasha medium, open; Front Yard light full; Cali light, full; Haralson moderate bloom about half open. June 10 - BlOx was last, full bloom. Only five days from the first to the last to be in full bloom. No question about adequate pollination!
A very large overall harvest this year. Plenty for eating, sauce and cider (~9 gals)! Wonderful year. It's been many a year since we've had this many apples.
For most of the apples the question of when to pick is when they are ripe, or when the birds are getting more than I think they should. But for the Black Oxford and other late trees it's often how cold can they stand and still be good. Our root cellar is slow to cool down in the fall so for storage apples I want to pick as late as I can. This year October 17 they forecast low 20's temps so I picked the tree. The apples were ready and it was a good harvest but I left several dozen quite small apples to see how they would do. It got down to 24°, all night. The small BlOx’s were just fine. Three nights later, October 30, it dropped to 20°. Still OK! + a missed Dudley, too. November 8 -- 3°! apples done.
October 11, 2019 -- A Wild Array - This year's apple saga is winding down. I harvested the Haralsons a few days ago (14#, a smaller harvest but a very nice crop - it's a variety that tends towards one year on, one year off and this is its "off" year), we pressed our second batch of cider, another nice and delicious 4 gallons, canned it today, and there is now room in the root cellar for the potatoes (dug yesterday, before today's/night's big rains). Black Oxford is still on the tree, there is a crate of Beacons waiting to be sauced along with the oldest Dudleys, and several crates of the best and freshest for fresh eating and fresh sauce as needed. If the weather cooperates I'll dry a few more batches, too. We're still enjoying fresh apples but they aren't quite as exciting as they were a month ago.
But there are also little sets of 2, 3 or more apples sitting here and there on the shelves in the root cellar. These are my "test" apples, mostly from our wild trees. I'm wondering how long they will keep in good shape. The cold front coming in tonight (likely freezing nights, cold and windy days) should help cool down the root cellar which will be nice since it's still in the mid-upper 50's, warm for good apple storage. A few of the wildings have very good fruit, some I'm happy to leave for the deer and squirrels, others are OK and find their way into a batch of sauce or cider. I enjoy these diverse apples no matter what I do, or don't do, with them. They are mostly quite different one from the other, Nature's breeding at work, not only in looks but taste and texture, too. It also helps that I've named most of the trees for our many and diverse cats who have blessed our lives over the forty years we've been here. It's pleasing as well as practical. So here's our line-up this year:
All the wild trees had at least a small harvest, while MrC outdid itself raining down a storm of juicy pretty large crabapples for the deer and smaller critters. I even enjoyed these small bites as I wandered by, a particularly tasty year. And Bulero surprised me greatly by having a good crop of good tasting, sweet, juicy, small red "lunchbox" size apples that made the best no-sugar sauce! Last year they were rather dry texture. I didn't want to leave Ditto out but her tree hasn't fruited yet.
October 1, 2019 -- Apple Love - It's probably not a surprise to anyone who reads our blog that apples are a bit of a passion for me. I'm not sure how I got so interested in them, but they do bring me a lot of pleasure, beyond simply as food. And it's getting even more fun as new apples that I've never seen nor tasted before start to fruit. This year there were three new grafts that set fruit, only a few each, and only one of one, but enough for a taste. They were our first apple grafts to bear fruit! All were on a branch of an established tree (not on their own rootstocks) which means there will never be many (unless we graft onto more branches) but it also means they fruit earlier than the ones on young small rootstocks. It was exciting when I realized they had blossoms, and then thrilled when they fruited. These apples were given a great deal of watchful attention. Every time I passed the trees I looked to make sure the fruit was still there. Only one was inside the fence, the other two outside on a wild tree, vulnerable to a deer or squirrel munch. Thankfully, we are in short supply of both this year.
The first to ripen (2 apples) was the Nutting Bumpus (the names are sometimes as much fun as the apples!). One dropped mid September, the other came off in my hand. Excited I took photos then took a slice. Mmmmm. Well, it was OK but really wasn't very special. It tasted quite like the wild tree it had been grafted to, though somewhat larger and earlier. Rather tart but with flavor and some sweetness. It isn't a bad apple, just not anything special. I saved one of the two apples to see how it kept but it was getting soft so today it went into a batch of sauce. I won't cut it off but I won't graft any more of it. To be fair, apples often change as the tree ages and future crops may be different. But it is a Duchess seedling and tastes a lot like the many Duchess types that are all along the roads. Duchess of Oldenburg is an old and hardy apple that was likely planted in most of the old orchards around here. I'm not sure now why I chose this one to begin with. But it was still exciting to have it fruit.
The second variety came down five days later - the one and only apple - a Canadian variety called Goodland. This was such a beauty it had been fun just to watch it grow. A large, 3" fruit, clean, I was really excited about this one. I set it on the counter for several days just to admire it! Then I carefully sliced it - nice, juicy. Gave Steve a piece and we both tried it. Hurray! This one is a keeper for sure. Delicious. We both liked it a lot. Sweet/tart flavor has an interesting sweet aftertaste. Can't wait for more of these. We'll be grafting it on its own rootstock next year.
Our third newby is still on the tree - 3 fruit, outside the fence, carefully protected from deer (I hope) with a ladder underneath to discourage close contact (and give the squirrels a way to climb up Steve says) (hah) (I expect LilliB to make sure that doesn't happen) and branches pinned carefully across to hide the fruit, because these will likely not be ready for several more weeks. We got our scion from an old tree, growing on an old homestead property next to ours.
Now that's not to say I don't appreciate and admire all the other apples that have given us many baskets and bushels of fruit this year. I do!! The root cellar is full, more cider to be made, more sauce, more eating. It's a very good apple year and I'm enjoying it fully. Most of the apples are harvested but there are still Haralsons and Black Oxfords on the tree, later varieties and good storage types. I'll leave them for awhile yet, depending on the weather (no freezes yet!) and the birds (hopefully they are too busy with the abundant crabapples to bother my apples). They are harvests to look forward to yet this fall.
2018 - Record cold, record hot, record long, record short, record low, record high, record number of voles - a very interesting year is was! Winter was a test, and several young trees didn't make it - Pomme Gris and Gray Pearmain, all cherry grafts, one pear. Not that it was particularly cold overall, but the extremes were short and fast, going from unusual warmth to record cold in December, little snow on the ground all winter, record cold April, then suddenly slipping right into summer the end of May with no spring. A long hot summer, things grew well. Trees and shrubs and plants need to be of hardy soul and limb to survive, and I so appreciate that so many did.
We had reasonable apple harvest with light crops from Dudley and Black Oxford, and a bumper harvest of Haralsons, plus some wild apples. Variety and diversity helped to feed us well!
I do love my fruit! And I think apples are some of the most interesting and amazing -- for their beauty, their variety, their adaptability, their ability to make so many creatures of the world happy with their fruit and their foliage, and all the tiny creatures that live on and in (and those who live eating those). Almost every year the apples growing on our land feed us well. We were blessed with an interesting (and delicious) variety this year, from both named and wild trees. Here is the best excuse for growing your own.
Copyright © Susan Robishaw
appreciate links to our site www.ManyTracks.com from appropriate sites, and we thank you for
Have you read "Frost Dancing - Tips from a Northern Gardener" ? A fun short read.
or "Homesteading Adventures" Creating our backwoods homestead--the first 20 years.
and "Growing Berries for Food and Fun" A journey you can use in your own garden.