Fruits Galore, But Not Apples

Check out www.youtube.com/leereichfarmden, a new video is up about me and my cat pruning kiwi vines.
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Growing fruits is one of my specialties but, sad to admit, I may be the worst apple grower I know. What’s worse is all the time and effort I put into growing my apples, even way before they begin to fruit.
Mine are all super-dwarf trees, planted because these small trees yield more from a given land area than large trees and they eliminate the need for ladders. Usually, dwarf trees are made by grafting the

desired variety onto special dwarfing rootstocks. Mine are M.27, M.9, and Bud.9. But dwarfing rootstocks have weak root systems that barely support the trees and cannot forage far for nutrients and water. So the trees need staking and the best of soil conditions.

My super-dwarfs are special. They are interstem trees, each of which I made by grafting a desired variety onto a foot-long stem from a dwarfing rootstock variety (the stem piece itself can confer dwarfing) which, in turn, I grafted atop a seedling rootstock. The roots, then, are of seedling apples (made by planting any apple seed). Seedling apple roots forage well and make sturdy trees.
Despite the robust root systems, I still provided excellent soil conditions. The trees grow in a mulched strip 8 feet wide and drip irrigation automatically ministers to their water needs.
With all this, the trees began the season well, a few sprays and some traps keeping insects and diseases at bay followed by careful thinning out of the swelling fruit so that the trees’ energies could be channeled into fewer and, hence, better fruits.  Beautiful fruits hung from the branches going into early summer. And then, the bane of my apples struck. Summer diseases, such as white rot and black rot, started to erode away fruits with telltale rotted areas. By August, whatever fruits were still on the plants were mostly rotting.
Why my repeated failures with apples? Everyone else seems to have decent enough apple crops this year, although one’s sense of decency for their own backyard fruits is sometimes shaded through rose-colored lenses. How about blaming the weather, the wet June? No, everybody around here had it. I blame my site: It’s backed by 6000 acres of woods (not mine) in which lurks plum curculio and other pests. Also, all summer, cooler air collects in this low-lying valley; moisture condensing out of cooling air promotes pest problems.
Moving to an upland site, ideally on sloping land bathed in full sun, would go far to spelling apple success for me. Still, pests make apples among the most challenging of fruits to grow almost everywhere east of the Rocky Mountains.
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By right, I should just abandon apple growing. But I don’t.
Perhaps it is the eternal optimism of a fruit grower. Next year . . . I’ll prune more carefully trying to rid my trees of overwintering innoculum for summer diseases. I’ll try out a new, organic fungicide, such as Regalia, safe to use and extracted from — of all things — that fierce weed Japanese knotweed. Perhaps I’ll be lucky.At the very least, growing apples gives me some failures to write about.
The other reason I persist is for taste. There are over 5,000 varieties of apples and knowing how to graft makes it relatively easy to create a tree of virtually any of them. Or to lop off the top of what was

My Hudson’s Golden Gem this year

thought to have been a promising tree to quickly create a tree of a new variety. Buying apples limits you to the dozen or so varieties selected, in large part, for good shipping, good looks, and other commercial qualities.

Which brings me to Hudson’s Golden Gem, a golden apple, not yellow, like Golden Delicious, but truly golden, its russeted skin bouncing off light as if coated with flecks of gold metal. Inside, the flesh has a coarse, chewy texture and sweet, rich flavor that hints of pears and walnut. This variety seems to bear a bit more reliably than many others.
Hudson’s Golden Gem is one of a dozen varieties that I grow for their outstanding flavor — when I get fruit.
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When people talk of planting “fruit,” they usually mean planting apples. But apples are not the only fruit.
Notwithstanding my poor luck with apples, I am inundated with other fruits. Right now, baskets are

overflowing with the likes of American persimmons, pawpaws, and kiwiberries, and there are plenty of grape bunches and figs to be plucked and pears waiting to be ripened and eaten.

People often ask me what I do with all the fruit that I grow. I eat it! Not right now, of course, so much of it has to be stored.
No refrigerator could accommodate all my fruit, so enter CoolBot (http://www.storeitcold.com). CoolBot makes it possible to use a room air conditioner to cool an insulated storage room to the near-freezing temperatures suitable for storing fruits.

This electronic device, when paired to an air conditioner, “fools” the air conditioner into thinking that it has not yet reached 60°, which is the

lowest temperature those units normally wants to go. All you do is set the CoolBot for the temperature to which you want the room to cool. CoolBot also uses less energy than a standard, walk-in, cooler compressor.

My storage room consists of a trailer the inside panelling of which I removed, added foam insulation, and replaced. Right now it’s stacked high with boxes of fruit.
Perhaps one year, some of those boxes will be filled with apples. 
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24 Comments

  1. Posted October 25, 2013 at 10:39 am | Permalink

    What temperature do you set your Coldbot for? And, do you have any issues when the outside temp drops below your setting?

    • Posted October 25, 2013 at 3:05 pm | Permalink

      I have the temperature set for 39 degrees F. Too cold a temperature can ruin the flavor of some fruits, such as pawpaw. I’m not totally certain of this, with pawpaw. But each degree colder requires increasingly more electrical energy from the cooler. 39 degrees seems like a reasonable compromise.

      I’m not too concerned with the temperature dropping below my setting. The thermal mass of the cooler and its contents will resist too great a temperature change. Soon, as temperatures start to get much colder, I plug in a small heater that I have hooked up to a thermostat set to 32 degrees F.

    • Posted October 25, 2013 at 4:55 pm | Permalink

      Thanks! I have been tempted to turn a portion of my shed into a cold storage area, but lacked an idea of how to cool it year-round. This gives me several great ideas.

    • Posted October 25, 2013 at 7:43 pm | Permalink

      Insulate it well.

  2. Posted October 25, 2013 at 10:50 am | Permalink

    I agree with you and think site is so very important. I grow apples on sloping land in bright sun bordering a hay field. I rarely irrigate unless there are drought conditions, never spray fungicide or insecticide , I do fertilize, thin and prune. Rarely do I not have lots of apples. My trees most years are healthy and pest free for the most part. This year we had a wet spring, freak May snowstorm, and super dry summer and my trees still made a bumper crop. I do not understand how but I am not going to complain at all. Love the trailer set up and may have to try that. Thanks

    • Posted October 25, 2013 at 3:07 pm | Permalink

      In addition to microclimate, region is important. Diseases are less prevalent as you get to the drier regions of the Midwest. And west of the Rockies, some of the insects are absent. Apple growing is a lot easier out West than in the East. Where are you?

    • Posted October 26, 2013 at 8:38 am | Permalink

      North Missouri, Glaciated plains…rolling hills of grassland. Land of corn and soybeans : )

  3. Posted October 25, 2013 at 12:07 pm | Permalink

    Wow, impressive harvest, even if there aren’t many apples.

    I’ve had a couple kiwi vines (1 male, 1 female) growing on the south side of the house for probably 4 yrs now… One does really well, the other looks pathetic… Even the healthy one has never bloomed. I really like kiwis from the grocery store, but never having had this type, wonder if it’s just wasted space for something that isn’t doing well.

    And I really have to find a way to try a pawpaw sometime. I love banana stuff, and understand they’re like a banana custard inside.

    • Posted October 25, 2013 at 3:09 pm | Permalink

      Both fruits are well worth growing, for taste and because they’re both so easy. The kiwis do require regular and repeated pruning through the year. Both are also beautiful plants. As far as your pathetic kiwi, I suggest you figure out what’s limiting its health: soil drainage, infertility, competition from nearby plants, lack of water, . . .?

  4. Posted October 25, 2013 at 9:41 pm | Permalink

    Madison, WI had bumper crops of apples this year. The trees bore terribly last summer, with the late spring frost and then the drought, but they made up for it this year. I am an Orchard Steward at the Linda and Eugene Farley Center and they have one lovely site for apples. Full sun and sloping land. Another Orchardist sprayed some holistic spray, but we never managed to apply the Surround. (Too much spring/early summer rain, and not enough time.) The fruits were still mostly pest-free. The back orchard, though, is carved out of the woods. The trees there have a harder time of it, and have a lot more pests.

  5. Posted October 25, 2013 at 9:44 pm | Permalink

    If only I had a decent site . . . I can’t complain, though.. I get great crops of just about everything except apples . . . and cherries and plums.

  6. Posted October 26, 2013 at 4:53 am | Permalink

    I wonder if any of your trees have fire blight initiated cankers since these are one source of overwintering source of disease inoculum.

    We saw an apricot orchard in Niagara this year that used Regalia Maxx. The trees were loaded with ripe and ripening fruit. I have never seen any trees as magnificent as those.

    This year we had the perfect combination of temperature and rain which gave us an incredibly bad outbreak of cedar apple rust. Bad enough that I’m looking at grafting varieties that are resistant to rust. We’re also going to try Regalia Maxx next year.

    Mike

    • Posted October 26, 2013 at 5:56 am | Permalink

      Although I grow a number of varieties of apple and pear, I have, thankfully, never had any fireblight here. I try to keep it that way by being very careful with my sources of scion wood.

      I’m planning to try out Regalia next year.

  7. Posted October 26, 2013 at 11:21 am | Permalink

    What varieties of pawpaw do you grow? The ones in the picture look huge! I started 10 pawpaws from seed 3 years ago- but only 1 had leaves this year (out of 5 that survived transplant). Sad! Hopefully it will make it through this winter. I am hoping to buy a few this spring to replace those that died (I need more than one for fruit!).

    • Posted October 26, 2013 at 12:06 pm | Permalink

      I grow a number of varieties: Pennsylvania Goldens, Zimmerman, etc. The reason for large fruit might be this year’s weather. Also, I was trying to reduce the crop a bit and lower the trees so that ripe fruits don’t drop as far and smooth. The heavy pruning thinned out many potential fruits which probably was important to their size.

    • Posted October 28, 2013 at 11:26 pm | Permalink

      Where did you source the trees/scionwood? I love your blog by the way!! It is very inspiring – and real!

    • Posted October 29, 2013 at 5:22 am | Permalink

      I got a lot of different scions many years ago from John Gordon in Amherst, NY. A generous, knowledgable, and enthusiastic grower of fruits and nuts, he died a few years ago. Perhaps his nursery is still being carried on by others. You can still get scion wood from some small nurseries that sell pawpaw trees and through the exchange page for North American Fruit Explorers (NAFEX.org), a fun organization for fruit nuts such as myself.

    • Posted October 29, 2013 at 6:20 pm | Permalink

      Unfortunately, John Gordon’s nursery is no more. But England’s Orchard & Nursery (http://www.nuttrees.net/) sells scion wood for “Persimmon, Pawpaw, Chestnut, pecan, hickory and hican , walnut (Black walnut, Persian Walnut, Heartnut, Butternut), and a section of assorted scion wood which includes Asian Pear, Mulberry, Apples and odd plant material.”

  8. Posted November 18, 2013 at 3:08 am | Permalink

    Gods most wonderful gift is fruits. A drastic difference in health between people who eat fruits and who don’t can be discovered in the long run. In India it is all ruined by the use of artificial fertilizers.

  9. tk
    Posted July 5, 2015 at 9:21 am | Permalink

    Why not have Eliot Coleman and Barbara Damrosch come visit to see if they can troubleshoot the site?

    I think their site is 50 acres of woods and I think they grow apples. Are you sure the woods are to blame? How is Maine different than new york? Would the sites be similar enough that they could help?

    No harm in asking I guess, I can’t imagine how good a book by all 3 of you together would be

    • Posted July 9, 2015 at 12:12 pm | Permalink

      Elliot and Barbara’s expertise is with vegetables, not fruits. Their farm is mostly vegetables. I’ve visited there a few times, and the only fruits I saw were a couple of apple trees and some blueberry bushes. I grow many plants of many different fruits in addition to vegetables (on a noncommercial scale). Also, my site is very lowlying, in a small river valley; here, cold air settles causing higher humidity and increased disease incidence. Coastal Maine woods are a very different ecosystem from my woods here in the Hudson Valley.

  10. Tom
    Posted July 10, 2015 at 11:54 pm | Permalink

    great reply! thank you!

  11. Tom
    Posted October 2, 2015 at 10:42 pm | Permalink

    “Standard rootstocks are more tolerant of both wetter and drier soils, and are better anchored than are the dwarfing types. ” -some extension office website.

    Standard trees are harder to prune, right?
    And harder to spray (surround, and other organic sprays) because you can’t reach the top of the tree…?
    And how dangerous are they to pick?

    I have a theory, that standard trees may be less stressed than grafted trees. I wonder if the reduced stress allows more disease resistance and pest protection.

    Is there any truth to my theory?

    If so, how does one spray the top of a standard apple tree and how to you pick it safely? The old picture of the guys on the ladder in your book look dangerous as heck.

    I will go reread the rootstock section because maybe you already answered my question and I overlooked it.

    • Posted October 8, 2015 at 10:20 pm | Permalink

      Yes, standard trees are harder to pick, prune, and spray — just because they’re bigger. “Standard trees may be less stressed than grafted trees”: maybe, maybe not. “Stress” can mean a lot of things. The dwarfness of dwarf trees is not necessarily due to their being stressed.

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