St Croix River Road Ramblings

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Thursday, September 24, 2015

St Croix River Road Ramble -- Apples

Picking apples yesterday and today for the 10th Annual River Road Ramble between St Croix Falls and Grantsburg WI.  We have a farm market with apples, squash, pumpkins and maple syrup as well as some farm stuff on a garage sale.   

Picking Apples brings back memories of the Hanson orchard that at its peak had 125 or so full sized apple trees.  Some Autumn's the orchard sold hundreds of bushels of apples.  Now it is dwindling but still productive.  
Through out the orchard are tiny crab apple trees to feed the robins and other birds each fall -- and to try to lure them away from the regular apples.  

A few trees loaded down with decent size apples this year.  Others had none and some a few.  Each year different ones seem to choose to yield.  Dad mulched each with manure in late fall to rot over the winter and stimulate growth in the spring. He also had bee hives in the yard for pollinization. 

The size when I begin spraying Sevin every 2 weeks. 

The deer trim the apple limbs all winter and spring as high as they can reach.  That is why we grow full size apple trees.  An expensive fence would solve the problem

The birds nest in the trees and typically get one spray of Sevin each batch of young ones.  The small amount likely kills their bird fleas and as far as studies go show no effect on the birds themselves.  These all fledged and joined the flocks that pick holes in the young apples making blemishes in them as they grow larger.
Back in the late 1950s, Dad and Mom made a decision to turn the Hanson farm into a part-time orchard to add to the dairying business.  They bought 100 apple trees to add to the 20 trees they already had and planted them in the yard and fenced off an area east of the driveway for the rest of them. 

Full sized apple trees take many years to bear, but by the mid 1960s and since, the farm includes a fall apple sale season.  As Alberta and VR got older they no longer replaced the trees that died and let folks pick their own apples. 

As far back as I can remember, there were apples for sale on the farm, but on a small scale.  The big hibernal "pie apple" tree was good for 20 bushels of pie apples at $5 per bushel.  Most of the neighbors reserved their bushel for sauce and canning and later freezing.  

Harold Jensen always reserved 1-2 bushels of Northwest Greenings to be wrapped and saved for spring eating -- a keeper apple.  The trees are long gone as is Chev and Ferguson dealer and Cushing garageman Harold.  

Most folks had a few apple trees on their farms, but few sprayed them.  Some years apples are worm free naturally, but most years worms get into them.  As people got used to "store bought" apples that were worm free, they no longer wanted to use their own wormy apples and so came to the orchards where Dad sprayed the trees.  

Sprays have changed over the years.  Bugs get immune to some; some are found to be dangerous and apple trees are bred to be more disease and bug resistant.  Dad used a fungicide and insecticide in the spring, switching to insecticide only in the summer.  

I still spray.  From June through August (and sometimes in warm Septembers) I spray Sevin every 2 weeks.  Generally this gives us worm-free apples.  A few where the birds peck holes, still can be damaged, but mostly they are OK.  I don't use fungicides -- they are rather dangerous to the sprayer and so my apples can have apple scab or apple blight -- a cosmetic surface blemish that has no effect on the fruit inside, but looks imperfect.  

Sevin is about the mildest of the sprays available and breaks down most quickly  3-10 days. It is very close to the medicine I took for myasthenia gravis called pyridostigmine and actually works the same way, a medicine for me but a killer for bugs.  

I don't spray during bloom time so bees and butterflies are not killed and I spray when their is no wind to minimize drift.  I mow the area under the trees so no milkweeds or other blooming plants attract butterflies to the sprayed area.   I also leave another area, 3 times the orchard size unfarmed, and unsprayed growing the milkweeds and wild plants.  In Wisconsin, most of the apple pollination is done by wild insects including bumble bees, so having a nearby bee reserve is important.  

Although I can raise pumpkins, squash, and most of my garden organically, I have never found a person who was happy to buy wormy apples.   Mom tried alternatives like hanging jugs of vinegar water in the trees, but they never were successful.  

Up the road 1/2 mile is my brother Ev's hunting cabin and a dozen apple trees that he doesn't spray.  Some years they are mostly wormfree, and others they are not.  Since one can't predict which kind of year it will be, and I do want to sell apples, I spray them.  

Life is a mixture of choices, and sometimes the food we like needs to be at least partially protected from non-human life.  The deer and birds are big on sharing my trees and fruit, but the coddling moth and apple maggot are not on my list to preserve.