Archived Story

Knowledge of apples fits in bushel [UPDATED]

Published 9:38am Wednesday, September 26, 2012 Updated 11:40am Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Apple picking time is almost over, once again. Each year, I learn a bit more about apples, and each year, I find there is one more thing that I don’t know and likely won’t ever figure out.

This year I learned that having someone place bee hives within pollination range of your trees is extremely important to whether or not you have any apples. True, not having a damaging frost while your trees are in blossom is important, but we didn’t have that here this year. No frost and lots of bees — that solves a lot of problems.

Nor did we have too much rain. That happened a few years ago and all the apples looked like they were diseased, they had so much mold build-up on them, even though I had pruned them quite severely. (Pruning lets sun and wind get into the tree; keeps humidity buildup from happening.)

This year we had just about no rain. Since I’m set up to keep my fifty or so apple trees watered, that didn’t seem to matter. Did I water them enough? The answer to that question will come next summer, when either or both of two things happen.

One, they will leaf out and croak, or they won’t leaf out, and croak. Something most people don’t know: Apple trees do only one thing — they count. They count how many units of sun fell upon that branch, which tells them whether or not to let it grow and have some apples, or, because it was shaded by a dead branch or the neighbor’s trees, maybe to just say to heck with it and have a summer vacation, hope for better next year.

They also count how much moisture fell on them this summer, and that will tell them how enthusiastically they should approach the bearing of fruit next summer.

Or whether or not they should cash in their chips. Sure, watering helps, but somehow, it doesn’t quite count the same. Don’t know why, and am probably not going to figure it out.

What they had this summer was lots of sun, the units of which they counted, which is why they got their apples ripened earlier than usual. And not just by a few days, more by three weeks, or so close it doesn’t matter.

Which trees did the best? Folks always want to know. I have a favorite: The Sweet 16.

It’s a late-summer apple, bears well, although mostly every other year, and keeps well, assuming there is some cool place to store them.

It is one-half of the cross that produced the Honeycrisp, an apple everyone seems to favor. At this latitude, the Honeycrisp will survive and bear apples — two qualities that do not necessarily happen simultaneously — but usually not as bountifully as one might like.

Nonetheless, I’m planting them, and have been getting some apples.

But I sure do favor the Sweet 16.

Want apples for sure every year? Then you have to plant the Harrelred. It is by no means a sweet apple, but it survives well and bears lots — so much you’d better prune it back each spring or it will break its arms it will have so many apples — and keeps well.

That’s what good apple trees do.

What can’t I solve? I’m not sure why the upper part of an apple tree has died back come spring, leaving what looks like an upside-down umbrella of a tree behind.

Maybe that upside-down part was protected by the snow? Maybe the winter sun thawed that exposed part in the day, and it froze when it got cold at night.

I don’t see damage to the bark, so I don’t like that one. Don’t know.

What am I planting now? As I said, Honeycrisp, Sweet 16, and looking for a Red Regent, which probably won’t survive, but maybe will. Maybe.

Maybe is an appropriate word when it comes to apple trees, here at the 48th parallel, where it gets pretty cold.

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