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Apples – The American Fruit

Tim Smith of Apex Orchard with his Fuji apples

Tim Smith of Apex Orchard with his Fuji apples

Ralph Waldo Emerson called apples the American fruit. Certainly the legend of Leominster-born Johnny Appleseed, once an orchardist and later a traveler on the frontier planting apples, is one of our favorite American stories. However, archeologists have found European fossil evidence of apples growing in prehistoric times. Apples had a long history before they ever made it to America. These early apples were actually very tiny crab apples. Evolution carried on its slow work over the eons.

The Greek poet Homer, possibly born around 850 B.C., mentions apples in The Odyssey, and Plutarch wrote about a fictional banquet where the discussion turned to the apple. One of the characters said the apple was a perfect fruit because it was smooth to the touch, had a sweet flavor and fragrance, and appealing to all the senses.

More pragmatic reasons could be named for its perfections. It will grow in cold parts of the world, and it can be cooked, eaten fresh, or stored for long periods of time without any preservation. It can also be dried for later use, and it can be turned into hard cider, or applejack which is a distilled cider, a kind of brandy. It means that apples can be eaten, or drunk, during several months of the year. Of no other fruit is this true.

Long before Emerson came on the scene, cider, and I do mean hard cider, was a common drink for everyone in the country. Although those early settlers had good clean water in this country, they came from places where the water was not good. They knew that many diseases were caused by water even though they did know exactly why or how. In any event, they were cautious about water, and careful in their preservation methods when making hard cider.

The apples that made that cider were not eating apples as we know them. Apples are a fruit that rarely grows true from seed. We all know that Johnny Appleseed went around planting apple seeds, but he was not interested in eating apples. He wanted cider apples, and the best cider is made with many different kinds of apples. Since apples did not grow true from seed a seed planted orchard was by definition an orchard of many different types of apples.

Hard cider and applejack remained important alcoholic drinks right into the 20th century until Prohibition was declared. During those years whole orchards were cut down to prevent the making of cider. By the time Prohibition was repealed people had pretty much forgotten about cider, and the orchards were gone. Happily, today there is a resurgence of interest in hard cider, an interest we can see right in our own neighborhood with the success of farms like West County Cider.

Once in a while a seed apple would turn out to be a good eating apple. One of these is Northern Spy.

Other good eating apples that appeared by chance were then propagated by grafting. Small twigs, called scions, of the desired tree would be grafted onto another tree that grew well in that area. By the 1500s books explaining how to graft apples were written. It is through grafting that today we can even order up an apple tree that bears three different types of apples.

By the turn of the 20th century L.H. Bailey compiled a list of 878 apple varieties in cultivation. There may have been some duplicates in that list, but we all know that that only about a dozen varieties are available in the supermarket today. What happened?

There are many reasons from cities getting bigger, farms being located farther from the cities and the introduction of large controlled cold storage buildings. Since farmers could now transport their apples long distances they began to grow only the most dependable and heavy bearing apples.

Also over the years people’s tastes changed.  People wanted red apples and hence the development of Red Delicious. People wanted ever sweeter apples and so those apples with more complex flavors fell off the list.

In recent years there has been more and more interest in the old varieties. Tower Hill Botanical Garden has an heirloom apple orchard where 119 pre-20th century apple varieties grow. We are also fortunate that our local orchards sell the apples that have long been familiar in the supermarket, but they also grow and sell some of the antique varieties like Gravenstein, Jonathan, Rhode Island Greening, Roxbury Russet, Winesap and others.

Of course, new apples are being developed all the time. Honey Crisp certainly comes to mind and this sweet, crisp apple is much in demand.

Liberty apples

Liberty apples at the End of the Road

We planted the Liberty apple in Heath because it was hybridized for disease resistance and was introduced in 1978.  I didn’t want to have to worry about spraying and we have had good crops with very little work. The apples are clean, beautiful and with good flavor.

I love driving by orchards and this year the harvest is particularly good. I stopped to see Tim Smith at Apex Orchards where his trees are bent with thick set fruit. Even my Liberty tree is more heavily laden than usual. Pine Hill Orchard and Clarkdale are enjoying a similar happy harvest this year.

When I was growing up my father ended every dinner with an apple. I continue the tradition of eating a lot of apples over the course of the year, but I confess a number of them will be eaten in apple pan dowdy (makes your eyes light up and your stomach say howdy), apple crisp, apple pie and apple cake. Yes, indeed. The apple is a versatile fruit.

Between the Rows    October  17, 2015

Watch for CIDER DAYS November 7 & 8 at the various orchards and venues.


Earth Day – April 22, 2014


Sarah Hollister's potatoes

Sarah Hollister’s potatoes

How can we celebrate Earth Day every day? We can grow a garden. Forget the lawn; grow veggies and herbs and berries, trees and flowers. Gardens, ornamental and edible can feed lots of pollinators and other bugs that need different kinds of foliage to nibble on, so that they can be eaten by birds and other wild creatures. Plants are pretty low on the food chain so that makes them especially important.

Edible plants feed us healthy veggies that didn’t put migrant workers at risk, and don’t cost gallons of gas to make their way to us.

You don’t even need a yard to grow plants. Container gardening is all the rage. Lots of vegetable varieties are now made especially for containers. Renee’s Garden is just one company that offers a long list of veggies and herbs that will thrive in containers.

Sarah Hollister's cucumber trellis

Sarah Hollister’s cucumber trellis

Greenfield has its new Sustainable Master Plan and one of its goals is to encourage more home gardening. If you haven’t gardened before start small. What do you like to eat? Fresh mixed green salads, with vine ripened tomatoes? Plant a little salad garden.

Are you always buying bunches of parsley, sage, rosemary or thyme? Plant a small herb bed and save lots of money over the summer and fall.  Add a few shallots and save even more money.

The library has a wide assortment of books for the novice garden for some armchair how-to instruction. Rodale has a great list of practical gardening books from Lasagna Gardening: A new layering system for bountiful gardens, no digging, no tilling, no weeding by Patricia Lanza; Michelle Owen’s Grow the Good Life: Why a vegetable garden will make you healthy, wealthy and wise; and Rodale’ Ultimate Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening which will be useful as long as you live.

Get out and play in the dirt. The whole family can have a good time.

Sarah Hollister's blueberries

Sarah Hollister’s blueberries

These photos and many more were taken at the Hollister place last summer. My garden is not so neat, but it is still a lot of fun. I am  going to have to make sure to get some photos of container gardens before next Earth Day.

Apple Harvest – Disease Resistant Liberty Apple

Apples – ready for pie, sauce and cake

My apple harvest is at high tide. The whole neighborhood has been talking about what a great apple year this is, so I am not alone.

Right now I am harvesting Liberty apples. We planted this Liberty tree in 1983. I think. We chose it because of its disease resistance. We have taken very little care of it, except for some not very expert pruning. This self-fertile tree continues to bear, and the fruit is remarkably unblemished with no spraying of any sort. It is a beautiful red apple, a Mcintosh hybrid and is delicious in hand, or in pies, crisps, and cakes. I make a pretty pink applesauce by boiling up cored apples with the skins, and  then putting the cooked apples through a food mill to get rid of the skins.


Pink Liberty Apple sauce

Walk on the Wildside with Sue Bridge

Wildside Cottage

How would you plan your retirement if you had already received a degree from Wellesley College, earned a further degree in Russian and Middle Eastern Studies, hitchhiked to Morocco, lived in Paris, worked for the United Nations, as well as in the cable TV world, and for the Christian Science Monitor newspaper?

Sue Bridge, with the urging of a Northampton friend, bought eight acres of hilly land in Conway. For the past seven years her retirement project has been to create a sustainable, self-sufficient home and landscape where she can live off the grid. The house she designed is energy efficient, well insulated with electricity and hot water provided by solar panels. It is also beautiful, inside and out. The sunny main living space is comprised of a kitchen, dining and living areas. French doors form the south wall of the living area which opens out onto a stone terrace with low stone walls overlooking terraced gardens and across to the hills beyond. The house is small but there is no sense of being cramped, only of spacious comfort.

For help in creating a sustainable landscape she turned to Jono Neiger of the Regenerative Design Group. Neiger and his group are proponents of permaculture systems. Bridge confesses she didn’t really understand what that meant when she began. Neiger came several times to visit; he’d walk around, make notes and walk around some more. Finally, after he had walked the land for several months and not a single spade of soil had been moved, she asked him if his crews were very busy. Did he have any idea when work would begin?

Then Neiger had to explain that work was well-begun. He had been building a scientific portrait of the land, how the sun, wind and water moved across the hill, and over the season.

It was not until Neiger invited Bridge to his own garden that she began to understand what permaculture is. On the appointed day she arrived at his house and garden before he did and was very confused. “Where’s the garden,” she asked when he drove up. The truth is that permaculture gardens do not look like the beautifully arranged flower gardens or orderly vegetable gardens that most of us are familiar with.

I was in the same position she had been with Neiger. I could see why she had named her place Wildside. I needed to have the garden explained. “This is not traditional farmland, but it is incredibly productive,” she said as we walked across the broad terraces  carved into the hillside. “Terraces are a permaculture trademark.”

The terraces help keep the soil from eroding, even in severe storms. “We had 17 inches of rain during Irene, but there was no erosion,” Bridge said.

To the east the living room terrace is an herb garden. One of Bridge’s specialties is five-herb tea. The terraces on the south hillside are first planted to vegetables that are harvested during the summer, the next terrace on the slope is for perennial vegetables like sea kale and Jerusalem artichokes, and the third is for pollinators, bee balm, garlic chives and other plants that attract pollinators.

Productive sweet potato vines in greenhouse

At the bottom of the slope is a small greenhouse where she grows sweet potatoes in the ground, harvesting more than 100 pounds of nutritious sweet potatoes, as well as ginger, and turmeric plants good for the digestion, and pain relief. The garden outside the greenhouse is mostly storage vegetables, beets, carrots, potatoes and squash. Of course, if you raise enough of this kind of vegetable you need a root cellar and Bridge has built a small one behind her house. Other edible crops are canned or dried.

Wildside rice

We walked past the path to the orchard with apple, peach, pear and plum trees and to the rice paddy in the Wet Meadow. It took heavy digging, but Bridge is growing rice!

The land rises slightly beyond the Wet Meadow. We walked through a stand of overgrown Christmas trees, planted by the former owners, then came into a sunny meadow where nut trees, including chestnut have been planted. The surrounding evergreens help protect them from high winter winds.

Mountain mint with Monarch butterfly

Bridge said she learned that eastern slopes are ideal for fruit trees and berries. On her eastern slope she grows persimmons, pawpaws, quince, Asian pears, shadbush, blueberries, elderberries, and black chokeberries. sell chokeberriess. Chokeberries are not very sweet, but they are extremely nutritious and do make good jelly. Bridge has also tucked mountain mint and other plants for pollinators everywhere on this east slope.

I was fascinated by the “fertility bed” a long row of comfrey, bush clover and switch grass which Bridge cuts down twice a year and uses as mulch or compost.

Bridge has come to love Conway where she has found a great community with lots of grass roots action. “This is a friendly environment for me,” she said.

A broad community has found Sue Bridge to be very friendly, and inspirational. Her gardens have become a model of sustainable food production. Students from Wellesley and Smith Colleges, the Conway School of Landscape Design, Greenfield Community College and others come to see what she is doing and learn about the science behind what she is doing.

When I asked if she had intended to launch such an educational project in her retirement she said no. “I did not intend, but I do not resist.”    

Between the Rows   August 24, 2013

Life Under Our Feet – and Fruit Over Our Heads

There is life under our feet. I have talked about living soil from time to time, but in his New York Times essay yesterday  Jim Robbins says that “One-third of living organisims live in  soil. But we know littel about them.” Well, of course I know about worms and  bugs and the mycellium that I can see, and I know the soil is full of microbes, but to think that one-third of ALL living organisims live in the soil is mind boggling. Research is going on about all this life and some of it is going on in Central Park.

“A teaspoon of soil may have billions of microbes divided among 5,000 types, thousands of species of fungi  and protozoa, nematodes, mites and a couple of termite species. How these and other pieces fit together is still largely a mystery.” What a revelation! It makes it clearer to me that it is really important to garden organically, putting food, as in compost, into the soil to feed all those organisims., and helping to maintain a healthy system.

The Sunday New York Times  also included a story by Patricia Leigh Brown talked about ‘fruit activists’  who are “using fruit to reclaim public land and expand ideas of art.” It seem apprpropriate to me that both these articles appeared on Mother’s Day, when we should also celebrate Mother Earth and think about the riches she showers upon us, and what we owe to her in gratitude and responsibility to care for and share those gifts.

The life under our feet, and the fruit over our heads are all gifts! Celebrate every day.

A is for Apple – A to Z Blogger Challenge

Clarkdale prizewinning apples at the Franklin County Fair

A is for Apple and I found 36 varieties of Apples with names that begin with A right here.  I’ve known about the Arkansas Black and the Arlington Pippin but that was the end of it for me. But there is also the Ambrosia apple, a modern Canadian apple similar to the Golden Pelicious, the American Summer Pearmain Apple, very juicy, the Autumn Gold apple, better than Golden Delicious and obvously, many many more!

I became interested in old apple varieties when I became a regular at my local orchards, Clarkdale in Deerfield and Apex in Shelburne. They have Northern Spy, Gravensteins, Winesaps and many more. I like to buy a bag of ‘pie mix’, several varieties of apple because my applie pie guru, Susan Chadwick, told me the secret of her fabulous pies is different varieties in one pie.

Taste, Memory by David Buchanan

Of course, I am not the only one who is interested in old apples. David Buchanan wrote Taste, Memory about old apples, and other old fruit and vegetable varieties that have been forgotten – almost. Taste, Memory: Forgotten Foods, Lost Flavors and Why They Matter takes us on David’s journey from the Slow Foods Movement to the farms and orchards of Maine where he now lives.

On this journey he met John Bunker in Maine, a man who really knows his apples. He goes hunting for old apples and has written his own book about apple hunting in the orchards of Maine Not Far From the Tree. He is a man of passion with a great sense of humor and great taste buds. I wrote about his visit to Apex Orchard with David Buchanan here

There’s a lot to know about apples like the reason Johnny Appleseed (born not far away in Leominster, Massachusetts, a town also known as the Plastic City) planted apples was because everyone drank cider in those days. And usually not sweet cider. Hard cider! And hard apple cider is another trend in our area. West County Cider in our neighborhood is a great outfit and make wonderful cider including varietals (just like wine) like Baldwin and Redfield, a pink cider made from Redfield apples that have red flesh.

Yes, there is a lot to know about apples. And a blog post is simply not long enough. Think of all the apples that begin with letters besides A.  As part of the A to Z challenge I will be posting everyday this month because although there are only 26 letters in the alphabet, I will be adding/publishing Between the Rows every Sunday so there will be 30 posts in a row.

A big  shout out and thank you to Arlee Bird who  invented A to Z Challenge.


Taste, Memory by David Buchanan

David Buchanan


David Buchanan and I met at the Conway School of Landscape Design (CSLD)  reunion in September where he gave a six minute talk about what he had been doing since he graduated in 2000. He talked as fast as he could, and I listened as fast as I could, but I was glad I could slow the journey when I received a copy of his new book Taste, Memory: Forgotten Foods, Lost Flavors, and Why They Matter.

Buchanan’s book chronicles the last 20 years of his wanderings from Pullman,  Washington state with its USDA Western Regional Plant Introduction Station and its genebank, to Maine where he met characters like John Bunker who has an orchard with over 300 varieties of antique/heritage apples and an apple CSA. Even all those years ago in Washington he was interested in ‘preserving disappearing agricultural traditions” and Taste, Memory relates the questions he asked himself about whether agricultural diversity is relevant in “our modern world of supermarkets, giant tractors, and irrigated megafarms? What role can the individual play? . . . How do we summon the energy and will to keep this bounty alive?” As his journey has led him across the country he has found some answers.

As suggested by the title of his book it is taste and flavor that have guided him He became involved with the Slow Food Movement and helped found the Portland, Maine chapter of Slow Food. He now serves on its national Ark of Taste Biodiversity Committee, which evaluates and helps preserve endangered heritage foods from around the country. Slow Food is about more than cooking from scratch, which is what I thought it was. Briefly, Slow Food is a formal organization whose aim begins with encouraging the enjoyment of locally and sustainably grown food, maintaining biodiversity, and caring for the land that food grows on so it will be healthy for future generations. There is more, of course, and much more than simply roasting my own chicken and making my own blueberry muffins without a mix.

The book is filled with personal connections to other individuals and organizations like the Seed Savers Exchange .  In fact, in the mid nineties he spent a year working with the Austrian counterpart to the Seed Savers Exchange, where he produced seeds to maintain the thousands of vegetables and grains in their collection.

Taste, Memory by David Buchanan


Taste, Memory is the kind of book that I end up reading to my husband while he is trying to read the newspaper at breakfast, or in the evening when he is trying to read the paper he never got through in the morning. I can’t stop myself from reading sections like that about Turkey winter wheat, an old wheat that grows to six feet tall – just like the heritage wheats I have seen Eli Rogosa grow in Colrain. Both Rogosa and Buchanan see the importance of grains that require less irrigation and petroleum based fertilizers.

This book, with its tales of exciting searches for heritage apples, Buchanan’s own inventiveness, and cooperation between various groups of people and organizations, presents a wonderful vision of how our food system can shift. It is possible for us to eat better, for biodiversity to be protected, and for farmers and market gardeners to make a reasonable living.

Buchanan did put his CSLD experiences to good use including landscape design with a focus on urban parks, native habitat restoration, agricultural sites, community gardens, and multi-use trails. Past projects include lead designs for redevelopment of the 25 city parks of Lawrence, Massachusetts, and a master plan for multi-use trails on the 4000-acre former Fort Devens in Devens, Massachusetts.

He has finally ended his wanderings and bought a small farm in Pownal, Maine, about 20 miles from Portland. “I’m planning expanded orchards there and a cider house, to produce small batches of hard cider. I’ll run it as a conservation center, a permanent place to collect and experiment with rare foods.

“I love Maine, and particularly the Portland area, for its vibrant and creative food scene. This is the best place to eat, and work in a specialty food business, that I’ve ever found,” Buchanan said.

His book is beautiful and compelling, inspiring all of us to think about our meals, and our gardening from a slightly different angle, that can be fun and delicious while doing good work. He quotes his friend Polly Tooker who often says, “You’ve got to eat it to save it.”

David Buchanan is coming our way to celebrate Cider Days, November 4-5, with John Bunker, the heritage apple man who was featured in the October issue of Martha Stewart Living Magazine. Buchanan and Bunker will be talking about identifying and conserving heritage apples at the Deerfield Community Center on Saturday, November 4 from 10 am – noon. On Sunday they will have a heritage apple tasting and discussion which requires a ticket.

Lots of other events, most free. There is an amateur hard cider making competition, The Bittersharps, the Heirlooms, and the Macs – Learning How to Taste the Apples in your Hard Cider with author/educator Robert J. Heiss, given twice on Saturday (once before each session of the Cider Salon) at the PVMA Teachers’ Center (10 Memorial St) in Old Deerfield, tasting dried apple varieties at Apex Orchards, food and apples at the Shelburne Buckland Community Center, cooking and tasting apples at Clarkdale Fruit Farm and much more. For full information about all programs go to

Between the Rows  October 27, 2012


The ABCs of Heritage Apples, and Others

Apex Farm Store

A is for Apple, but if we look at heritage apples we can march right through the alphabet. Baldwin, Cox’s Orange Pippin, (Old) Delicious, Esopus Spitzenberg, Golden Russet, and on through to Northern Spy, Roxbury Russet, Stayman Winesap and Westfield Seek-No-Farther.

The Roxbury Russet and Westfield Seek-No-Farther remind us that some apples had a very local fame and audience before they spread to wider fields. In fact, Roxbury Russet was the first named apple in Massachusetts.

Even though we think of apples as a quintessential American fruit, apples originated in southeastern Asia, Kazakhstan and Turkey thousands of years ago. There are over 7000 cultivars, but you don’t usually get any sense of how many apples are grown, even now, if your only experience with apples is from the supermarket.

Fortunately we live in an area where apples thrive, and where we have a number of small orchards selling a much wider variety of apples – and cider. Last week I visited Apex in Shelburne, Barkley’s in Heath and Clarkdale in Deerfield and my husband is looking forward to apples cooked sweet and savory as well as the healthful apple a day eaten out of hand. I never get tired of apples and my father said no meal was complete without his apple for dessert.

Fuji apples

Tom Clark of Clarkdale Fruit Farm said there are still Baldwin and Northern Spy trees on his farm that his grandfather planted. He said that Baldwins were an important New England apple. At the turn of the 20th century Colrain had more Baldwin apple trees than any other town in the state. The apples came out of Colrain on the trolley, then to the train in Shelburne Falls, and then to Boston where they were shipped to England. It was the Baldwin’s keeping qualities that made this possible. “Of course, this might just be a local legend,” Clark said. But it does seem possible.

In the 1930s there were winters so severe that most of the Baldwin trees were killed. It was the new Macintosh apple that took its place. This apple has a tender skin and doesn’t keep as well, but refrigerated transportation was becoming available so keeping quality wasn’t as important.

Clark grows a range of heritage apples along with the newer varieties like Honey Crisp, but he said that he liked Baldwins, and that a “ripe russet is nice.” He did say that Americans in general liked pretty red apples but that the Jonagold apple, a cross between the Jonathan and Golden Delicious is the most planted apple in Germany and France. He has heard “that Americans buy with their eyes, and Europeans buy with their mouths.”

There is a new interest among foodies for cider, soft and hard, but Clarkdale Fruit Farm has been making cider for 50 years. Many of these old apple varieties make especially good cider. My friend Alan Nichols planted a cider orchard quite a number of years ago and those apples are in demand again as the new owner of the orchard is making his own cider,

Alan Nichols’ brother Lew wrote a book, Cider: Making, Using and Enjoying Sweet and Hard Cider, with Annie Proulx back in 1980 which is still available. Nichols and Proulx suggest a long list of cider apples for New England that includes Baldwin, Cortland, Esopus Spitzenberg (Thomas Jefferson’s favorite apple), Gravenstein, Jonathan, Fameuse, Roxbury Russet and Stayman Winesap among others.

Cider is such a fashionable drink right now that we celebrate locally with Cider Days, scheduled this year for November 3 and 4. This event will take place at a number of locations in Greenfield, Deerfield, and Shelburne. You can find a full schedule of tastings, apple butter making, a locavore harvest supper and more on the website

Apex Orchard in Shelburne also grows a wide range from Baldwins, Spitzenbergs, Macouns and Fuji as well as Reine de Pomme and Ashmead Kernel that they grow for West County Cider.

I cannot say I was surprised to see that West County Cider’s Redfield was a featured recommendation in the November issue of Martha Stewart’s Living. West County Cider makes several varietal hard ciders, which only use a single apple variety, like Redfield as well as a Heritage Blend Cider. Many chefs are now thinking about pairing a cider with a particular dish, the way wines have been paired in the past.

Apex Orchard cooler

I was talking to Sarah Davenport at Apex Orchard and she said she liked Macoun and Fuji apples, but it was hard to choose a favorite.

Tim Smith of Apex refused to limit himself to one favorite apple. He said he liked them all, but he said his grandfather, Lyndon Peck had a favorite – the large Pound Sweet. “He had a baked Pound Sweet with his breakfast every morning from late September until March,” Smith said.

I am so happy to have all these apply choices. Sue Chadwick, who had a huge collection of heritage apples in Buckland when I was librarian there, told me the secret to her famous apple pies was using several apple varieties. I start with Northern Spy because there is an old saying “For the best pie, use Northern Spy.” Other good pie apples are Roxbury Russet, Baldwin, Granny Smith, Jonagold, Golden Delicious and the new Honeycrisp.

I also just learned that Cornell University sells apples from their experimental orchards in vending machines on campus. Those smart university people appreciate the importance of an apple a day!

Between the Rows   October 20, 2012

Berries are the Best

Berries are the best. They are delicious summer fruits, especially when they are picked right off the bush and brought in for a morning bowl of cereal, a beautiful fruit tart, or a pot of jam. They are easy for the gardener because they are perennial plants and require little fussing over the years of their life.

In Heath we pay a lot of attention to blueberries. One section of town is called Burnt Hill because the hillside is covered with lowbush blueberries. A traditional method of controlling many weeds and insects is by burning the blueberry fields after harvest every few years.

There are many who are passionate about lowbush blueberries and think they are far superior in taste than highbush blueberries. My taste buds are not that refined and so one of the first crops we planted in 1980, our first spring in Heath, was a collection of eight highbush blueberry plants from Miller Nurseries. Blueberries need at least two varieties for cross pollination. This can also give you a longer harvest season by choosing early and mid-season varieties.

Within three years we were starting to get a harvest. I did not keep very good records at the time so I cannot attest to how much of a harvest. However, one of the benefits of berries is that they do not need much time before you are picking the fruits of your very limited labors. I can tell you that we are still getting a good harvest from those bushes. Blueberries are also considerate and do not need picking every day to avoid mold. They hang ripely on the bush waiting until the gardener has time.

I should say we get a good harvest if we beat the birds and critters to it. The first few years we netted each bush individually. Sometimes I decorated the nets with foil flash tape to scare away the birds. Then the bushes got too big to manage that efficiently. We finally built a PVC pipe cage around a single line of five of the bushes and lay bird netting over that. I wish we had designed the blueberry patch with a cage in mind right from the beginning, but we learn as we go.

I did not prepare the soil of that first blueberry planting. I knew that blueberries required acid soil and my assumption (correct) was that Heath had sufficiently acid soil. I was lucky to also have soil that drained well.

When I planted red raspberries several years ago, we did rototill the bed and I sprinkled a little compost, lime, rock phosphate and greensand in a totally unscientific manner. However, if there is a general rule to spread a little 10-10-10 fertilizer on a new berry patch, I figured I accomplished the same thing organically. I also remembered my old Greenfield neighbor, John Zon, who had a beautifully productive raspberry patch and he said he did nothing but mulch with fallen leaves in the autumn.

This time I bought my raspberry bushes from Nourse Farms, the excellent nursery we have right in our own backyard. There is no problem with finding a sunny site at the End of the Road, and I am lucky that with the exception of the Sunken Garden, the soil drains well. A sunny well drained site is all that raspberries require.

Blueberries need a little occasional pruning out of dead branches over time, but raspberries need to have the old canes that have already fruited taken out every year. It is also a good idea to prune out any spindly canes. You want the largest sturdiest canes to produce the best crop.

It is also a good idea to provide wire supports for a raspberry row, to provide support over the course of the year. I also find supports a way of maintaining a straight row. New shoots will come out into the path between rows and they need to be pruned out.

I occasionally throw a little compost along the rows, but remembering Mr. Zon, I mulch between the rows and find the bushes do well. I want to mention that raspberries do not need netting. For the most part birds are totally uninterested in them.

Two years ago I planted black raspberry bushes, again from Nourse Farms.

My first harvest last year ripened while I was away and was very poor because the berries dried up on the canes. At the same time the canes were bending over and the some of the tips were rooting where they touched the soil. It was making a mess in the garden. But I thought that was the only way they renewed themselves and left the mess and went looking for advice.

This year I belatedly found the advice about pruning black raspberries. I waded into all the bent over and rooted canes and pruned them out. I then cut back all the new canes that also were growing straight up to a height of about three feet to encourage growth of lateral fruiting branches.

However, after harvesting only a quart or two of small black raspberries, the rest of the berries were drying up into hard little balls. What was this recurrent problem?

I called the experts at Nourse and got a simple answer. They recommend two inches of water a week for black raspberries. It will take some thought and work to arrange that if we have another droughty summer. Wish me luck

Between the Rows –  August 18, 2012

Apple Blossom Time

Sargent crabapple

I hope this photo give some sense of the amazing bloom of the Sargent crabapple. It is  not 15 feet tall, but it is at least 15 feet wide and was planted about 15 years ago. It thrives in the Sunken Garden even though it is very wet in the spring.  It is now in full flower – almost a single tree-sized blossom at this point.

This apple tree, name unknown, produces apples but they are not the best apples I’ve ever eaten. I do use them in apple sauce and apple pie as part of the mix.  The tree usually takes a beating from the plow when it makes the turn in front of the house.

These apple blossoms are on  the Liberty semi dwarf tree in the ‘orchard’. All apple blossoms are so lovely. I hope they were open long enough to get pollinated.  Some of our trees are beginning to leaf out.  The grass looks as though we had a big wedding today.