The trees rest among the falling snow. The fruit buds lay dormant, but already contain the cells that will become this spring’s flowers.
A nearly snowless orchard in February hints at the unusual weather to come this season. Buds began to open by March 15th, at least three weeks early.
The early warm weather set plants growing at full-speed, but April frosts threatened to freeze tender flowers. This photograph was taken at 6am during the coldest night (27F). The fires, spaced along the rows, helped to radiate heat to the nearby flowers, while mixing the still air. The rolling slopes of our orchard prevented the cold air from settling. We were lucky to save most of the flowers. Many apple growers lost their crops.
Most of the flowers made it through the cold, and soon afterward, the bees were out pollinating.
Next came thinning the fruit. Left to grow naturally, most apple trees would produce a large crop of apples one year, followed by barely any the next. Hand thinning allows us to choose the best looking fruit, while helping to curb that biennial tendency. It also makes the fruit larger.
The fruit grew rapidly during the warm May and June. Now it begins to look like an apple, and a blush of color appears. The white covering on the leaves and fruit in the last two photographs is a special type of clay used to grow apples organically. More on that in a future post.
As you probably heard, June and July were incredibly dry. The driest in decades. While our older, deeper rooted trees were able to withstand the drought, our young trees need to be watered. We filled this 300 gallon tank pulled by the tractor to water trees by the row. It was a slow process, but necessary to keep the trees alive.
With August came needed rain, which helped our apples grow in size. Pictured here are Goldrush, the state apple of Illinois. They’ll be ripe in mid-to-late October, and are some of the sweetest apples you can find.
With fall comes harvest time, and these Ruby Jonathan apples sure look good. Through all the difficult weather, biting into a crisp apple in autumn makes it all worth the effort.
-John, Orchardist at Orchard Ridge Farms