We harvested our last quince the other day. It held steadfast stemming from its home perched on the limb of the tree, surviving the frosts, a freeze, and even a few snowshowers earlier in October. This lovely 'love-apple' fruit marks the end of our harvest season. We have been enjoying the slow sweet ripening on the counter diffusing and seducing with hints of flowers ready to be cooked in the kitchen. When you catch a nostalgic scent of springs past, cut and simmer quince with your apples for a hearty sauce, or enjoy solo, slightly poached and drizzled with honey-invoking the spirit of Aphrodite and Venus – honoring the culinary traditions from Apicius to your Grandma's orchard, and marveling at how such an ancient fruit has been overlooked in today's kitchen. You may also be asking why quince fruit was overlooked on the fall fruit menu this season. Our harvest was minimal yet beautiful and unfortunately we did not have enough fruit to extend into fruit market shares or much for our retail quince lovers.
Not to be a fruit tease, we wanted to share how the fruit season as a whole fared and would love to hear from you! Please take a moment to let us know how we did and we will do the same, specifically:
What would you like to see more of?
Would you buy fruit from the farm again? Why or why not?
Those with fruit market shares, did the model of 2 deliveries (one in summer, the other in fall) work for you? Or would rather want to be kept in the loop regarding specific fruit availability and purchase as you go?
And the infamous 'other' fruit gleanings we should have on our radar?
For some context, the following are reflections on the season from our 1 acre orchard and what's in store for 2019. You may want to settle in with a warm cup of coffee/tea or strong hard cider as by now you likely know that brevity is not a strongpoint, though we do think it's important to share insights gleaned from the field and where your fruit investments went.
If you missed the 'love apple' on the menu this year, we are getting to know quinces' physiology in the orchard ecosystem. We harvested just 27.12# of fruit this year (down from 2018 several hundred pounds). Perhaps it has a 'rest' year similar to many older heirloom varieties of apples (which can work in the orchardists favor as insect pressure may be reduced as a result of the tree taking a 'rest' year). Other factors could have been at play such as wet weather, especially during pollination time. It also did not help that late August – the first half of October we absorbed 28.75'' of rain from a deluge of storms and floodbaths that just did not let up. The norm for annual rainfall in Wisconsin is 36''. Though the past couple of years we have had to contend with the new normal of wetter late summers and impacts of Climate Change. This is the harvest window for much of our pome fruit including quince, pears and apples and fall berries such as hardy kiwi and raspberry.
The result overall this season has been mixed. Our pears, in particular took a beating. Our reliably producing Clapp's Favorite trees, were hit doubly hard. First by the July raccoon raid, and recently, in a display of botanical shock, caught naked in the storm, dropped all their remaining fruit, in a single gust front. We were able to salvage just 41.71# of fruit, again down from the 400 plus pound averages of season's past. There are always a few that weather the storm and we had a few storm hardy pears to prop up your shares.
Apples on the other hand defied decay and rot this year and we had a bumper crop. Our Zestar and Baldwin varieties are starting to come into their own alongside a few russet type apples planted in our young orchard. The real gem this season was our all purpose heirloom elder apple. This tree is amazing and over 90 years old. The fruit has a colorful skin but don't be deceived, the flesh is crisp and clear of insect burrows from coddling moth and the half moon pocks of the plum curculio that be-devils organic apple growers throughout the Midwest. It is our go to apple for baking and if you like tart, for fresh eating. It has been fickle to graft, but it seems to be forgiving. Every year we think it's dead, yet it still flowers and produces bumper yields. I am determined to further it's mysterious yet robust lineage and will try a few grafts again next season.
Our hardy kiwi crop this year also amazed us, not necessarily in yield (a modest 13.88#), though that it set fruit at all. Initially we were ready to toss it up to a year without kiwi due to the late April snowfalls, we were convinced that kiwi vines were unwilling to put their energy into flowering. Once again, we put our hope and trust in Mother Nature's optimism and sense of irony. The vines must have heard us talking smack, decided to put out a really late season bloom in early June and we ended up with a bountiful harvest.
Aronia also enjoyed a bumper year at 58.62# and we are still experimenting with what the best market fit is for this supertart, superfruit. We've had fairly good luck with aronia in the bar menu, as well as juicing and jamming the fruit. Increasingly, it's been a go to for cut flower bouquets as the foliage, flowers, and fruit all make for interesting additions to the floral feasts.
Wildcards and wildlife abound. Case in point with currants this year. These grower friendly shrubs have been an anchor of our orchard understory and menu since we experimented with the crop in 2012. This year currants, reminded us of impermanence, curbing expectations and living frugally on surprise. Fruit set was our best yet on all varieties and the trick with currants is to let them linger on the shrub for a week or two once they start to turn red, white, or blue/black. Such anticipation usually is rewarded with a burst of sweet-tart flavor in our reds and white currants, and for black currants, well it's an explosion of nutty savory other-worldliness best left for cooking than fresh eating. I remember waking up, excited for the currant harvest and going out to the orchard, only to find strigs cleared of berries. We think it was bird predation or other critters who managed to find their way through our fencing and were keeping a close eye and taste testing brix as well. Thankfully there was enough to go around and it appears that birds do not favor the flavor black currants and yields were robust. At least our labor time was reduced (on average, we spend ~15 – 20 minutes to harvest a shrub with a 5 – 8 lb yield of berries).
This year we also welcomed a few new fruit friends into the foray. We are encouraged by clove currants. Not that we really needed to add yet another currant variety, though clove currants ripen in late July/early August and fill a harvest niche for us. Also known as spicebush, as their name implies the flowers diffuse an intense clove-like olfactory come-on. Its fruit is on par with black currants, though without the sharp bite when eaten fresh. We hope to offer up clove currants in 2019 as our shrubs mature.
Overall currant yield breakdown is as follows: black currants at 54.62#, red currants at 38.56#, white currants at 31.17# and clove currants at 7.16# respectively. In general .75 # of black and/or clove currants= 1 pint and a 0.8 # of red and/or white currants = a pint of fruit. Harvest/post harvest time rounded out at 32 hrs.
Juneberries we mostly wildcraft from the forest edges and from the tree in our front yard in Madison as our juneberry plants in the orchard keep taking a hit with a fruit rust and bird predation. They are our favorite blueberry substitute and much easier to establish in our soils at the farm. They are also one of our most labor intensive fruits to harvest alongside elderberries. Usually we are dictated by time and not necessarily abundant fruit set to wildcraft. This season we foraged 18# before we had to tend to other fruit and farm needs.
We've been experimenting with adding fruit guilds of cherries and plums and have settled on a few varieties that seem to do well. For cherries, Montmorency, Stella, and White Gold all gave us a lovely sampling. White gold in particular, we are excited about as it is the sweetest, tart cherry we've been able to sample and grow in our climate and its fruit is a beautiful golden yellow. Plums ended up mostly as a feast for wildlife (sigh), though we were spared a few Black Ice and Mt. Royals and enjoyed a robust American plum (native plums) harvest that we wildcrafted and mixed in as part of a sauce for fruit share members. Apricots represent orchard determination and that there are no guarantees in life save for change and gravity. They initiate the season with their early blooms, which are often at the mercy of the 'ice days of May'. Once again, we anticipated a hardy crop of Black Gold Puget Gold, and Jerseycot, but between fruit drop and predation, Rob and I harvested just 6 little apricots. You can be sure we savored every bite, and one of these years, we hope to share the harvest with you!
With perennials you are in it for the long haul...and we hope you will continue to be part of the farm...
Rob has been managing our veggie CSA since 1993, and fruit has always been part of the menu. In fact an apple tree was the first thing he planted on the farm when his family bought the place in 1972. I joined the merry band in 2009 and we were thinking of how the farm could support another person. Since 2009, we've been making the conscious shift to perennial production in growing more fruits, herbs, and perennial flowers that work well for our farm landscape and our direct markets. Our goal is to maintain 100% soil cover throughout the season, (mulches, perennial groundcovers, covercropping, perennial plants etc), and this is a relatively easy feat with perennial plantings. Since we have a lot of sloping lands, we also try to design our production systems on the front end such as strategically planting raised beds, on contour, constructing berms and swales and series of plant guilds, to grow and maintain our soil health.
Being part of our farm also means investment in our farm's ecology - Our farm is run on 100% renewable energy, both in the food and flowers we produce and in energy generated through our 5.1 kwH ground mount solar array. Our farming methods emphasize low fossil-fuel inputs; use of cover crops, composting, mulch, companion planting, and crop rotation; habitat enhancement such as plant guilds, field borders, native prairie plantings and windbreaks; and soil and water conservation practices such as swales and rainwater catchment. In the orchard, our foray into perennial production highlights ways we grow intensively on small acreage. They also embody the multi-plier effect. Start with one currant, and by next year it's divide-and-transplant, or propagating cuttings season and soon you have 8 currant plants to fill in the orchard understory or share forward with other farm friends and fruit lovers.
What's in store for 2019?
Trust and relationships are the heartbeat of our farm. Rob and I are grateful to each of you for putting your trust in our farm. There are countless ways each of you have helped keep us propped up during the peaks and valleys of the 2018 season, especially during our late summer floodbath. We are so grateful for your open communication, ideas, comments, photo and recipe sharing and for your understanding that some fruits were not on the menu despite our best plans.
Fruit is how we plant and manifest optimism in the world. Fruit represents nature's abundance, and planting that which outlasts our lifespans. When you plant a fruit tree, you have to be in it for the long haul. The expression, “you grow pears for heirs” comes to mind. While some pear varieties take 5 – 8 years before the first fruit stubbornly sets, you can count on a proliferation for years to come. I mean given optimal conditions, 300 lbs of consistent edible delights from one pear tree with a typical lifespan of 80 – 100 years! Now that is energy efficiency in food production. Some old pear trees, such as the ones gracing the Suffolk orchards of England, planted in the nineteenth century are now more than 70' tall and still share prolific yields. It is worth the wait.
We hope you that each of you will await the 2019 fruit season with as much anticipation and wonderment as your farmers. We look forward to being in touch when the frost starts to exhale from the soil and we have a sense of what's in store for 2019 and beyond. Thank you for your time and support, we look forward to sharing the fruit-filled bounty with you.
Happy 'dormancy' season!