I planted two apple trees 10 years ago. Each year, I faithfully watered, fertilized, pruned and cleaned up around the trees. I even tried sprays to control for insects and blights.
And I got no apples.
Deer invaded our yard and ate the new growth. We put up a fence. One tree died after five years when some rodent chewed up the tender graft point. The other tree lived but never thrived. It didn’t take root properly and blew over in a hurricane. I rerooted and staked it. I kept up the orchard husbandry. I got a few apples, but most of them were lost to squirrels, birds, and bugs.
Two years ago, I said the heck with it and left the tree to its own devices.
This year I got a ton of apples.
OK, not a ton, but a good basketful and more on the tree to harvest soon.
Joy at finally having my work pay off? Yes. Heartbreak that the apples are malformed, shot full of bugs and not that tasty? Again, yes.
Out of the whole basket, only these three apples look “good enough” to maybe pass for supermarket apples:
Who am I kidding? If most people saw these apples at the store, they’d pass them by. The next time you buy apples at the market, think of how much human intervention is required to get something picture-perfect.
If you have ever been apple-picking, you’ve noticed that commercial orchards keep their trees pruned to the point of being stunted, for easier harvests and bigger yields. My grandparents pruned their trees annually and still had to use a homemade apple-picker made out of an old broomstick and a twisted wire coat hanger to pick some fruit.
Because I have not pruned the tree in a few years, it’s even harder to harvest. I had to buy one of these telescoping fruit-picking gizmos.
From the ground, looking up into the branches, lots of great fruit seems within reach. I finagle the fruit-picker under a tasty-looking apple, pluck it, and pop it into the basket. It looks pretty good:
Then I flip it over:
Yuck. Damn birds.
I mean, I love birds and I don’t mind sharing a few apples with them. But they prefer to peck at many apples instead of just eating one. Hey bird – if you’re going to start an apple, finish it before you go onto the next one!
Many pecked-up apples rot on the tree, Those that fall get a second life as a meal for raccoons and squirrels. This windfall encourages the raccoons and squirrels to visit again and again. I try to vigilantly pick up any fallen apples right away, but every morning some more lie on the grass, chewed and brown and yucky.
I took the basket of “good” apples inside, washed them, then got to work prepping them. These are Cortland apples, meant for cooking not eating. They’re good for pies, sauces and things like that. I figured I’d made an apple crisp. I mixed the apple pieces with the juice of a lemon, 1/4 cup of sugar, 1/2 teaspoons of nutmeg and cinnamon. The crisp topping is made from 1/4 cup each of butter, flour, brown sugar and chopped toasted pecans.
An hour of coring, peeling and slicing, and an hour of baking later:
It was pretty tasty – the apples are pretty tart, which I like. I feel a great sense of joy at this too. And then I think of all that work just for one apple crisp, to be enjoyed for a couple of meals when I could buy something similar for a few bucks. Heartbreak again!