There are apple trees here and there in Southeast Alaska but when we talk to a fellow Juneau resident, most (except old timers) are surprised to find out we have apple trees in our yard. If they saw how small our yard is, they’d be really surprised…but I digress.
Some years ago, we planted a couple of Goodland apple trees in the back corner of our front yard. I know – we’d never heard of that variety either but the tag said they were hardy and we needed something in that corner so we decided to go for it. You have to have two so they can pollinate each other so we loaded a pair of saplings in the truck and took them home.
Fast forward ten or so years and they are both about ten feet tall and sprout the most beautiful flowers in the spring.
However, the spruce tree in the neighbor’s yard has been shielding them so they haven’t produced much fruit. The first year we saw actual fruit, they didn’t get very big and didn’t ripen. The next year they were oddly deformed and had black spots and checking with our professional apple growing friends in Washington confirmed they had a fungus infection. We picked the fruit and cleaned up all the leaves and debris around the trees in the fall in hopes of controlling the fungus.
The next year saw some fruit but that year’s blight was of a furry kind. I was just about to jump into bed when I saw the trees shaking. I ran to the window and hollered. Hubby jumped out of bed, grabbed his bathrobe and big flashlight (yep – a Maglite 3 D Cell is his weapon of choice) and ran out the door to chase off the marauding black bear who decided our trees were his buffet.
Each subsequent year has seen some fruit but the location has gotten too shady with all the trees in the neighbors’ yards so when we came across some apple trees at Costco, I had to buy one to try in our sunnier backyard. Hubs quickly agreed when he saw it was three varieties grafted onto one tree – Lodi, Zestar, and our favorite, Honeycrisp. By grafting them, the tree is self-pollinating and the varieties ripen at different times.
We’ve had the tree in our backyard for about 6-8 years now and it’s about 12-15 feet high. Since he retired, hubby has taken command of the backyard – the “producing” side of the house vs the “pretty” side where I have all flowers and ornamentals. And he takes the apple tree care quite seriously, giving me regular morning reports on its progress over morning coffee.
One year, he saw the tree shaking and was concerned a small bear was in the yard – even tho they would have to climb a fence or navigate one small opening to get there. Running out into the yard, he discovered a porcupine attempting to climb the tree. He got a length of old 2×4 and managed to persuade the porky to move along with a lot of prodding, from a distance! He chased that waddling porky all the way around the house, thru the pretty side and out of our yard. And then we waited for him to return – porkies are persistent and will chew a tree down to nothing given half a chance. We hoped that if he did come back, he’d stop at the Goodland apple trees – figuring they are now the sacrificial apples for bears and other pests. Fortunately, we’ve not seen him or a bear in the apple trees some years.
The backyard tree kept growing with a little judicious pruning. The Zestar graft is still there but doesn’t do much – I think the graft is failing – but each year the other two have teased us with a few fruits.
A couple years ago, we ate some small apples late in the year but last year, it was so cold and rainy all summer, nothing ripened. We left town in the fall without picking them and returned to find them hanging from the naked branches, frozen. They looked like Christmas ornaments.
This year we worried from the get go. It was still quite cold into May when we are typically planting annuals and seeing things green up. The winter had been harsh – single digit temps with no snow cover meant the ground had frozen deeper than normal and we lost several perennials. The lawn looked terrible and it seemed like it was forever before things finally leafed out. Ever the pessimist, hubby’s reports on the garden were invariably gloom and doom.
And then it happened – the second warmest summer in history. One could even call the days hot and in our backyard, it certainly was. It collects the afternoon and evening sun and reflects it back to the plants. The apple tree took off and the daily reports were of the number of blossoms it held. All summer we watched as the blossoms turned into fruit – way more than we had ever had before.
And in late August, he couldn’t stand the temptation any longer and started picking some of the Lodi.
They are the first to ripen and resemble a yellow transparent – great for applesauce, apple butter or similar. Those first few were still a bit on the tart crunchy side and we only had a few here and there. We didn’t touch the Honeycrisps but they slowly colored, giving me a lovely view out the window with morning coffee.
The fall rains came and it absolutely poured several days in a row. This is normal for September and we wondered if we would actually get fully ripe apples. When we got a unusual reprieve and the sun came out, we found several Lodi on the ground. That was it – we had to pick them. So we had our own Apple Fest.
We picked the Lodi, marveling at the ones that “looked almost like real apples” and a group that was so large we had put a support under the branch for fear it would break under the weight.
All in all, we picked a large overflowing bowl full of the Lodi, checked the Honeys and left them alone.
The rest of our day was consumed with processing.
I made Country Apple Fritter Bread in mini pans so hubs could take some on his fishing trip the next day and we could share with my parents. The Instant Pot was key for making up a quick applesauce. I asked if we should make chunky or smooth – turns out with the Lodi, smooth was pretty much what we got but it tasted awesome. I also tried my hand at apple butter, again in the Instant Pot. One thing to note is that you must simmer it uncovered after the apples are cooked to thicken it to “butter” consistency. At this point, you will wish you had a screen lid of some kind as that hot sticky apple stuff bubbles hard enough to fly out of the pot! It was easy to forgive the mess when I jarred up seven half pints of cinnamon appley goodness.
And now we wait and watch the Honeycrisps, hoping they will ripen in this last stretch of sun….