I have a picture of me sitting on my great-grandpa’s knee pretending to drive his orchard tractor. I’d be about three and he would be in his early eighties. As I recall, he drove up to his house and hopped off the still-running antique green tractor asking me, “You won’t touch anything, will you? I have to go into the house for a minute.”
“Oh no, grandpa!”
So off he went to the house. There were a few other family members nearby, like my dad and his mom. After I put the tractor in gear and it started towards the house, my dad fondly says he never saw his grandpa move that fast in his whole life. As for me, I always like driving tractors. I had a little orange toy tractor at home. And how long could a kid that age sit on a tractor without pushing a lever, anyway? Whenever I see a big old apple tree, especially a McIntosh, I think of my great-grandpa.
I have a short row of apple trees in my orchard that I’ve planted for fun. There are all different kinds, one of this, one of that. I joke that they are in alphabetical order — because most of them are. The first two kinds I picked this year were Gravenstein. The original one came from Germany or Denmark in the late 1700s. It is a mottled red-over-green and still quite popular on the West Coast. I collected a few sprigs of grafting wood (scions) from a really old tree from the backyard of my childhood. The other is an improved colour — beautiful red and it seems to taste much the same. They are great for eating fresh, as well as in pies, sauces or for juice.
The next fruit to ripen for me are Silken. About 10 years ago, a man by the name of Dan McMurray (known for heirloom tomatoes) asked me to bring them in. They are a translucent green-yellow apple with thin skin, and crisp and juicy, with a mild taste. Like other early apples, they aren’t for keeping.
Next up looks like the Summerland Mac and then perhaps Spartan. Spartan keeps pretty well, so I’ll leave it a little longer before picking. Like the other fruit that starts with an s, it has been developed or selected at the Summerland Research Station in the Okanagan.
I also have an apple, Liberty, which is very similar to a Mac owing to its heritage; however, it has some scab resistance, which means the average homeowner wouldn’t need to spray fungicides to keep them looking good.
Wealthy apples, of which I only picked two this year, are early, as well. They were my grandma’s favourite apple pie apple.
In addition to the previously mentioned apple varieties, I also grow Royal Gala from New Zealand, Honeycrisp, developed in Minnesota (so it is exceptionally cold hardy), Cox Orange, an old British variety from roughly the 1830s (great for pies or cider), Jonagold, from New York in the 50s, and Ambrosia, which was found growing on its own (a chance seedling) in the South Okanagan in the 1980s. More recently, I planted some Aurora Golden Gala, which is a nice eating apple, and very late season, but it can be kept well in a normal cool room through to March.
We also have a Fuji tree, of Japanese origin. This tree was nearly yarded out of the orchard until one year over winter I read about how they can sometime take five years to produce an edible apple.
Lately, the little tree has done well. It just took a little more time than some of the others to mature. I think we have all met some people like that.
Wishing you all a great harvest!
Evan Davies owns Beltane Nursery at 2915 Highway 3 in Erickson.