Peters Creek, Alaska
by DWIGHT BRADLEY
This was the second straight good apple year for us in Peters Creek. The winter of 2000-2001 was very mild, no colder than about 0°F. We didn’t have a decent permanent snow cover until sometime in January; meanwhile, a couple inches of glare ice built up and the ground froze pretty deeply. Moreover, winter was repeatedly interrupted by 40°F Chinook winds. So the possibility of both rootstock death and sunscald seemed likely when Spring arrived. As it turned out, I did lose a few whips that had been set out in 2000. Also, five older trees in the corner of the orchard nearest the composted manure pile either died or suffered significant winterkill. I think this is because I had used composted horse manure (too much of it, and not composted quite long enough) to fill some sunken ground around these trees.
We now have 73 apple trees in the ground (23 different varieties), planted between 1992 and 2001. We harvested about 225 pounds of apples, down from about 400 pounds the year before. Sixty-seven trees bore fruit, same number as last year. The smaller crop was due to an off year for about 15 Parklands, a variety that tends to be biennial when not adequately thinned. A wetter than average July led to vigorous vegetative growth. Several Parklands sent up two feet of thick, succulent growth. Next year we can reasonably hope to pick more than 500 pounds of apples.
The one downside in 2001 was the arrival in our orchard of two new pests: scab and leaf rollers. Leaf rollers moved in on dozens of trees and marred a few percent of the fruit. They kill a leaf right next to an apple, stick the dead leaf to the apple, and build a nest out of spider-web silk between the two. When you peel back what looks like an innocent dead leaf, the apple’s skin and the outer 1 millimeter or so of pulp is blemished. I can live with the relatively minor amount of leaf roller damage but if it gets worse I’ll have to figure out an organic remedy. This was also my first year of serious scab—or at least, that’s my diagnosis. Rescue and Parkland got hit the worst, probably 5% of fruit showing some scab. The fruit are blackened and cracked on one side. They are still okay for cooking or cider, but not for sale.
We put up about forty quarts of applesauce and five gallons of cider. We also had good luck drying apple slices in a food dehydrator; every variety we tried seemed to work fine. With a surplus of applesauce, we made fruit leather. Very popular with the kids, though probably not too economical considering that it takes ten hours to make a batch.
Here are a few comments on particular varieties.
Norland. It was the best year for Norlands yet. Out of 26 Norland trees, 22 are thriving and bearing nice crops. Four trees are weak and four weak ones died. Big, red fruit with nice aromatics. We picked between Sept. 20 and 25. The first apples were edible about Sept. 10. Stored inside garbage bags in a cool (~40-45°F) garage, the apples kept for about 1 month. See also the separate article below on Norland and Parkland fruit size on different rootstocks.
Parkland. Some years, Parkland is a better apple than Norland, but not this year. Out of 20 trees, 19 bore fruit, although several trees had only one or two clusters: the biennial habit mentioned above. The 20 Parklands that are now alive were planted in 1994-1996; several of them that were nearly winter killed in their first few years have finally come back and are reasonably strong. The apples should have been picked about a week before Norland. They were certainly edible by Sept. 5. They kept about 3 weeks in good shape in the garage. Parkland is definitely better than Norland for applesauce.
Trailman. We have five bearing Trailman trees, counting one that was planted as a Norda but now obviously is a Trailman. Trailman was again the first to leaf out, and the first to bloom. Again, many apples are splitting open from too much rain. This is turning out to be a real drawback in Anchorage, where every August seems to be wet. Two of our trees suffer from pendulous branches, but the other trees are nice and upright. Next year I’ll try heading back the laterals to try to give them more strength.
Rescue. We have two Rescue trees, both loaded. A big scaffold branch on one tree broke off from the load; it had a very narrow crotch with a bark inclusion, so I guess this was inevitable. Last year, one of the trees bore elongate fruit, while the other bore round fruit. This year, strangely enough, both had round fruit. I had thought that one or the other of the trees was an imposter but I guess I was wrong.
Other varieties: Heyer 20 is our nicest looking tree, a reliable bearer of fairly large apples. Unfortunately, they have only ripened on time once in the past 6 years. Morden 359 is still alive (planted 1992) and still bearing a few apples, but the tree is not happy and the apples have never ripened. Dan Elliott’s enormous Morden 359 that he brought to the tasting hardly even looks like the same variety. Crimson Beauty (also planted in 1992) is struggling but not dead; it has never set more than about 10 apples. The few apples that have ripened have been excellent, and a bright red. Centennial is a really nice, reliable, yellow apple-crab. I have one tree planted in 1995 and a couple of much younger ones. Two of three young Westland trees bore a couple of nice big apples this year—almost edible fresh. My one Heyer 12 tree bore about 20 apples that are pretty good for cooking but otherwise inedible. Collett, Heyer 6, and Arbor Dale bore a small crops of apples that didn’t get close to ripening. Novosibirski Sweet bore the usual crop of small, very sweet but blandly non-acidic crabs. Thinning these did not help fruit size.