Peters Creek, Alaska
by DWIGHT BRADLEY
Jan. 6, 2003
This was the third straight good apple year for us in Peters Creek. The winter of 2001-2002 was about average, with coldest temperatures in the range of -25°F (one day I’ll start keeping better track). Winterkill was minimal.
We hosted a pruning workshop in late spring. The group waded through a foot of snow and worked on about a dozen trees that were chosen to demonstrate a particular pruning dilemma. Lots of trees in our orchard were planted in the mid 1990s and were damaged by winterkill when very young. Most of the survivors were non-ideal, lacking the right number of scaffolds, or having two trunks, or having narrow crotches on major scaffolds. The consensus, for really misshapen trees, was to prune drastically, and either kill it or cure it. Now that we have a reasonably large orchard, this seems like a more tolerable choice than before. I look forward to another pruning workshop in 2003 when we’ll get a chance to hack off some more double trunks.
We now have 97 apple trees in the ground, planted between 1992 and 2002. We harvested about 450 pounds of apples, the largest harvest yet. About 60 trees bore fruit. A wetter than average summer led to vigorous vegetative growth. So next year we can reasonably hope to pick more than 500 pounds of apples. We put up about 40 quarts of applesauce and 10 gallons of cider.
We continued to have minor problems with scab and leaf rollers. Still no apple maggots, stem borers, plum curculios, codling moths, or fireblight—but with global warming, some of these are probably not too far off.
Here are a few comments on particular varieties.
Norland (24 trees). It was the best year for Norlands yet. Big, red fruit with nice aromatics. We picked on Sept. 22, right before I had to go to Australia. The first apples were edible about Sept. 10. Stored inside garbage bags in a cool (~40-45°F) garage, the apples kept for about a month. Norland, it turns out, is not as good as Parkland for applesauce because it takes forever to cook down. Norland appears to be prone to sending up double and even triple trunks. The remedy: during spring pruning, rub off the two or three buds immediately below the highest bud on the central leader. Then during the growing season, use double-ended toothpicks to keep the highest new branches from developing narrow crotches.
Parkland (21 trees). Parkland was not quite as good as Norland this year, but close. The 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 all strong. The apples could have been picked about a week before Norland. They kept about 3 weeks in good shape in a 40°F garage.
Trailman/Noret (7 trees). I think Trailman and Noret may be the same thing — either that or scionwood of one or the other of these is being swapped around Alaska with a wrong label. The apple that I’ve always referred to as Trailman has a small, long, plum-shaped yellow fruit with unattractively mottled skin. The flesh is excellent, tangy, crisp, tart, and prone to watercoring. The tree is gangly, with long, weak branches (which I think can be strengthened by cutting back at least halfway during spring pruning).The twigs are a distinctive tan color. The trees are always the first to leaf out and the first to bloom. The apples ripen about a week or two after Norland. The fruit is prone to cracking in August. I can’t remember where my first Tailman scionwood came from but I made my first three grafts in 1996. In 1996 I also grafted a supposed Noret which matured to bear fruit that is indistinguishable from the “real” Trailmans. In 2001, I grafted another Noret, though again, I don’t recall where the scionwood came from. Then this year I bought a Noret from Fedco Trees in Maine. These last two “Norets” have yet to bear but they look just like Trailman. Can anybody shed light on this?
Rescue (2 trees). Both Rescue trees bore huge crops. Two years ago, one of the trees bore elongate fruit, while the other bore round fruit. The difference was so obvious that I thought there might be two strains of Rescue. Now I think otherwise, because in 2001 and 2002, the apples were pretty much the same on the two trees. By the way, Rescue will keep in excellent condition for about a month in a sealed black garbage bag in a cool garage. The same apples in an open bucket will start to decline in a few days. One of the two Rescue trees is going to need drastic pruning to remove a couple of major scaffolds that have bad bark inclusions in their crotches.
Kerr (5 trees). I don’t know what possessed me back in 1996 and 1997 to graft all these Kerrs. I vaguely recall that Kerr had found its way onto a list of recommended apples, vintage 1988, based on one successful tree somewhere in Palmer. Out of the five trees in our orchard, only two have even born fruit. One of these had one measly small unripe apple and the tree looks like it will die in the coming winter. Another tree, grafted on Borowinka in 1996, is a cute little bush about two feet tall. It bore two unripe apples a couple of years ago, down near the ground, shaded out by grass`. One other tree is struggling. The remaining two are doing quite well but never seem to blossom. As soon as I need the space, some of these Kerrs will go.
Heyer 20 is our nicest looking tree, a reliable bearer of fairly large green apples with a red blush. Unfortunately, they don’t always ripen. This year, with a very long and mild fall, the Heyer 20s actually ripened by the first week of October. They keep for a couple months in a cool garage. We harvested 50-60 pounds from the one tree.
Heyer 6 bore its first large crop of nice looking, oblate, red apples. They were good for sauce but not ripe enough for fresh eating.
Heyer 12, as usual, bore a decent crop of cooking apples.
Westland (3 trees) continues to make slow growth and may one day be productive. But I’m not overwhelmed by the vigor of this variety. One five-year-old tree bore a couple of large cooking apples.
Morden 359 is still alive (planted 1992) and bore its biggeest crop ever, of 30-40 apples. They ripened enough to be usable for cider or sauce this fall.
Novosibirski Sweet bore a nice crop of small, very sweet but blandly non-acidic crabs. A good addition to the cider mix. Thinning these did not help fruit size.
Centennial is a really nice, reliable, yellow apple-crab. Flavor is excellent but the flesh is somewhat dry or woody, and ripens a couple of weeks after Norland. We have one prolific tree planted in 1995 and a couple of much younger ones.
Arbor Dale bore about 100 apples that didn’t get close to ripening, even with our exceptionally long fall. Don’t bother with this one in the Anchorage area.
Crimson Beauty (planted in 1992) is struggling but not dead; it has set only about 15 apples in the past 5 years. There was no fruit this year, but the few apples that have ripened in the past have been excellent, and a bright red, with red-veined flesh. This would have been a good year for ripening Crimson Beauty, if only the tree had blossomed.