My Parents’ Farm Cannot be Converted into a Cider Apple Orchard

January 14, 2010

The former dairy farm that my parents own now have beef cattle on it, and a small orchard. I have thought about expanding the orchard so that I did not have to buy apples or pears to make cider with.

The location is a good one, as it has a little microclimate from being an island in the middle of a very large river. The running water and low elevation keep it slightly warmer, so it doesn’t frost early in the fall, and the last frost is also early. When it snows, as it rarely snows on the west side of the Cascade Mountains, it is light and doesn’t stick around.

The real problem, though, is that life would be too easy. The river runs around and also though the soils of the island, creating sub-irrigation. During the summer, it is possible to dig two feet down and hit water.  Some rootstocks do not like having so much access to water. Also, having so much water accessible to an apple tree plumps them up full of water, diluting the flavor. So while I might have more juice per apple, it would be a flavorless juice.

I wrote to Stephen Hayes of Fruitwise Heritage Apples in England asking what he thought about the high water table condition. He responded, “Hot dry climate + irrigation= lots of large attractive fruit, but I believe we get better flavours without it. No apple loves drought, but in the hot dry summer of 2003 we had a reduced crop of dessert apples, and they were small, but flavour and sugar levels were high.”  That advice there is sort of the nail in the coffin for increasing my folk’s orchard, as they also have maritime summers, where it stays in the upper 70s, which probably isn’t hot enough.

Yes, I still ponder over the idea of having an orchard, but at the same time, I think about how much work it is, and wonder if I should listen to that pear farmer who told me not to plant my own trees but to buy what I need and let them do all the work. It would let me concentrate more on making tasty cider.

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