A High Season Thursday at 12:42am

tractorBEN’S BULLETIN

September 21, 2018 – 12:42 am

An email from Ben to his best pals, regarding his RSVP to his 40th birthday party in February 2019……. 

Gents-

So the sun has long since set here at the farm.  Its just me and the dogs here in the barn office.  Harvest is in full swing… the Gala crop has been picked.  Honeycrisp will be wrapped up by next week.  I usually end the day lining up our wholesale delivery trucks for tomorrow’s routes (that… along with a beer or two and a 3-minute break for a small cat nap on the desk…..). We’ll have 3 drivers rollin’ tomorrow AM.  With good weather leading into the weekend, we should see strong retail sales and plenty of folks coming out to pick their own apples.  All in all, the crop is looking good.  We will finally see good returns off of the trees Dad and I planted the first year I moved home.  Production should be the highest since my coming back.  Quality yet to be determined…

It is far too frequent during this time of year that I get swept up in the hustle of harvest.  This life Brooke and I have chosen has challenged us far beyond what I could have imagined.  Many-a-day I question whether my shoulders are broad enough to keep this thing going.  There is a constant juggle between managing a payroll of 35+ people, forecasting farm profitability (or lack thereof), making harvest & sales decisions… all while driving the forklift around our packhouse like a mad man.  I miss my wife.  I miss my kids.  I long for the tranquility of farm life that was the picture I painted for Brooke so many years ago.  But I don’t think tranquility is my nature.   

It is in these moments that leaving Austin, Texas seemed like a damned foolish idea.  Maybe because its human nature to look fondly on the past.  Maybe because I found confidence in engineering that just isn’t part of farming with Mother Nature.  Maybe because the co-workers I met in that town have turned out to be the most meaningful life-long friends.  For that last reason, this trip is gonna be epic.  I absolutely can’t wait to strap some boards on my feet and earn my turns in some of that fine “Champagne Powder” of Route County, Colorado!  After I help my wife settle into life with new baby #4 and life as a family of six – I’ll be on the plane headed Westbound to play hard.  See you Gents then.                                                                                                         -Ben-

 

Overwhelming Success at First Peach Fest!

Halle Snavely is a local food consultant and a writer. She documents the best of Northeast Ohio’s local farms through her Instagram account @oneingredientco. This is her first guest blog post for Quarry Hill Orchards.

“We already ran out of peach ice cream!” Brooke Gammie says as she greets me at the Quarry Hill Orchards Peaches and Cream Festival. It’s noon. The festival started at ten. Running out of ice cream that early tells me that it must be really good. Mason’s Creamery clearly knows what they’re doing. Brooke is busy mingling with guests and crafting the dwindling peach sorbet into a beautiful presentation that is garnished with sliced peaches, lavender buds and fresh mint leaves (garnishes courtesy of Executive Chef and friend Jamie Simpson of Culinary Vegetable Institute). I immediately become jealous that I have to photograph this work of art instead of eat it.

Vegan Peach Sorbet from Mason’s Creamery

This is the first Peaches and Cream festival at Quarry Hill, but Brooke says it’s an idea that the Gammie family has been marinating on for some time. “Bill has wanted to do an ice cream social for a while, but we haven’t had a good peach crop and I had my hands full last year with Beatrice, so I didn’t get around to it. Then I thought, ok, I gotta do it this year! And it just happened really organically. I swear 80% of the people I’ve talked to today have never been here before.”

Flower Crown Makers

It’s a heartwarming sight: kids covered from head to toe in ice cream, happy children making flower crowns, people shopping at Fancy Me Boutique, crying children and parents consoling them are peppered throughout the crowd (par for the course), adults of all ages are taking in the scene while eating black burgers and empanadas from The Goucho and The Gringa (who also ran out of these crowd favorites), and local musicians are serenading the crowd. The farm store is bustling with people lined up in all directions, stocking up on peaches, eating peach crepes from The Mad Batter Baking Company, and getting their hands on the latest Quarry Hill Orchards gear. (Side note: Quarry Hill’s gear is seriously legit. Any hipster or style maven would be proud to rock these t-shirts, a new collaboration with Unsalted Boutique.)

4th Gen Gammie Girls Payton and Beatrice

There is a Gammie in just about every direction I look. Even in the midst of the chaos, it’s clear from the genuine smiles on their faces that they’re really enjoying themselves. Life on the farm is always chaotic, but to see how seamlessly the Gammie’s blend work and play is a pretty good indication that they really love what they do. It truly is a family affair, and their greatest joy is being able to share their farm with others. In fact, this is what fuels their passion. Judging from the number of people who showed up, it seems their customers are feelin’ the love too.    

Caitlin Davis, who lives just down the road, recounts some of her Quarry Hill memories. “I grew up coming here, so I was not missing this! We come in the fall to the apple event, and we’ll actually be back at the winery tomorrow. There’s something special about it being family run. It just feels like home. Everyone is having a good time, kids are running around. You can’t beat that. I love it.”

Towards the end of the event, I had the chance to grab some food and interact with a few of the attendees. I met Roger and Nancy Wallace, fellow farmers and friends of the Gammie’s. They summed up the vibe pretty well. “It’s a nice family farm. There’s nothing better than to let people experience this.”

Brooke (center) with best pals Katie and Jess manning the ice cream tent (with their collective 9 kids helping out)

 

Did you attend the Peaches and Cream event?

We’d love to share some of our favorite peach recipes with you!

Please take a moment to fill out this 2-minute survey to help us improve our future events. To show our appreciation for your time, we’ll send you an email with some of our favorite peach recipes once you’ve completed to survey!

Lake Erie Like a Local

apple_7237 (2) (800x692)Lake Erie Like a Local

August 2017

Guest Blog Post for the Lake Erie Shores and Islands

Relationship-driven.  Quality-focused.  Family-centric.  If you’re a regular at Quarry Hill Orchards, you’re probably a regular because of the authentic atmosphere, fresh (and delicious!) fruit, engaging conversation, memorable experiences, good people, oh, and the friendly golden retrievers and cute babies. A typical day on the farm includes some combination of the Gammie Family onsite managing the day-to-day operations of the business: slicing a ripe peach for a customer;  driving a wagon full of first graders around the orchard; directing the crew which apple orchard needs thinning; inspecting a load of peaches on their way to a Cleveland grocer; or swapping produce with a local vegetable producer. 

This summer, my presence at the barn has included my three darlings (Payton 6 ½, Henry 5, and Beatrice 8 months).  We work as a team, as a family:  Payton has become an expert at “decorating” the baskets of fruit with fresh leaf cuttings; Henry eagerly helps carry bags of blueberries, apricots, and peaches out to customers cars (he’s been getting a few tips recently which he uses to buy peach fritters); Beatrice is either riding in her Daddy’s backpack carrier, or is playing in the arms of one of our regulars.  My husband may work from sun-up to sun-down every day this time of year, but we get to spend that time together, working together as a family….a lifestyle that was 100% created on purpose. 

During our income generating time of year, it’s critical we prioritize this day-to-day management of our business.  Hence, our family schedule is dictated primarily by the needs of the business and our off-farm activities like dinner hour, nap time, birthday parties, house chores are always scheduled around these needs.  As a Mom, my role in helping run the business has been crafted entirely by my children’s needs, yet influenced by my strengths and passions.  It’s a daily balancing act between Motherhood and managing the back office.  Returning phone calls while we’re driving to Catawba for swim lessons;  logging hours behind Quickbooks while the kids are napping; updating cash flow spreadsheets while a neighborhood babysitter takes them to the Old Fish House for ice cream; packing up the tribe for a trip to Sandusky to pick up payroll; writing grant reports while they attend a day camp;scheduling nap time to facilitate a late dinner when Dad comes home; making Put-In-Bay plans to the Butterfly House on a Tuesday because we’re at the barn on Saturdays. 

“Work hard, play hard” is one of our family mottos. When it’s time to play, we play hard, and don’t have to travel far to do that.  Going to Dinosaurs Alive and exploring Hotel Breakers and swimming at Cedar Point Beach made a perfect birthday party for our five year old. Watching fireworks from a friend’s back porch during the Huron River Fest, seeing Payton learn how to canoe for the first time in the Huron River thanksto the amazing nature camps hosted by Erie MetroParks, double date night with my parents at the Culinary Vegetable Institute, and beach glass hunting on Kelley’s Island are just a few highlights of our playtime. 

The summer memories we’re making here are one that I will treasure, and cherish forever – I know this time as their playmate is fleeting, and the dirty dishes, the piles of laundry, and the messy chaos are things that will be easily forgotten……Thank you LESI for this lakeside playground that gives our family so much opportunity to make this summer one we’ll always remember.      

The Return

A soggy week.  In an invigorating side step to progress.  Rainy days are cathartic; they break the routine, give pause, prepare us for renewal.  A few stoic “wild” dogwoods peek from the tree line by the old Bailey quarry.  While once prolific, the numbers have decreased in the last twenty years.  Jacque, Adrianne, Brooke and Bill’s mom count them as favorites…for their bloom orders a sense of reassurance in the seasons of life.   

Upon Brooke and Ben’s departure from Arizona and trek to Ohio they posted “Change is good” – a positive challenge to an entrenched older generation.  Bill’s Dad once lamented that people don’t change (he might qualify that today).  Donald Trump declared last week that the future belongs to the dreamers.  Depending on your opinion of our new president, that can be interpreted as illusionary or reactionary or encouraging or confusing, regardless it implies change. 

All of us and all of you know it is a constant, but how we cope with the feeling that our precious attention and exhausting behaviors is being blown downwind like this weeks apple blossoms is the hurdle.  Hope, anticipation and kids are salves for this affliction.  Kids are the best. 

Arra (1-1/2 years), Adrianne and Tom’s daughter can indeed, eat soup with fingers and giggles.  Payton (6) can scoot across a ball field (and a keyboard) as nimbly as her mom can negotiate three urchins and an overworked husband.  Henry (4) asserted himself during an afternoon read with Gigi.  A hallway noise made him bellow “show yourself!”  That protective urge will endure?  Baby Beatrice (6 mo.) softens us with her quiet smile.  Despite being born deaf seldom has a child seemed more content and eager.

How do we interpret the past, check the moment and investigate the future and at the same time give credit to everyone’s ability to adapt?  We just do it with the whole spectrum of emotion.  One truth in the confusion of the demands of time, money, and especially relationships is a May morning.  The first step outside unlocks magic.  There exists a brief inner feeling of order and rightness.  It may or may not endure.

Our family is in flux.  Adrianne and Arra have returned to Ohio and Tom from Toronto every other weekend.  Their plans to relocate to Michigan are alive, but Adrianne’s passion to grow cut flowers in Berlin Township has been fueled.

Brooke and Ben and kids have assumed so much of the farm’s demands and expectations that their time is always squeezed.  Jacque negotiates the parade of family activities and friendships and Bill naps in the tractor and relishes the kid spurts.

It has been proclaimed that “In nature there are neither rewards nor punishments; there are only consequences.”  That thought can be argued for this year we have a promising crop of peaches for the first time in four seasons.  We are energized to renew our friendship with you.  Here’s the plan:

June 15                    First Cherries

July 15-20                First Peaches (cling stone); apricots lost to frost

July 10                      First apples (Lodi)

August 5                   Zestar apples

August 10-20            Red Haven peaches

August 25-30            First white peaches and nectarines

August 26                  Ice Cream Social

September 2-30         Plums

Sept. 10 – Nov. 25     Pears

September 1               First cider

September 5-10          First Gala and Honeycrisp PICK YOUR OWN

October 7-8                Antique Tractor Show

October 15                 Apple Peak Fall Gathering

October 15-20            Cameo & Fuji, Pumpkins

Oct. 30 – Nov. 25       Pink Lady & Goldrush

 

 

 

EAST MEETS WEST APPLESAUCE

apple_7237 (2) (800x692)BROOKE’S BULLETIN

October 2016

A seasonal recipe and narrative from our loyal and long-time (25-years) customer Brenda Glasure

“Thank you to all the people who keep spaces, converted pole barns and haywagon harvests. Thank you to the growers and risk-takers, rolling the dice with the wind, the hail, ice, water – or lack thereof. Putting in the work; believing in the work. You nourish us, body and soul. I feel a vast contentment, buying a bushel of apples that grew on trees I have met.”

East Meets West Applesauce, from the kitchen of Brenda Glasure

  • Peel, core and slice about 25 apples. I like to use one variety that completely breaks down with cooking and one variety that tends to keep it’s shape. Today, I used Fuji and Crimson Crisp.
  • Place the prepared apples in a large, heavy pot. I add about 1 cup of water or cider, if you have it. Cover and cook on low heat until the apples break down and become *saucy*. Cook down to your liking. We like our applesauce thick, so I cook for a little over an hour.
  • Add about ¼ teaspoon of salt, ½ cup of brown sugar (this is completely optional. I don’t generally sweeten our sauce, but it is a great addition if you like your sauce as a sweet dessert.)
  • Add ½ to 1 tablespoon Garam Masala to taste (recipe follows)

Garam Masala Mix:

1 tablespoon cumin

1 ½ teaspoons ground coriander

1 ½ teaspoons ground cardamom

1 ½ to 2 teaspoons ground black pepper

2 teaspoons cinnamon

½ teaspoons ground cloves

½ teaspoons ground nutmeg

Mix all together.  You can purchase this mix already made from various companies. I like to make my own as I like it heavier on the black pepper and cinnamon.   ENJOY!

My grandparents had a dairy farm, a mighty Ohio spread, measuring nearly 180 acres in Champaign County. I spent quite a bit of time there while growing up. Farms are not easy. There was always work to be done. Besides the crops and the milking of the cows, there was often food to be harvested, canned, frozen; meals to be cooked. The lessons were simple, primal and deep; lessons of nourishing the people and animals who lived there. From seed to plant, from bloom to fruit, from fruit to harvest, to the kitchen, to the table. Buying fresh and direct from farmers is natural and right to me.

So it begins – the day after buying apples at Quarry Hill – the order of things – putting food by. After a good scrubbing, the apples are divided. Plenty of the bright, snappy fruit will be munched fresh from the fridge. But with a nod to the icy days to come, at least one big batch of apples (usually about 40-50) are peeled, sliced and cooked down with some spices. The homemade apple sauce is unbelievably delicious on cold winter nights, alongside a bowl of hot soup. It reminds us of sunny days and renews a reverence for the vitality the earth provides.

Applesauce – I cook in batches of about 25 apples. I will spice them with either cinnamon, ginger, mace or an Indian spice mix called Garam Masala, which includes black pepper and coriander with cinnamon and ginger and various other spices. Both variations are absolutely delicious. Freeze the sauce in Ziplocs or freezer containers to be meted out for holiday dinners and cold days when you just need a little sunshine.

— Brenda Glasure

The Orchard Is Sparse

apple_7237 (2) (800x692)BROOKE’S BULLETIN

September 2016

A look into orchard life through the lens of lady Farmer Brooke

We have a fraction of the apples as we did last year” were the first words out of Ben’s mouth yesterday morning at 6am.  I tried to extract the gravity and reason behind his statement over the clanking of breakfast making and lunch packing for our littles (kinder and pre-school).  As husband-wife business partners , AND expectant parents of our third child due in six weeks, small talk over morning coffee consists of snippets of orchard updates in the same breath of “don’t forget your OB appointment, it’s picture day, and you’re in charge of the Karate carpool!”  Here’s a shot of our preschooler (and 4th generation), Henry, out inspecting the Ginger Gold harvest: 

Henry Gammie

Mother nature has not been kind to us.”  I’ve heard that statement every season since uprooting my brood from the Arizona desert three years ago to take up this fruit growing thing.  16 hours later after a full day managing the farm, putting the littles to sleep, and un-packing the smelly karate clothes, Ben and I finally get a quiet moment to finish the conversation.  “It’s a combination of the spring frost we saw during Spring Bloom, lack of summer rains, and bi-annual bearing cycles.”  Ah-ha.  I knew the fruit was coming in small this year because of the dry summer, but did not even think the spring frost affected the apple yields in the same devastation as the stone fruits (homegrown Crest Haven peaches pictured below were the cream of the peach crop this summer). 

Crest Haven Peaches

My brain immediately goes to how this affects our business:  First thought is more small apples for our Farm to School program, which is a PRO.  Our customer base has grown in this segment from ~15 local (Erie County – Cuyahoga County) school districts to upwards of 26.  This ability to scale is a direct result of the resources that have stemmed from our partnership with the Cuyahoga County Board of Health and the USDA Farm to School Grant Project we are currently funded under.  This is a snapshot of the corner of our cooler the day before our Wholesale and Farm to School deliveries are scheduled:  

Farm to School

Second thought (not mine; credit goes to our pack-house manager, Becky):  reduced variety in our holiday apple gift box that typically includes 12 different apple varieties (with a corresponding stamped map and flavor profile, see photo below), and this season we’ll be lucky to have 5 or 6.  Good thing I’m having a baby this holiday season and the “sparse orchard” is not compromising a huge portion of revenue I’ve slated for Corporate Gifting (yes, we’ll still have gifts for sale!).

apple-map-picture-05

Varieties that were impacted?  I cringe just even thinking about it:  Honey Crisp, Crimson Crisp, Goldrush, Pink Lady, Granny Smith, Suncrisp, and Cameo.  The more robust varieties that stood up to the weather are the Reds and Golden Delicious.  The “Red Riding Hood Red” colored apples pictured just beyond the humongous Spy Golds in the foreground are the Crimsons – my favorite!  If this table looks familiar, you are a loyal customer at the Saturday Shaker Square Farmers Market.

Not to worry:  we DO have an apple harvest, the apples ARE delicious, and we STILL have Pick-Your-Own.  The crews are out daily harvesting bins after bins of Blondee, Gala, Honeycrisp, Golden Supreme, McIntosh, Jonathan, and Cortland.  Our harvest dates are pretty much on schedule this year despite the “sparseness”.  Here is ONE morning’s work of harvesting the Honeycrisp from ONE of many Honeycrisp blocks in our 90-acre apple orchards (we don’t grow all the Honeycrisp in the same place – the tractor and the crews have to trek all over the farm to get these guys in the barn – one of many reasons for the high price tag):  

Honeycrisp HarvestWe still have PLENTY to harvest and PLENTY of apples” was the comforting conclusion to our late night discussion.  Our 2nd annual APPLE PEAK event happening on October 15th will be the best opportunity to taste the full variety of our harvest, including the Crimsons, Suncrisps, and unique varieties that are not as prolific this season.  Top 5 things to do at Apple Peak this year:  

  1. Pick-Your-Own Apples
  2. Go for a hike in Edison Woods
  3. Sip on some hot cider and soak up some local tunes by Cleveland’s own Brent Kirby
  4. Snack on some local apple-wood fired pizza from Cleveland’s Nelly Belley food truck
  5. Get your family photo taken for this season’s Christmas Card (here’s the Gammie card from last year):IMG_6901 - web large

On Parsnip Yogurt and Sous Vide Pig

WILLIAM’S BULLETIN

Our apprentice farmer William attended the Young Farmers Conference at Stone Barns last week. This is the first of his reports of what he learned there. Stay tuned for more!

All conferences start with Power-Point platitudes, a badge, and a folder of printouts. The Stone Barns Young Farmers Conference was no different: “We’re not growing food, we’re perfecting people.” Perfection? To me, we were already there: Blundstone-clad and dirty-nailed, shorthaired girls and nose-ringed boys, plaidded and scarved, iPhones in Carhartt pockets. We talked about low-delta-T herbicide application and monetizing our CSA Instagram feeds. Two-ply versus one-ply greenhouses and kiwiberries. Invasive species and whether to treat beehives with linseed oil or low VOC paint (admittedly, this was my question).

We talked about small ideas and big ideas, the minutiae of farming and the grandeur of food, and that’s what made the YFC so dizzying, so exciting, and so exhausting, like juggling a bowling ball and a handful of organic, local chestnuts. Are young farmers going to change the world? Probably, but first they have a few emails to write, a grant to edit, that podcast interview to do, and the arugula has to get covered before the frost tonight.

When you look at a farm, what do you see? Self sufficiency. A happy homestead, its own planet spinning from day to night to day, soil to plant to soil. Ranchers say they’re grass farmers; the cow just a caloric layover between the energy in a grass blade and the energy, one life cycle later, in another. A farm like Stone Barns is a unique kind of microcosm. On the menu that night was a farm-raised pork chop sous vide cooked in a water bath heated by compost.

And so, we Young Farmers grow food, but not just any food. Bloomsdale spinach and Western Front kale. Tunisian sheep and Honeynut squash. “Do you grow GoldRush?” a girl asked when I mentioned the orchard. That’s a warm-honey-sweet, late-season beauty even I had never heard of until I started working here. Our Day One Breakfast was yogurt, but not just any yogurt. “I didn’t know what to expect with parsnip flavor, but it’s pretty good,” my friend said, digging into her cup. “The other choice was tomato.”

The night I arrived, before the conference started, dinner was a choice between the hotel’s greasy ceasar salad and the grocery store next door, so I crossed the parking lot fields. Inside, I bumped baskets with a kindred spirit, both ours overflowing with greenery and wholeness, we nodded, invasives in a monoculture.

And that’s the Young Farmer. When you look from a farm, it’s a different story. You see the unperfected world beyond. Factory farms see acres and acres of more of the same, almond trees within and without, an orchard the size of Rhode Island. Our small farms see the east side of Pittsburgh, maybe, or Brooklyn rooftops, or other farms, or parking lots, or houses, or, if you’re lucky to be on Quarry Hill, the tangled woods of the Erie County MetroParks.

You see, in other words, the world. Conferences can feel insular, their own self-sufficient organisms. The worst are feedback loops; the best are supportive. The life-changing are something more: they reach beyond, from their dirt to the sky, from small actions to big changes. As Steinbeck wrote in his personal motto: Ad astra per alas porci. “To the stars on the wings of a (heritage, local, compost-sous-vide-cooked) pig.”

Two Hundred Days of Sun

WILLIAM’S BULLETIN

William is our newest farmhand, apprenticing in all things apples. He’ll be adding his thoughts, observations, and reports to this blog as he learns more. Stay tuned!

“OK, so the first question is, can you drive a manual transmission?” I didn’t say yes, but I knew not to say no. We were busy. The grading line was chugging away, dripping and steaming and rattling like any good piece of a-little-too-old-but-it-still-works machinery should. Down a few key hands, those on board were scrambling. Not much talking in the barn that day. Our on-line gift box store was on the verge of opening its e-doors, QuickBooks was growling, hungry for a teetering stack of invoices, and the Pink Lady bin out front was empty.

One thing about a farm is, you can predict everything and you can predict nothing. Pink Ladies, like most apples, are not like most apples. That is, what makes a Pink Lady a Pink Lady, and nothing else, is a specifically engineered set of characteristics, from the sugar-to-tannin balance (prickly, sharply sweet) to the color (a faint green field flushed ruddy red like windburned cheeks). The name is trademarked. When you get a Pink Lady, you know what you’re getting.

When you plant a Pink Lady, you follow the rules: trellis the trees so the branches catch more sun, and wait for the extra-long growing period. First to bloom and last to ripen, Pink Ladies take 200 days of good light. Northern Ohio gets as many clear-sky days as Austin — Pinks grow well here.

And so, under a deep clear blue November sky, I jumped into the pickup truck to get some. “Be sure to sample, so you know you’re picking the good ones,” Ben said, as I revved away in first gear.

Driving through corn country as a kid, I’d watch the rows rattle past the window: staring straight ahead, a blur; tracking them as they moved past, combed fields like record grooves in the earth. A dream, to walk through that biological Midtown of green walls. And now here I was, driving through the rows of trees, afraid to shift gears (no, I didn’t know how to drive manual — but I do now), mirrors slapping branches, bugs chirping their last before the winter hits, trees framing the sky, drowning in apples. The truck stalled, the world quieted, and I picked: twist and lift and place, gently, in my bag, then — gently — in a crate, then — gently — in the truck bed.

“We’ll get ‘em logged, graded, and boxed,” Ben said when I thudded to a stop back at the barn. Two hundred days of slowly soaking in the sun, blushing red, red, redder and then, one unpredictable afternoon, a thumping truck ride, a roll down an ancient conveyor, a grade, a name, and out the door. Time moves slow on an orchard, except when it doesn’t. The life of an apple changes fast. I’m just along for the bumpy ride.

Low Temps, High Harvest

WILLIAM’S BULLETIN

William is our newest farmhand, apprenticing in all things apples. He’ll be adding his thoughts, observations, and reports to this blog as he learns more. Stay tuned!

My first job was inspecting Winesaps. A guy called in to ask about them, about Winesaps specifically. Said he was driving in from Cleveland; said he wanted a peck; said his name was Bob Morris. “Name’s Bob Morris.” Only diehards give their full names. Only diehards ask about Winesaps, about if there were any russeting on them, and drive an hour each way to get them. These were my people.

By the time Bob Morris arrived, my toes had long gone numb, I was on my second coffee, third sweatshirt, fifth cider. It was cold. Downed apples burst into frosty fireworks when I kicked them. Satisfying, if worrisome not to feel it. The women wore pink or purple Carhartt overalls, matching hats; guys in camo, plaid, or both. Note to self: buy some insulated bibs. Underdressed and un-color-coordinated, I hunkered over cup after paper cup of cider at the pick-your-own signup table, passing out bags to the brave, bunched-together families who shivered up and out toward the nearest rows, back in ten or fifteen, bags full of Fujis, teetering to their cars. Most pawed through the bins out front, apples cool from the storage barn getting colder in the open air. “We’re getting a mix,” one told me. “I didn’t love the Suncrisp. I’ll give that one to mom.” I don’t blame her. Mutsus are better. “That’s the biggest apple I’ve ever seen!” said a kid, red-cheeked as a Jonathan back from a tractor ride with farmer Ben. It was a Melrose, Ohio’s state apple, and it’s true — you could carve that sucker like a pumpkin. A wet summer made bigger fruit. One would make a meal. Two would fill a pie. They’re good: Aromatic, nice cookers, great with roast chicken.

Apples in reds and golds and greens and yellows and striped and speckled all over. Bin after bin. This was peak harvest — only a few left on the trees, late-bloomers like Pink Ladys, the rubies of November. The rest were here, piled in the Market Barn. Our quirky Goldens blushed with red; Crimson Crisps, dark and shiny like wet fall leaves, Ben’s favorite, kind of spicy; Mutsus zesty, bright lime-fresh. “But they’re ornery. Ornery,” Ben says. They fall early, bruise.

Bob Morris got his peck. Parents filled and refilled cider mugs from the hot pot by the fritters as kiddos played with Walter and Hudson, the barn golden retrievers. The sun swung lower; air still cold. The crowds thinned, the sky decomposed into clumped knots of clouds, and I took a break to wander the empty rows, boot prints rough in frozen mud. Fujis, picked clean (crowdpleasers), Mutsus on the ground (ornery), Pink Ladys just coming ripe, bending the trees. Peach trees with their long cateye leaves green and stiff. Then way back toward the end of B Field, rows of trial trees. The Midwest Apple Improvement Guild sends us code-named samples of what they’re working on, trial trees we can grow and taste and test. I picked one at random and bit in as I walked back alone and quiet. Hard, thick red skin like an Arkansas black, pink streaked flesh, a creamy, middle range sweetness like a marshmallow, blooming into cinnamon. Give it a few decades and I’ll be calling the farm myself to ask for it. Name’s William Bostwick, I’d say. I want a peck.

 

Farm Report – From the Lens of an Orchard Guy

tractorBEN’S BULLETIN

July 2015

Impactful interactions, special stories, and tractor talk from Farmer Ben 

This winter was again a set-back for those farmers growing stone fruit (cherries, apricots, plums, peaches, nectarines).  The deep cold of early January froze out some of the buds.  Our cherry crop came through at around 75% of a crop.  We will be lucky to harvest 50% of the total yield potential from our peaches.

And then came spring… no late frosts, which is good… except we were fairly dry for about 3 weeks.  Not much rain to speak of for most of May.  Some of our new tree plantings suffered as a result.  But… wait for it… rain… in amounts unseen in 40 years according to my Dad.  The month of June was arguably the wettest on our farm since my Dad began farming…. Over 16 inches of total rainfall.  Orchards by and large are resilient to those amounts of rain.  We would much rather have rain than not.  Our tree root system established enough to endure and our sandy soils help drain water downstream and away from our orchards which have been strategically located on higher ground.  There are two negative effects to all this rain:

Our chBrooke Cherrieserry crop, already compromised from the winter, was again negatively affected in that a tree takes up too much water and distributes it to the fruit such that the flesh of a cherry grows faster than the skin and the skin cracks and splits horribly.  The crop will end up picking out at around 40%… finishing this weekend.

The peaches, especially early varieties, also have a tendency to split with the uptake of excess moisture.  There is also a potential for a less than ideal flavor since the sugars are not as concentrated in a tree that has been drinking a lot of water.  But we are blessed with peaches and that in itself is cause for celebration. First Peaches 2015 

The apple tree is perhaps the most resilient critter we have on the farm.  Those trees will take a drink whenever they can and just give us larger fruit.  In fact, the crop is shaping up to be potentially larger than last year’s harvest.  It appears that the entire country will be maximizing yields this year as well.  I will get a better handle on other parts of the country when I go to Chicago in August for an annual apple production summit hosted by U.S.Apple. 

As far as other crops are concerned… I know the sweetcorn harvest has been pushed at least a week and some fields are compromised because of standing water; the June rains completely wiped out some strawberry harvests.  The row-crop guys… that’s corn and beans… will hopefully have enough time through the rest of the summer to get some hot, dry weather to promote strong cropping. 

And this rain and cool temperatures are also feeding my lovely wife’s skepticism about any normalcy to weather in this part of the country.  Being from Phoenix… she is a bit concerned that her flip-flops and tank tops are not getting enough use.  Instead it’s her raincoat and sweaters.  She hears my Dad and I talk about “ The coldest winter since… blah, blah, blah” and “We haven’t had this much rain in… blah, blah, blah”.  The newest addition to our family, our new pup HUDSON fills our home with love, joy, and little more chaos to keep our lives full.  2015-07-03 17.28.54

Milestones this summer will include the weekend of July 18th as the first official weekend we will have homegrown peaches in over two years (no small accomplishment).  Freestone peach varieties, including Red Haven, will be starting around the 2nd weekend in August.  The first good apples, Gala, will come off the trees by the last weekend in August.