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The ManyTracks Orchard

Beacon Apple

Malinda x Wealthy cross, developed by the University of Minnesota, introduced in 1936.


planted 1997

on unknown rootstock, but possibly standard seedling


original apple trees in snow


Four decades of Growing Good Food in the Northwoods of Michigan's Upper Peninsula
Down to Earth Information, Experiences, Thoughts

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Prairie Spy??  Beacon??

Prairie Spys. That's what we were told they were when we planted them almost 40 years ago. So that's what they were for all those years. Our large, standard, venerable, reliable (sort of) much appreciated PS apple trees, #'s 1, 2, and 3. They were the only apples we had other than wild ones for many years. Then a few years ago, through the miracle of the internet, I discovered that our trees were not what is called a Prairie Spy. We had never seen nor tasted a Prairie Spy apple Beacon apples full bloomso had no reason up to then to question the variety name. I didn't know what ours were, but they were, and are, the top bananas in my orchard, and not just because of their age. The photo at left is of two of the trees in full bloom (2005), above in the snow shows the three trees in 2004.

Other trees have joined them in giving us much appreciated fruit but these were our first and will always be first in my heart. The fruit is wonderful--sweet and juicy--delicious as sauce, for fresh eating, for fresh cider. They are a late summer apple, red, ripening in September, keeping only aapples in pile month or two, susceptible to scab. A real Prairie Spy is a sweet-tart winter apple, prized for its keeping qualities and its resistance to scab. One thing they both have in common is their hardiness--ours certainly have proven their ability to survive in our zone 3 climate and with minimal care in their early years. We are grafting a real (we hope!) PS this summer so someday we'll find out what they are like.

photo apple tree early springOur Non-Prairie Spy's (NPS's) grew to be of great size, beautiful but not very practical from a management standpoint. At some point I decided I did want to manage our orchard, for better fruit and healthier trees. I started the long education in the skill of pruning, by reading, guessing, and doing. New trees are all kept about 12 feet tall--what I can reach with my loppers from the top of my 8 ft ladder. But it was too late for the NPS's,  though I did what I could. Most of the fruit was high in the top, less in quantity and quality than in earlier years, the top thick with branches out of reach that really needed thinning. When they did have a good year we had plenty for the compost pile and the wild creatures but also a good deal for us. But I knew they could do better. Two of the trees were still healthy, the third maybe not so. I decided it was time to bring them down and create, I hoped, a rejuvenated, strong, bearing tree.photo old new apple tree

All three trees had multiple large trunks thanks to the nursery cutting the central leader out of the young saplings, and no further shaping by me. So over the last six years Steve cut out one large trunk a year. The largest tree originally, which was just south of the garden and the best of the trio, had a real nice young shoot growing fairly low in the tree that I encouraged into shape to be the replacement tree. The last large trunk was removed this past spring (2016) so the new young tree now stands clear and ready to begin its bearing life, maybe next summer or soon after. I'm anxiously watching for fruiting spurs. It is in essence a young tree now though on 40 yr old roots.

The second tree, by the north fence, had its multi-trunks cut way back to secondary (and third) branches, not as severe as the 'new-tree' above but still a significant and large reduction in wood. It responded, understandably, by shooting out very many suckers to be thinned and pruned to some semblance of a broad, low shape that I hope will agree with it. It's in the midst of that shaping and the last old limb cutback will be done this coming spring. I'm hoping for some fruit this year -- we so miss these apples! The third tree near the windmill was the least thriving of the three and didn't come out of the major cutback very well at all. It already had a lot of dead sides on its trunks and may not make it. I had planned to cut it down completely this year but then one strong shoot, low on the good side of one of the trunks, showed up to give it a possible reprieve. We'll see how it does but I'm cheering it on and give it a high-five every time I go by. [later update: It didn't survive so that tree is no more, but it served us well all those years it gave fruit. Now it sort of lives on as a nearby relative, a root sucker that I've let grow to graft onto in a year or two.]

photo apples in baskets in root cellarBut just what variety was our NPS's? I searched now and then on the internet but hadn't come up with a good match. I had this one photo of baskets of the apples in the root cellar so I posted it along with a description on the GrowingFruit forum and asked if anyone had an idea. And someone did! BEACON, introduced by the Univ. of Minnesota in 1937. (Prairie Spy was also an introduction by the Univ. of Minn.).

I had run across Beacon before and considered it. But the UofMinn. photo really didn’t look like ours, nor was their description real close. But with that suggestion I did some more searching and found several sites with photos and descriptions that fit our apples right on. With an apple that has been around as long as this one there is sure to be quite a bit of variety. And all apples have their own innate variety, growing and showing up differently in different parts of the country and different orchards. But all the accounts I could find does point to our apples being Beacons. 

In the most important of ways the name doesn’t matter. I couldn’t have asked for a better apple for us for all these years, since about 1987. We have a great deal of appreciation for these three trees.  The years they produced they fed us well. We are going to be so happy when we they give us fruit once again. They are indeed Beacons in so many ways. But it will take awhile to change the name in my mind. To us I think they will be Prairie Spys for a good many years yet. At least until our new real Prairie Spy graft starts bearing!    2016

box of Beacon apples Sept 20192019 - The Beacons are Back! What a treat this year to have apples too numerous to count on our venerable old trees. Mostly Beacon-north, which makes sense considering it is older wood. But newer-tree Beacon-south made a significant contribution. It has been 12 years since we had a reasonable harvest from these trees. It was well worth the wait. I'm so glad our renovation worked. We ate our fill of fresh Beacons, made a lot of tasty, wonderfully pink, applesauce, and, along with Dudley, two delicious batches of cider. The trees were happy and healthy as well, finally redeveloping their individual shapes.

Like last year, Beacon-north's fruit was mainly on the older north side with the original scaffold limb but there was some fruit on the newer wood on the rest of the tree as well. It was a very good harvest of 76#! Almost all over 5 days the third week of September. Beautiful fruit, clean, with no skin issues. Interestingly, the fruit on the newer wood was a full two weeks or so later in ripening than the main harvest from the older wood.

Young Beacon-south did well, too, considering its age. I didn't think it had that much fruit until I picked it - a very respectable (and appreciated!) 31#! They were ready about ten days later than Beacon-north's fruit and almost all had significant watercore. I was rather bummed by this and figured I'd just have to throw them all in the compost, which I did the first drops when I discovered this. A little watercore is fine, except that it makes the fruit not store well which isn't much of an issue with Beacon as they are not long storing apples anyway. It makes a rather translucent area around the core but it also gives the fruit additional sweetness. But this fruit had what I'd call advanced watercore with brown areas spreading out and noticeable discoloration on the skin. I figured this was rot. All those apples. But it was usually on just half the apple so I thought I'd cut them in half and use the "good" half for cider, getting something from the harvest. So I started cutting then actually tried eating one. To my surprise they did not have any kind of "rot" taste, they were actually quite good! I wouldn't choose them over a clean Beacon apple for fresh eating but for sauce or cider they would work just fine. I'd read about watercore being sought after in some circles but didn't really think it would be an asset. Well, it was just fine as it turned out. They all went into cider, and very good sweet cider they made, too!

Why the younger tree's apples had watercore and the older tree apples didn't I don't know. From what I've read, researchers don't really know why it happens. Most apples can get it and some varieties do it more than others. I've seen it in years past in the Beacons, though not like this. Since I don't harvest these apples until they fall (since that traditionally has been when they are ripe and best flavor) it's possible for some reason the younger tree simply didn't drop its fruit when ripe as the older tree did and it was a case of over-mature fruit when I finally harvested. Though the fruit didn't look ripe earlier, and in fact it never did get that over-all bright red. It will be interesting to see what happens in future years. But all in all, it was a very good year for the Beacon apples.

2018 late August  -  20 apples! From the old-wood tree (Beacon north). This is the one that still has an original trunk, though severely cut back, Beacon fruit on treeand one original scaffold. Everything else is new growth from the last few years. With judicious pruning the tree is starting to gain a semblance of order, and it repaid us by giving a small crop of beautiful, healthy apples, all from the old scaffold branches. I was surprised to have red ripe fruit cheek to cheek with unripe fruit (you can see in the photo the ripe apples behind the greener not-ripe fruit). Then I remembered that this was how this variety does it - ripening over a many week period, which works out great for us. For fresh eating the fruit is best ripe from the tree and doesn't store in that condition for very long (though it certainly is still eatable later; it's just not as crispy juicy). Once it gets going it is a generous producer so there are plenty ripe at one time for processing. I'm sure that time will come. But for this year we thoroughly enjoyed our 20 apples one-by-one as they ripened.

The now young tree (Beacon south) didn't give us any apples but that's OK, as it's still maturing. It had a good year though and is looking handsome and healthy, building up to the time when it will be back in production. I didn't do much pruning, and won't until it is in full production.

Beacon apple2017 September 17  -  Hurray! We once again have apples from our two old/young Beacon trees. It wasn't a big harvest, two apples from each tree, but these are the first we've had after we had cut back the trees to rejuvenate and bring them down in size. Now I know there will be more in future years and we're very happy about that. The trees are looking good, and so were the apples.



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Have you read  "Frost Dancing - Tips from a Northern Gardener" ? A fun short read.

or "Homesteading Adventures"    Creating our backwoods homestead--the first 20 years.

and "Growing Berries for Food and Fun"   A journey you can use in your own garden.

updated 10/06/2019

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