Black Oxford Apple
seedling discovered on a farm in Paris, Maine, about 1790.
planted 2002 on Antonovka rootstock
2002 - a New Tree
It had a significant Z shape bend between root and trunk, and about halfway up the trunk, so I debated -- plant the roots at an angle to 'straighten' the trunk somewhat (in relation to the ground anyway), or plant it as it grew and let it be? I chose the later, concerned that burying half the roots too deep might not be a good idea. Now I rather wish I'd selected a third choice -- plant "as is" at the appropriate depth but put a sturdy stake beside it and straighten the trunk as much as it would. But it was allowed to grow as it wanted and turned out just fine with some selective pruning to encourage an easier shape (for me -- I doubt that it cared one way or the other!).
I really don't mind the shape, and once it was full grown I no longer had to struggle with getting a hardware cloth cage around the angled trunk. Now it's just an interesting tree. It wants to be a 'lollipop' shape of its own design and I simply try to keep it open enough for good air circulation and healthy fruit. Now in its 'teen' years it's a moderate sized tree (on standard Antonovka rootstock) and healthy. It was a bit slow to come into production (14 years!) which could have been the result of early corrective pruning and spring freezes. But we like the fruit, I like the tree, and I'm glad it joined our family.
2021 - Did a fair amount of pruning, opening center, shaping, bringing top down some. Looking better. May 25 it was full of blossoms. Then came several nights of 22° a few days later. I figured that was it. But it surprised me...
October 13 -- The Blackest Apple --Well, maybe not be the blackest skinned apple out there but it must be close, and this year they were darker than ever. They apparently loved the long hot summer. Not only dark and beautiful, they were tastier than ever right off the tree -- dense, firm, lightly juicy, sweet but with flavor. In past years it had taken some time in storage to develop the sweet flavor this firm apple is known for. I was waiting for a frost (said to sweeten the flavor more) but since we have not yet had a frost (mid October and no frost yet!) and the tree has been dropping a few good apples, immediately enjoyed by ground critters, I decided to harvest. That there were any apples at all was a great surprise given the late May freezes that wiped out most of the apple blossoms this year.
Harvesting was a great treat. A beautiful day, beautiful apples, many more than expected, and almost all within reach from the ground. Only a few apples required climbing up into the tree to get (which was fun itself!) (my excuse was that there weren't enough to bother going to get the ladder). Many of the apples were also much larger than usual! On the tree the fruit has a slight "bloom" which helps give them that dark musky look, but a bit of quick polishing makes them glow like a gem. In the end I ended up with 33 pounds of wonderful sweet BlOx's for great fall/winter fresh eating and sauce. Wow. For a year that I thought would be sparse in the apple corner I look with surprise at a comfortable supply to please us through the coming year. We are apple happy.
We ate them fresh when the Mr.C's were gone, enjoying them though they are a firmer and less juicy apple. The first of December I sorted through them all and found about a third had bitter pit spots so those all were made into sauce. BlOx makes a really great tasting sauce! Thick and sweet. The rest were starting to get rubbery though the flavor was still good. The root cellar doesn't cool down until mid November so they don't get the best storage conditions. By the first of the year they were definitely losing flavor but we ate the last one January 4, still in decent shape.
2020 - An Off Year - for fruit but the tree continues healthy. Pruned quite a bit mid April, really opened up. Looks good.
2019 - Surprisingly Good Harvest - There is something about the fruit and the tree that simply doesn't show the quantity of apples in the tree mid summer. I knew there were apples but assumed it to be a light crop, so I didn't bother to thin the fruit. When fall came and the apples ripening I realized the tree was quite full. Unfortunately, many were on the small size but it looked pretty good anyway. I have made a large, red note in my orchard notebook - Next Year THIN! This is one tree that needs its fruit thinned out if one wants larger apples, especially since it is by nature rather a smaller apple. If the fruit is going to cider or processed applesauce it doesn't matter so much. But for fresh sauce (cut up by hand not put through a strainer or food processor) or fresh eating at least a medium size is preferred, and larger is quite welcome.
Mid October the forecast was for temperatures in the low 20's. I know BlOx is a pretty hardy apple but thought that might be a bit low for it. The bird population here has been quite light this year and I'd noticed little to no bird damage so I wasn't in a real hurry to harvest. The root cellar was still quite warm. But I knew those temps on a clear night could easily dip into the teens. So I set to harvesting, a quite enjoyable task. To my surprise I filled 4 half bushel baskets - 97# total. Wow!! Sizes were mixed, small to medium, probably more smalls, but they looked good.
I left the smallest fruit on the tree to see how they would do as it got colder. 24 deg they were fine, 20 deg and they were still good (as was a juicier Dudley). They are hardier than I thought. Then it dropped to 3 deg (welcome to November!). Well, not surprisingly that did them in.
They are just mildly sweet, a bit dry and quite solid firm at this point (early November), but they'll get better in storage. I'm planning to store these for later eating, and for applesauce. We still have plenty of Dudleys right now and a few other odds and ends of eating apples in the root cellar so no hurry for the BlOx's. The Haralsons, a juicier and zingier apple, should be sweetening up soon (they are quite tart when first harvested) so will be ready for fresh eating. Then the BlOx's. This year, finally, there are plenty to store so I'll be able to find out just how long they will keep and be good eating. What a beautiful and happy harvest.
Mid December update - I sorted the apples and found a lot of bitter pit damage, something that didn't show up very much earlier on these dark skinned apples. This is a defect that causes round dark spots on the skin with corking underneath. It's easy to cut out if not too extensive but it does appear to limit the storage life of the fruit. I've made a note to be sure to spread wood ashes under the BlOx tree next spring. About 60% of the apples were getting a little rubbery and/or had significant bitter pit so they are the first to be made into sauce (half now, half later). But a good portion are still quite firm and good eating. There are cutup apples on the table daily for snacking. Our cellar is about 40 degrees now.
UPDATE: Mid March - we ate the last apple - still good! I eeked them out as best I could but that's it for this season. Looking forward to the 2020 harvest!
2018 - an 'Off" Year for fruit but a good growing year for the tree with the long hot summer and moderate pruning. I did more pulling down of branches to horizontal than pruning, keeping the height down. We did get a dozen apples, picked the end of September because a bluejay was helping himself. I had wanted to let them hang for another month as they weren't at the peak of ripeness yet. But certainly edible, I appreciated the off-season harvest even though small..
2017 October 3 - Better Than Expected Harvest
I harvested my Black Oxford apples today. I knew there were apples on the tree but I didn't think there were many and made a note to thin more next year as it appeared most of the apples were on the small size. The BlOx's are a subtle apple, darker with a slight bloom, not large and bright like neighbor Dudley, though they shine up to a special glow. A few damaged fruits had dropped so I figured it might be time. I wanted to pick them early at the just barely ripe or slightly before stage so they will store well. These are to be our fall/early winter fresh eating apples . Last year we ate the last one of our small first, bird damaged harvest the end of November. This would be the second harvest and I was hoping for more this time. We hadn't had any bluejays partying in our apples this year, for which I was very thankful.
I got my cloth bag, hung it around my neck for picking into, hauled out the ladder, a basket for the good apples, a large bucket for the semi-good for cider, and a smaller one for the compost apples. Then I really looked at the apples on the tree. Hey, there are quite a few apples here! And they look much better than I had thought, previously only glancing at the tree as I went by and seeing only small fruit. I was wrong. I settled into picking, most of them within reach from the ground. One by one I picked nice apples, nice sized, healthy, amazed and admiring each one, carefully placing them in the bag, then transferring them to the basket. It was a beautiful day to pick beautiful apples and I took my time, enjoying every minute of it and every apple I picked. It seems I'm too often in a hurry to get a job done and on to something else, but not this time. I'm learning to enjoy the moments.
When I was done I had 17# of almost all nice apples, mostly of medium size. It wasn't a maximum harvest but it was certainly respectable, almost twice last year's. Very few had insect or skin damage. Only a handful went into the compost pile, and none for the cider bucket. I left a dozen or so small apples on the tree for later off-the-tree snacking. There isn't much fresh fruit to nibble on when in the garden/orchard this time of year . BlOx's are fairly hard and crisp at this point with just a hint of sweet, little to no tart, on the dry side but enough juice to be pleasant. In a month or so they'll be sweeter and less firm. I really like them but Steve prefers a juicier apple. Unfortunately, we won't have any juicier apples later since the Dudley's, our only other apple of any volume this year, don't keep long, maybe a month before getting soft. Our root cellar isn't very cold yet but I'm hoping the BlOx's will keep well anyway. Meantime, I sure appreciate this second year of harvest of almost a half bushel of well admired and appreciated apples.
update: Mid December some were feeling a little rubbery but others were still firm. Very good eating, sweetening as they aged. Dec. 23 we ate the next to last one. Still good. I saved that last one for my birthday, Jan. 17. It was still good, firm, mild and tasty, and thoroughly enjoyed. Looking forward to next year's harvest!
November 26 - The Last Apple of the First Harvest
This year was the first harvest from this tree (not counting the one
apple it produced last year). It wasn’t a large crop, about 10#, but
every apple (even the ones half eaten by the jays) were very much
appreciated. The fruit ranged from small to medium size (the one in the
photo was the largest) and while they weren’t free from insect damage it
wasn’t significant. Nice, firm, mildly sweet, mildly juicy with
somewhat tough beautiful dark maroon skin, the fruit was healthy and
good to have.
2006 - 2015
2006 - Doing OK but blighty. 2007-2010: doing OK
2011 - 2 apples! Small and medium. Medium one dropped 10/18. Nice, firm, mildly sweet, somewhat tough dark marron skin. Tree much better.
2012 - Pruned off left branch of Y. Looks better
2013 - Pruned last low branches off. Final shape. No blossoms. Grew well and looks better.
2014 - Looking good but only 1 apple. Dropped when full size but still green. Probably still recovering from major pruning prev two years.
2015 - Only a few half hearted blossoms, 1 apple. Dropped 10/18 - very nice, med size w/ some russet. Dryish, sweet flavor.
"Outstanding apple, a favorite long ago around much of Maine.
Medium-sized round fruit, deep purple with a blackish bloom.
Excellent pies, superb late cider. Leave the skins on for a
delightful pink sauce. Best eating late December to March. They get
sweeter and sweeter as the months go by. Good cooking until early
summer. Some insect and disease resistance. Unusual light pink
blooms, early midseason. -- George Stilphen, in the book The
Apples of Maine: "Black Oxford was found as a seedling by Nathaniel
Haskell on the farm of one Valentine, a nailmaker and farmer of
Paris in Oxford County, about 1790 and the original tree was still
standing in 1907, ..."
appreciate links to our site www.ManyTracks.com from appropriate sites, and we thank you for
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.