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The ManyTracks Orchard


Beautiful in Blossom, Handsome in Winter,
Elegant in Leaf, and Delicious in Fruit

photo apple tree in fruit

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

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Black Oxford










The very first planting on our new homestead was an apple tree. Several apple trees, and a pear, maybe something else. Purchased from a nursery downstate -- Macintosh, Winesap, Prairie Spy, Bartlett Pear -- it was what they recommended. We brought them north and planted them in the newly fenced (we did know about deer) cold and wind-swept (except from the west) garden-orchard area in 1978. We had no amendments to add to the old worn-out sod soil, no mulch to help the new trees get established, little water to help them thrive, no time to devote to the new orchard, and no knowledge of pruning. But most of those trees not only grew they lived to set fruit! They are amazing creatures. I have a great deal of respect and appreciation for them.

The Macintosh was not a good choice as it's not well adapted to this area, especially back then when the winter cold was more severe. I wouldn't plant a Macintosh now. I have a note of some fruit harvested in 1987 but then nothing. The Winesap could have been a good tree for here. I remember it fruited prolifically but the fruit was small. I didn't know about pruning or thinning for fruit size and it eventually disappeared from my scanty notes. The Bartlett Pear didn't make it past the first few winters. But the Prairie Spys. Oh those three wonderful hardy survivors, they live to this day. Well, actually, they turned out not to be Prairie Spys at all, but Beacons.

Fast forward and it now seems I spend more time researching the varieties I plant and graft than I do taking care of them! But I enjoy it and am comfortable with those I've chosen. I expect them to survive and thrive. I've learned to prune and graft and care for my trees, or rather I continue to learn as I expect I'll be doing that as long as I have trees to care for. We now have Haralson, Dudley, and Black Oxford producing, in addition to the original revived Beacons, and another dozen or more that should be fruiting over the next six years or so. Plus some good 'wild' seedling trees. We continue to graft and plant more every year. There is a lot of other fruit in my garden/orchard and it is much enjoyed and appreciated, but it is the apple that is our mainstay, the one that would be most sorely missed were it not a part of our lives, and our diet.

2019 - Wonderful Year

crab apples in full bloomBLOOM, Incredible blooming year! June 5 - Bulero first, full, and crabs, largest S two either side of drive so full & thick you can’t see any tree. MrC, too. Other crabs starting, also thick (and buzzing!). Dudley blossoming, Beacons starting. June 8 - Dudley full, Lilli full moderate, BeaconS moderate, more at top, BeaconN full on old, scattering bloom on newer wood; Splitter moderate, just opening; Sasha medium, open; Front Yard light full; Cali light, full; Haralson moderate bloom about half open. June 10 - BlOx was last, full bloom. Only five days from the first to the last to be in full bloom. No question about adequate pollination!

A very large overall harvest this year. Plenty for eating, sauce and cider (~9 gals)! Wonderful year. It's been many a year since we've had this many apples.

For most of the apples the question of when to pick is when they are ripe, or when the birds are getting more than I think they should. But for the Black Oxford and other late trees it's often how cold can they stand and still be good. Our root cellar is slow to cool down in the fall so for storage apples I want to pick as late as I can. This year October 17 they forecast low 20's temps so I picked the tree. The apples were ready and it was a good harvest but I left several dozen quite small apples to see how they would do. It got down to 24, all night. The small BlOx’s were just fine. Three nights later, October 30, it dropped to 20. Still OK! + a missed Dudley, too. November 8 -- 3! apples done.

October 11, 2019 -- A Wild Array

This year's apple saga is winding down. I harvested the Haralsons a few days ago (14#, a smaller harvest but a very nice crop - it's a variety that tends towards one year on, one year off and this is its "off" year), we pressed our second batch of cider, another nice and delicious 4 gallons, canned it today, and there is now room in the root cellar for the potatoes (dug yesterday, before today's/night's big rains). Black Oxford is still on the tree, there is a crate of Beacons waiting to be sauced along with the oldest Dudleys, and several crates of the best and freshest for fresh eating and fresh sauce as needed. If the weather cooperates I'll dry a few more batches, too. We're still enjoying fresh apples but they aren't quite as exciting as they were a month ago.

But there are also little sets of 2, 3 or more apples sitting here and there on the shelves in the root cellar. These are my "test" apples, mostly from our wild trees. I'm wondering how long they will keep in good shape. The cold front coming in tonight (likely freezing nights, cold and windy days) should help cool down the root cellar which will be nice since it's still in the mid-upper 50's, warm for good apple storage. A few of the wildings have very good fruit, some I'm happy to leave for the deer and squirrels, others are OK and find their way into a batch of sauce or cider. I enjoy these diverse apples no matter what I do, or don't do, with them. They are mostly quite different one from the other, Nature's breeding at work, not only in looks but taste and texture, too. It also helps that I've named most of the trees for our many and diverse cats who have blessed our lives over the forty years we've been here. It's pleasing as well as practical. So here's our line-up this year:

 wild names apples

All the wild trees had at least a small harvest, while MrC outdid itself raining down a storm of juicy pretty large crabapples for the deer and smaller critters. I even enjoyed these small bites as I wandered by, a particularly tasty year. And Bulero surprised me greatly by having a good crop of good tasting, sweet, juicy, small red "lunchbox" size apples that made the best no-sugar sauce! Last year they were rather dry texture. I didn't want to leave Ditto out but her tree hasn't fruited yet. 

October 1, 2019 -- Apple Love

It's probably not a surprise to anyone who reads our blog that apples are a bit of a passion for me. I'm not sure how I got so interested in them, but they do bring me a lot of pleasure, beyond simply as food. And it's getting even more fun as new apples that I've never seen nor tasted before start to fruit. This year there were three new grafts that set fruit, only a few each, and only one of one, but enough for a taste. They were our first apple grafts to bear fruit! All were on a branch of an established tree (not on their own rootstocks) which means there will never be many (unless we graft onto more branches) but it also means they fruit earlier than the ones on young small rootstocks. It was exciting when I realized they had blossoms, and then thrilled when they fruited. These apples were given a great deal of watchful attention. Every time I passed the trees I looked to make sure the fruit was still there. Only one was inside the fence, the other two outside on a wild tree, vulnerable to a deer or squirrel munch. Thankfully, we are in short supply of both this year.

Nutting Bumpus applesThe first to ripen (2 apples) was the Nutting Bumpus (the names are sometimes as much fun as the apples!). One dropped mid September, the other came off in my hand. Excited I took photos then took a slice. Mmmmm. Well, it was OK but really wasn't very special. It tasted quite like the wild tree it had been grafted to, though somewhat larger and earlier. Rather tart but with flavor and some sweetness. It isn't a bad apple, just not anything special. I saved one of the two apples to see how it kept but it was getting soft so today it went into a batch of sauce. I won't cut it off but I won't graft any more of it. To be fair, apples often change as the tree ages and future crops may be different. But it is a Duchess seedling and tastes a lot like the many Duchess types that are all along the roads. Duchess of Oldenburg is an old and hardy apple that was likely planted in most of the old orchards around here. I'm not sure now why I chose this one to begin with. But it was still exciting to have it fruit.Goodland apple

The second variety came down five days later - the one and only apple - a Canadian variety called Goodland. This was such a beauty it had been fun just to watch it grow. A large, 3" fruit, clean, I was really excited about this one. I set it on the counter for several days just to admire it! Then I carefully sliced it - nice, juicy. Gave Steve a piece and we both tried it. Hurray! This one is a keeper for sure. Delicious. We both liked it a lot. Sweet/tart flavor has an interesting sweet aftertaste. Can't wait for more of these. We'll be grafting it on its own rootstock next year.

Hoholik apples on treeOur third newby is still on the tree - 3 fruit, outside the fence, carefully protected from deer (I hope) with a ladder underneath to discourage close contact (and give the squirrels a way to climb up Steve says) (hah) (I expect LilliB to make sure that doesn't happen) and branches pinned carefully across to hide the fruit, because these will likely not be ready for several more weeks. We have had this one before, from the tree we got our scion from. An old tree, growing outside the front door of an old farmhouse friends had bought. When the house burned down the only thing left was this tree (they rebuilt, a really nice house). They figure the tree was planted early 1900's. They gave us a bucket of apples awhile back and we liked them so much we asked to cut a scion for our own tree. We grafted one piece on its own rootstock and it is growing well but will probably be some more years before it has a crop. We had also grafted a piece onto the branch of a mature wild tree, and this is the one that has fruit. It is a nice, mild, fairly sweet green/yellow apple that stores well. We guess it might be a Golden Delicious, but don't really know for sure. Can't wait to taste our own.

Now that's not to say I don't appreciate and admire all the other apples that have given us many baskets and bushels of fruit this year. I do!! The root cellar is full, more cider to be made, more sauce, more eating. It's a very good apple year and I'm enjoying it fully. Most of the apples are harvested but there are still Haralsons and Black Oxfords on the tree, later varieties and good storage types. I'll leave them for awhile yet, depending on the weather (no freezes yet!) and the birds (hopefully they are too busy with the abundant crabapples to bother my apples). They are harvests to look forward to yet this fall.

2018 - Record cold, record hot, record long, record short, record low, record high, record  number of voles - a very interesting year is was! Winter was a test, and several young trees didn't make it - Pomme Gris and Gray Pearmain, all cherry grafts, one pear. Not that it was particularly cold overall, but the extremes were short and fast, going from unusual warmth to record cold in December, little snow on the ground all winter, record cold  April, then suddenly slipping right into summer the end of May with no spring. A long hot summer, things grew well. Trees and shrubs and plants need to be of hardy soul and limb to survive, and I so appreciate that so many did.

We had reasonable apple harvest with light crops from Dudley and Black Oxford, and a bumper harvest of Haralsons, plus some wild apples. Variety and diversity helped to feed us well!

Apples! - September 28, 2017apple varieties end Sept

I do love my fruit! And I think apples are some of the most interesting and amazing -- for their beauty, their variety, their adaptability, their ability to make so many creatures of the world happy with their fruit and their foliage, and all the tiny creatures that live on and in (and those who live eating those). Almost every year the apples growing on our land feed us well. We were blessed with an interesting (and delicious) variety this year, from both named and wild trees. Here is the best excuse for growing your own.


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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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