Gardening where the sidewalk ends

New But Not Necessarily Improved December 12, 2009

Filed under: digressions,edibles — greenwalks @ 9:28 pm
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Since my family is a little bit apple-crazy, I figure I have to try just about any named apple variety I can lay my hands on. Farmers markets and orchard stands are of course the best places to find unusual varieties, but every once in a while something new pops up in the grocery store.

Last week, I spotted a sign for a new hybrid of Braeburn X Royal Gala, called a Jazz. It had the super-firm feel of a Fuji, which is not my favorite (I’d like to keep my front teeth into old age, thanks), but I decided to try it anyway.

"Jazz" apple

I don’t know if I got a poor specimen of the variety, but I have to say it did not make the cut for me in terms of flavor or texture (too sweet and chalky). Looking it up to make sure I had the hybrid varieties right, I saw that this particular apple has not only a trademark, but its own web site, Facebook page and Twitter following. I kid you not. I am not linking to any of them since I fear their PR flaks would take me to task for criticizing their product, which seems to have originated in New Zealand but is licensed to growers here in Washington state and elsewhere. But you can look it up if you don’t believe me or just want to see the cute young members of the JAZZ™ Apple Tangy-Sweet Crunch Bunch, coming soon to a town near you to offer up some slices. No, I did not make that up either.

I’m not knocking hybrids, I know they are an important part of keeping the plant kingdom thriving. In fact, it seems that the Royal Gala itself is a hybrid from New Zealand (Golden Delicious X Kidd’s Orange Red), ditto Braeburn (Granny Smith X Lady Hamilton, possibly). Those two combined represent a huge chunk of worldwide apple sales, so I guess I can’t blame them for trying to find the next golden goose. Has anyone else tried this apple? Was it any good? Did the name attract or repel you? (Do you think they focus-grouped the heck out of it?) Am I just being an old grump for preferring my apples not to wear stickers with company logos and trademarks on them?


Playing Tag January 18, 2009

Filed under: digressions,edibles — greenwalks @ 11:30 pm
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I was never that into the game of tag as a kid. I hated being “it” and there always seemed to be an element of social aggression in that and many other playground games. My daughter must be a chip off the old block, since she doesn’t like these sorts of games either, and in fact often decides to opt out of playing them.

So when I was first “tagged” in the blogosphere, I totally flubbed it. There was only friendliness meant, but I couldn’t figure out if I wanted to do it and pass it on, hemmed and hawed and delayed, and in the end just lamely replied via a comment (sorry, Susan of The Bicycle Garden!) This time, I am going to do it right. Well, sort of. It seems that I am never quite able to play by the rules…

So, thank you to Aerie-el from Gardener’s Roost for inviting me to join in the game of “Photo Tag.” The rules are to go to the 4th folder in your computer where you store your pictures, select the 4th picture in that folder, explain the picture, then tag four people to do the same.

My digital photos are stored in alphabetically-ordered folders and are a big bone of contention in my household – there are way too many of them on the poor old computer and it’s getting very slow and sad as a result. Sorting through and archiving them is a big project for a quiet day that never seems to happen. I wonder if anyone else is in the same boat here? Digital cameras make it so easy to accumulate a frighteningly large number of images – I need to be more ruthless with my deletions but so far I’m not doing too well.

The 4th folder in my picture files is from October of 2006, when my folks made a long-anticipated trip to Italy and France and we went over to their place to do a few house and yard chores while they were away (kind of a miracle, given than the help almost always flows the other direction!). One of the things they asked us to do was to pick up and sort by variety the windfall apples that had accumulated since their departure. Our daughter, 3 1/2 years old at the time, got totally into the apple retrieval job – she was small enough to fit under the dwarf trees’ branches and could reach apples that were hard for the big people to get to. So, in the 4th photo of my “Apple Pick-up” folder, here she is all bundled up on a crisp fall day, about to go get another armload of fruit.


(Note the “footies” on the apples, a very labor-intensive but usually successful pest-protection method they started using a few years ago and that I have mentioned in a few previous posts.)

As for the final rule of this game of tag, I am going to steal an idea from another commenter on Aerie-el’s site and not designate the next four folks. If you have read this far and would like to participate, please consider yourself tagged!


Cider Pressing October 3, 2008

Filed under: edibles,trees — greenwalks @ 8:13 am
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Fall in Seattle usually brings a last spate of gorgeous, sunny weather before the rains set in for good. This past weekend, we enjoyed a couple of the sunniest, most crystalline days in recent memory, the kind that you wish you could bottle up and pour out later, in the depths of darkest winter. Our relatives visiting from California joked that they had brought the sun with them, but it didn’t depart when they flew out on Monday, and we got another day or so of loveliness to enjoy.

We took advantage of the beautiful day on Sunday to enact a family tradition, the annual cider pressing. My parents have 68 mostly dwarf apple trees on 1 1/2 acres in the Seattle suburbs, and they work practically year-round to keep the trees healthy and pest-free. At least two times a year, there is much pruning to be done, as well as fertilizing, watering, fruit-thinning and anti-pest footie-applying (this year, they used over 6,000 footies!?!), not to mention the harvest at the end of all of that. Needless to say, it’s a labor of love.

To prepare the apples for pressing, my folks spend hours picking, sorting, and cleaning fruit; washing the press, buckets and bottles; setting up tables, getting out knives and cutting boards; and so on. When the guests arrive, we all pitch in with the fun part of the process.

The press has been in the family for at least three generations, not counting mine (so adding mine and my daughter’s, it’s been used by at least five). It’s a Hocking Valley Junior press, which may have come from the Midwest at some point (Hocking Valley is in Ohio). We don’t have a lot of antiques in our family, but this one’s a keeper. My grandfather, who never met anything he couldn’t fix, added the scorching-orange wheels (spares from a rototiller??) in the 70s, to make it easier to move around. Not historically accurate but improves functionality!

Family cider press

Here are its removable parts, waiting to be put together before the first use of the year.

Cider press parts

The process, once the apples are washed and dried and binned (thanks, mom and dad!) goes like this. First, we go around and put a few of each type in a tub (pre-selected for a good mix of sweet and tart, ripe and not so ripe – the list of varieties was long, but included Akane, Gravenstein, Adams Pearmain, King, Liberty, and Alkemene.) Here are the Akane and Liberty bins, almost empty:

Tubs of cider apples

Tubs of apples, all varieties nicely mixed together:

Pre-cider apples

Then, once that’s done, everyone gets to chop. Halves are fine for small apples, the others get quartered. Small brown spots and watercore are acceptable, but apple maggot damage is not, nor is coddling moth fuzz. There were very few toss-outs, since my mom was very meticulous about putting only “firsts” out for the initial (guests present) pressing. Here are the only bad ones I found in a half hour or so of chopping:

Pest-damaged apples

(The top two show how the apple maggot larva randomly roams around, munching happily, and ruins the entire piece of fruit; the bottom left is coddling moth damage to a core, the rest was usable; and the bottom right shows watercore along the left side near the skin.)

Once chopping is under way, there seems to be something about the Y chromosome which inclines those who possess it to gravitate towards the press. Very old-school farm chore division, I guess. One person tosses the chopped apples from bucket to press, and another one turns the crank. (And still another can stand around watching and avoiding chopping.) Cranking is a really short burst of super aerobic exercise and the apple tosser has to be careful not to dump too many pieces in at once the gears get jammed. Here’s an action shot, only two out of three males present, strangely, although the other one can be seen in the background.


When the wood-slat cylindrical tub below the crunching gears is full of apple bits, it’s time to slide it down to the other side of the machine and actually press the cider out. This is accomplished by spinning a handle that presses a metal disk down and persuades the apples to give up their juice. Towards the end, it’s too hard to spin the handle without leverage, so there’s a notched wooden stick that helps get every last drop out. My daughter was really into helping with everything she could (she’s still too little to turn the crank, but maybe next year), and was proud to stand on a chair and do this part.

Turning the press

It usually takes a few minutes for the juice to start coming through, but when it does it’s pretty exciting.

Cider flowing

Then the only things left to do are to strain the cider through a sieve and funnel into gallon jugs,

Straining the cider

dump out the dry juice-less apple bits into a wheelbarrow for their eventual trip to the compost pile,

The left-behind bits

and start again with the next round! It took us over two hours, not counting all the prep, to press 5 1/2 gallons of cider. My folks did another round the following day, and they may do it again later in the season, when the apples are riper and more likely to be juicy. It’s a pretty labor-intensive process but a super fun one too, especially for we guests! And my hands were too sticky to use the camera anymore by the time we got around to sampling the juice, but it was the perfect blend, not too sweet, not too sour. All in all, it was a great way to spend an autumn afternoon.

(PS I realize that this was long and off-topic. It’s vaguely related to gardening, but not to parking strips, or at least not mine!)


When Good Trees Go Bad September 15, 2008

This beautiful old apple tree is planted in the parking strip in my neighborhood.

Street apple tree

It’s lovely for most of the year, with its spreading branches, silvery bark and gently fragrant spring blossoms. Unfortunately, it’s grown to tall for its fruit to be picked easily, even with a stepladder, so during the fall, most of it drops to the ground.

Street apples

The owners put up this sign, hoping someone would cart away at least some of the mess, which is no doubt attracting some fun critters (Seattle is a water city, and where there’s water, boy are there a lot of rats!):

Apple tree sign

Um, I don’t know about you, but rotten-apple pie is not exactly tops on my list of favorite baked goods…

Rat food

I think this is a pretty good advertisement for dwarf varieties. (Obviously, I’m not blaming the tree for growing to its proper size! It’s just in the wrong place.) Fruit trees take a lot of work, pruning, thinning and so forth, and once one gets away from you it’s hard to get it back in check. Across our back alley, some folks had a neighborhood heirloom apple tree bequeathed to them years ago as a smallish transplant – now it’s a great, huge mess to deal with but they’d feel horribly guilty if they cut it down.

What about you – is there something in your garden that needs offing but you just can’t bring yourself to do it in?


Apple Tree Anti-Pest Method September 7, 2008

In a previous post, I mentioned the technique of putting “footies” (nylon half-sock hosiery thingies) on apples as they are forming on the trees, to protect them from pests like the apple maggot fly and coddling moths which can ravage the fruit. At the Seattle Tilth Harvest Fair yesterday (big post on that coming soon), I saw that they had used this method in their demonstration garden.

Apples With Footies

It’s pretty labor intensive, but if you only have a few dwarf trees (or a lot of time or many helpful garden elves), it’s doable. You just have to make sure to do it at the right time, before the pests emerge from dormancy in the spring and start doing their evil (but natural) business. Check with your local fruit tree growers’ society for more information, or click here for the Home Orchard Society’s how to’s and purchasing info.