Apple Trees

008 1938 apple treeThis is a promotional ad (postcard style) for back east potential settlers — who would multiply such ads by the price at their local grocer and conclude apple orchards were a veritable gold mine! No wonder orchards in New Plymouth sometimes sold for $4,000/acre!  And, no wonder such temptation caused many to sell 10 acres or 20 acres off their original 40 acres — which condemned such farms to eventual failure.

Apple production, same as everything else, vastly changed in so many ways over the years.  When New Plymouth was founded 1894-1895, all apple produce went to packing houses in Payette, then shipped via rail to eastern markets (locals called it the “Pufferbelly Express” when it came thru New Plymouth).  But apples are a beautiful fruit and like virtually anything else, beauty sells first.  So the primo fruit went east in refrigerator cars. The culls and 2nds also went east if they could but often ended up in local consumption — the lowest quality going to cider/vinegar and to hogs.  To my knowledge there was no local that did not do as we did and can as much applesauce and cooking apples as we had canning bottles for — all from culls–which were free for the taking.  It takes a fair amount of transport and a mature market place to establish local or regional use, which is not really fostered by rail.008 1991 apple tree

Rome apples were named for a small town in Ohio, where the first cutting was grafted from. “Beauty” was a particular variety of Rome apples. It was my mom’s favorite cooking apple.  I can remember a number of Rome orchards towards Fruitland from our house. Romes are a very round apple of bigger than average size.  They are a very “efficient” apple not losing much space to indentation at stem or bloom or high “crown” area like “Delicious” apples do. Quite a “solid,” compact or “weighty” apple. Apples are all cloned from a tree that has the fruit you want.  They have to be cloned, as seeds will produce a unique tree every time, so anyone wanting to plant an orchard would find someone willing to let them take cuttings to produce an identical tree, same look, same taste.

I think that 22 bushels, advertised on this postcard, is very wishful thinking on this tree — maybe to be expected from an ad.  Perhaps they are counting all the fallen fruit.  Fallen apples, unless you are johnny-on-the-spot as they drop, cannot be eaten.  Bugs attracted by the smell arrive almost immediately, lay eggs, and you’ve got almost instant worms.  Remember the old “what is worse than finding a worm in an apple?”  Half a worm!

This tree is very representative of apples in Payette Valley — but this is still a small, young tree, maybe 6-8 yrs old tree.  Imagine the major branches being 3-4 times larger, then you would have a mature tree.

Note that they have one prop on this tree on this side, by the label, and bent under the weight, and what looks like two more on the other.  It was not unusual for a prop to break under the weight.  In that event the major limb would surely break, have to be removed and lose all the fruit on it.  Many times more than one prop was used per limb.  As the season progressed and you checked your orchard, then you added more props as necessary. That  could be many!  Many times multiple props were used as a prop could also become a fulcrum where the end weight could bend and break the limb at the propped point.  Such was very common in bigger older trees.

It generally took 12-15 props or more per tree.  Of many lengths,  as some would have to pass thru lower limbs in order to prop the upper limbs.  Trees would be around 100-110/acre so that would take a stack of lumber 50′ high x 50′ wide x 10-15′ long — per one acre. Typical orchards would be 10-20 acres, but some were 40 acres. Each 20 acres would require a pile of such lumber occupying as much space as about 10-12 houses.  Multiply this out a tad and you can see what a monumental size stack it would take to store these props over winter.  The stack (just that stored in New Plymouth) occupied 20-30 acres north of the old depot and was the size of a packing house.  It was here, around 1937-38 that the traveling Oakies built Tonyville using these props like logs building a house. Plus, old timers will tell you that there were tents all over town, as many locals let transients pitch a tent in their backyards.

Farmers could, of course, store props on their land — many did — but it could not be where water could get under them or they would rot, split, crack.  The props would have to be covered from rain/snow/dew.   And, they would be mightily in-the-way around most busy farm yards.  You could not leave them under the trees because the minute the heavy fruit is picked they would fall away, and could not be kept dry or protected out in the orchard.  The props were all made of yellow pine, and pine does not weather well out in the open.  I think you can begin to understand the logistics needed to deal with this magnitude of problem, multiplied by the entire acreage.

Still another problem:  These 2x2s, because of their need to be thin yet strong — had to be made from the best, clear lumber.  Primo lumber.  If they are not entirely straight grain without knots — then they break — and the limb breaks.  So you have the old, “For want of a nail” problem. They could not be junked as they were too expensive in different ways to replace.  But, above all else, a mature tree with a full crop, unless propped, would split every which way at the trunk completely ruining the tree that has taken years to bring to bear such a crop.  I have seen my share of trees, like this one, split three ways.  One can salvage such a tree with grafting in replacement limbs. Grafting in is simple, works, and more quickly produces new limbs off the roots. So in two or three years you again have a fruit bearing replacement. However, such grafted-on-limbs are always a weak point in the future, more easily splitting off.  And, in the meantime you have an “unbalanced” tree causing the tree stump itself to lean away.

In spite of diligent propping, many limbs would break throughout an orchard.  So every orchard had many limbs that must be sawed off, the cut end painted with creosote or asphalt to prevent decay and disease getting into a tree.  And, a new limb grafted in to replace it. A typical apple tree would have multiple large limbs removed over the years, from normal pruning for shape/size/breakage. So every tree had its own character of such pruning scars that told a tale of that tree’s production.  As these trees get older, the limbs become more horizontal — because they are weighed down most of the growth season. As they become ever more horizontal, they become ever more needy of props.  Eventually one can tell the age of the tree merely from the horizontal angle of its major limbs.

In my own case I had citrus and olive orchards.  Long term strategy in trees that may last dozens of years (not “stone” fruit) is to prune in such a way that you “rebuild” the tree every five years.  To do that you remove one major limb each year. That equals ~20% of the tree. In its place a new limb is begun. So within 5 yrs, or whatever length your strategy works over, the oldest limb above the core trunk is, at most, five years old.  It is necessary to do this to prevent disease which attacks the older wood, and to provide vigorous younger wood.

008 1963 Steven and kittyThere are “sweet spots” to grow apples.  The best are simply unbeatable.  You can grow apples many places, however only a few produce the finest apples. Not only are the trees bountiful, but the taste is superb.  After growing up in New Plymouth, we lived in California for some years and the food grown there is tasteless in comparison to Idaho, Oregon, and Washington.  There were not many areas in California that had cool enough night time temps to color their apples — Tehachapi and Julian. Julian has an apple fest each year — and we went many times for the festival.  But I only tried the apples one time, that was enough for me.  No comparison.

This is my son, Steven, with one of a number of our cats, in 1962. Note the unpropped heavily laden with fruit.  this small section close to the house, has eleven varieties of apples as well as two pear varieties.  the apples in the box are Romes.

Many plants need cool nights, and must have low temps to color-up in the fall.  Many plants also do better with the longer daylight, and a touch of frost. Idaho spuds are famous for a reason.

I was very spoiled growing up in Idaho.  Veggies elsewhere are like eating paper! No taste.  Its like the difference in eating fresh eggs and eggs sitting for weeks in the fridge.  People used to fresh notice the difference instantly. People used to what-ever can’t even tell.

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