Hot or cold? Wet or dry?

Well August is being August, hot and muggy, just like July left off! It seems this has been an endlessly warm and humid summer and the forecast doesn’t change much. “What does that do to the fruit?” I’m often asked. “Makes it warm!” is my smart-alecky answer. But seriously folks, it does have it’s effects. A dry summer (which we had up until the last couple weeks) makes fruit sweeter by concentrating the sugars in the fruit.I can attest that cherries and peaches have been fabulous this season! Lots of rain close to harvest can cause fruit to crack open, most often in cherries but also in some varieties of apples. Hot temperatures (90 and up) and a blistering sun can actually sunburn some kinds of apples and do a lot of damage. Some of our favorites like Honeycrisp, Zestar! and Cameo are especially susceptible to that. And we don’t have to even get into what hail and wind can do. We were blessed to not be affected by all of the tornado action last week. But it wasn’t far away, and you can imagine what that would do to an orchard full of fruit! It does remind us what a tentative hold we have on things.

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One thing that we look for in the fall are cool nights and sunny days. They are so important to the coloring process in apples. As apples approach maturity, they begin to develop their characteristic color. Cool nights turn on that “switch” in an apple.  You can literally see the change in color in some apples after one or two cool nights, and a week of nights in the upper 40’s will turn a green apple to dark red. We had two nights in the low 50’s over the weekend, and the change was noticeable, especially in Galas and Paulareds. But now it’s back to hot days and warmish nights again deterring that color development. So we wait, and hope that the cool crisp nights of fall are not too far away. I know…it’s still August and summer isn’t over yet so I have to be patient. It will come in time, and I’ll enjoy putting a sweatshirt on in the morning. Until then, it’s shorts and a t-shirt and off to work!

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Hope you have a fruitful week!

Tom Moelker

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Varieties-The Spice Of Life

We are picking our first fresh eating apples of the season this week, Gingergold and Paulared. This marks the official start to the fall apple harvest, even though it is still August. It’s good to be able to crunch into a fresh tasty apple right off the tree again! Nothing compares to that!

gingergold

Gingergold

As the fall goes on. I often keep track of time by counting how many varieties we have harvested, and how many we have left to go. It seems to start out slowly and pick up the pace with each successive week. We grow 26 different kinds of apples here, and every week I mentally check off the ones we’ve finished and look ahead to whats next. It struck me the other day that while all of our trees blossom over the course of 10 days or so in the spring, the harvest begins with the first apples in late July and ends with the last around November 1. That is over three months difference from the first to the last! How do they know? I purposely planted a row of Lodi (the first ones picked) next to a row of Granny Smith ( the last ones) a few years ago. So when we pick Lodis in July I always look over and wonder what takes those Grannys so long?Another of life’s mysteries I guess.

Paulared

Paulared

Apples are pretty amazing really. There are now over 7,500 varieties grown around the world! About a hundred of these are grown commercially in the U.S.A., although thousands of others are grown here too. However the only apples native to this country are crab apples. It is said that the Pilgrims planted the first apple trees in North America. Others were brought here from overseas, or developed here since then. And every year new varieties are created or discovered! It’s hard to keep track of them all, so the best thing to do is find a few you like and stick with them. Until the next one comes along……

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When I was a kid, I can remember dad picking Sweet Boughs, Winesaps, Snow Apples and Grime’s Golden apples. Others too, the names escape me now. Those have come and gone, and been replaced by Gala, Honeycrisp, Zestar!(the exclamation point IS part of the name, really!) and Mutsu. It’s a job just coming up with an original name for an apple these days. But harvest season remains the same. Start with the first ones and work your way through to the last. And along the way, take some time to sample them all fresh from the tree and savor the differences. Because on the journey from blossom to fruit they all develop distinct differences, tastes and qualities. I guess that is true of all of us.

Have a fruitful week!

Tom Moelker

How good can come from bad.

Sometimes people react to adverse situations in unpredictable ways. In 2012, we lost our entire crop to multiple spring frosts. Some folks would have given up. Some would have taken the opportunity to take a vacation in the summer months for once (unheard of for a fruit farmer). Some might have taken a temporary job. We built a bakery.

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Now this wasn’t completely unplanned. For about 5 years we had talked about doing it someday. And in January, long before the frosts came, we made the decision to go ahead with the project. Later, when the crops froze, it opened up more time for us to work on the project. Funny how providence works sometimes. Over the next few months we began to accumulate some of the bakery equipment that we would need to accomplish our goals.Various pieces came from Illinois, Wisconsin, Indiana, and all around the great state of Michigan! As the weeks after the frost went on, two stalls of our then garage were slowly transformed and expanded to become the shell of what was to come–the Old Bell Bakery. With the help of friends and family we completely remodeled the building, adding more storage room and a rest room to our market too. We learned a lot about building, electrical wiring, plumbing  and making things look good (after messing them up the first time)! I think that we took some of it apart and put it back together so many times we could do it in our sleep!

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The girls got some great baking advice and experience from good friend Roger Ondersma, a long time bakery operator. And we got to enjoy a lot of trial runs of cookies, donuts and pastries as they perfected their technics!

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So as we begin our bakery’s fifth year, it’s fun to look back at how it all began. We love the excitement that our customers have about opening up for a new season! And I have to admit that it is nice to be able to pop in for a fresh donut and coffee at break time…or any time for that matter! Not many people can walk across the yard and do that! (all in moderation of course). And this season Tressa has added Grandma M’s Sugar Cookies, a tasty salute to her Grandma Moelker using Donna’s tried and true home made recipe! Looking back now, it’s neat to see how a leap of faith can turn into something wonderful. And how with the support of family, friends and great customers, a dream can become reality.

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A rare photo of Tom and Travis in aprons! With Abby and Tressa

Hope you have a fruitful week!

Tom Moelker