What to choose?!

Choices. We all have to make them, whether we like to or not. Some choices we make are difficult but fun. What flavor of ice cream to have is that kind of decision. Some (like the ice cream) have short and sweet results! Others take years to formulate and a lifetime of events result. Marriage comes to mind. Hopefully long and sweet results there! Some people seem to be able to make a choice and move on, not worrying about the consequences. What a blessing! I do not fall into that category, by the way. Just ask my family. I tend to agonize over my choices after the fact and often think I could have made better ones. (Not true of my marriage)!

Here on the farm, choosing what kinds of fruit to plant can be a challenge sometimes. We have hundreds of varieties to choose from, and many of those we have never seen before. Add to that the fact that we have to order the trees 2-4 years before we actually get them. And then it is another 3-4 years before we actually have any fruit in our hands to offer. So we have to guess what the customers will like far into the future. Sometimes it turns out well. Honeycrisp comes to mind. We had never seen or tasted one when we ordered the trees! But oh the joy they bring to our taste buds! There are times when a new variety, the “next big thing”, doesn’t turn out as well. It may be difficult to grow or inconsistent in it’s quality. And in the time between ordering and bearing, consumer demand may have fallen off. Or a newer, better variety may have come along. Then, it’s back to the drawing board.

The trend lately in the fruit industry is to market new kinds of apples as ” Club Varieties”. The nursery or company that owns the patent on the variety limits the number of trees planted and chooses which farms can grow them. The farmer in turn has to pay for the right to grow the trees. Then the fruit, when it is ready, must be marketed through the parent company. The theory is that by limiting production the prices can be kept higher–sort of a supply/demand model. Most of the hot new varieties (i.e. SweetTango, Jazz, and others) are now released that way. While I am not a fan of this model, I understand the economics behind it.

apple-types

As a consumer you have a lot of choices when you are shopping for apples. With so many varieties available it can be difficult deciding what kind to get. That is why when you come to us for apples, we ask what qualities you like in your apples. How are you going to use them? Do you like them sweet or tart? Do you like your applesauce smooth or chunky? These are the questions we will ask you. And then we’ll try to point you to an apple that will satisfy your tastes.

What kind do I like? Fortunately I can choose a different apple every day if I want to. After all, it’s one of the perks of being an apple grower. And I don’t have to agonize about it because there is always another one to try next. I like that!

Hope you have a fruitful weekend!

Tom Moelker

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A honey of an apple-part 2.

Last week I wrote about the history of the Honeycrisp apple and some of it’s characteristics. It is an awesome apple, but we often are asked why it costs more than other apples. I like to describe it this way. You know that one kid in every classroom that always needs extra attention? That’s Honeycrisp. It is the neediest apple in the orchard! It needs to be grown in cooler climates. Hot summers like this year are really hard  on this apple. Honeycrisp needs to be grown on lighter, sandier soil. It needs to be on a semi-weak tree. It needs to have a certain number of apples per tree. Too many and it won’t produce a crop next year. Too few and the fruit will be very big and more subject to internal disorders. It needs a certain amount of rain on a regular basis in order to not throw off the balance of nutrients in the apple and the tree. In short, Honeycrisp is THAT KID!

Remember that I said that the cells in the Honeycrisp are twice as big as those in other apples? While that makes for an amazing crunch and juicy goodness, it also presents an internal problem when the fruit is developing. You see, the cell walls are also very thin, and they are trying to contain all that juice. So they are very susceptible to breaking and causing a disease called bitterpit. You may have seen the little black freckles on a Honeycrisp apple that can develop over time. That’s bitterpit, and it is the apple grower’s nightmare! It typically doesn’t show up until a few weeks before harvest, and by then it is too late to do anything about it. Losses can be devastating, and sometimes despite all of the preventative measures we take, it still shows up. In fact, bitterpit can even develop after harvest while the apples are in refrigerated storage!

hcbasket

So to deal with all of the needs, we have to treat Honeycrisp differently than all of the other apples. Weekly applications of calcium are made to try to strengthen cell walls. Tests to determine nutrient levels in the tree and the fruit so we can try to get them right. Choosing trees on root stocks that will produce a weak-ish tree (but not too weak). Finding the right soil on the farm to grow them. And hand thinning the crop to a certain number of fruits per tree. After harvest they have to be stored at 50 degree temps for a week before they can be stored with the other apples at 32 degrees.

Now I know this all sounds pretty daunting, and it is. And hopefully this will help explain the higher cost of the apples that result from all this extra work. But despite all of the obstacles to growing this prince of the apples, we still do it. Why? Because we love the taste and crunch just like you do. And when it turns out right there is nothing that compares!

Have a fruitful week!

Tom Moelker

A honey of an apple-part 1.

Honeycrisp. The very name makes your mouth water! That crunchy, juicy explosion of flavor is unmatched by any other apple. It’s popularity has skyrocketed over the last decade. And we hear the question over and over again, “When will the Honeycrisp be in?”

honeycrisp

Well they are in. We began to pick them last weekend. And they are as great as ever! But this apple, that has become the favorite of many of our customers, took a long time to come to the table. Believe it or not, the Honeycrisp apple was developed at the University of Minnesota in 1960! And at one point over the following years it was almost discarded. In 1974 it was finally given a name, “Minnesota 1711”, and given the go-ahead for further testing. Fourteen years later it was finally patented and named “Honeycrisp”, and the trees became available for the first time in 1991. That’s 31 years after it was first discovered!!

In 1995 a fruit tree salesman that I knew well stopped in one day. “Tom there’s a new apple available and you need to have some on your farm” he said. Honeycrisp? I had never heard of it before. “What does it taste like?” I asked him. “It isn’t the taste,” he said. “It’s the texture and the juice running down your chin when you bite it!” He assured me it was unlike any apple I had ever had. I ordered 100 trees for the following spring. Four years later we picked the first fruit. They were awesome! But how would we introduce  people to them? Only one way to do that. Hand them one and have them try it. They were a hit!

honeycrisp

Honeycrisp

So just why are they so juicy? Because the cells in a Honeycrisp apple are almost twice as big as cells in any other apple! That makes the texture and juiciness stand out above all the others. And the sweet yet tangy flavor is great too! I often think that no two taste alike. And they stay crisp and juicy even on your kitchen counter(although refrigeration is recommended).

So that’s a little history on what has become our most popular apple. Next week, I’ll tell you a little about the challenges that come with growing Honeycrisp apples. And try to answer the question, “Why do they cost so much?”

Have a fruitful week!

Tom Moelker