It would be so nice if frost were one of those predictable things. Garden planning would make great advancements if the effective beginning and end of the growing season were known with the certainty of the yearly appearance of holidays. Unfortunately, the date of the last frost of spring and the first frost of fall are fickle. Deviously so.
When dealing with frost it is always best to be paranoid. In the spring never think it is too late for one more frost to come. And in the fall never think it too early. You laugh? Don’t. Conventional wisdom around here is that frost can come as late as the end of May and as early as the Labor Day holiday at the beginning of September. Yet, conventional wisdom was blown out of the water last year when we had a frost the second week into June. That was a day lacking in humor, unless you appreciate black humor.
I do all of this moaning and groaning more by way of remembrance than any current complaint. Today we had our first fall frost this year. This is late, very late for us, so I’ve no excuse to whine. I don’t think we’ve ever managed to last until October before without a frost. (Somehow, I find this as some sort of recompense for having such a brutally cold winter last year.) For once, every fruit and vegetable has run its course. The garden is done and ready to die away and await next year.
Sometimes frost can sneak up and surprise you, but this time we had good warning. The weather people weren’t just predicting temperatures in the low 40’s or high 30’s (at which time we start taking defensive measures around here), they were predicting a hard freeze. This meant temperatures dropping down into the 20’s. By October most everything is out of the garden, so the only thing that needed saving was the apple harvest. A light frost is supposed to improve the taste of apples. A hard freeze damages the fruit.
Excepting the apple tree that was partly squashed by the fall of the big willow tree, we’ve had a solid, bordering on stellar, apple harvest this year. Having watched the apples go from blossoms to ripe fruit, this was my pride and joy. Letting all the apples end up frozen was not acceptable. So, yesterday afternoon became a last minute scramble to harvest all the apples.
I don’t know what variety of apple our mature trees bear. Two of the three trees bear an apple that is similar to the Northern Spy, but looks a bit different and tastes a little more sour, so I don’t think we have two actual Spy bearing trees. The last mature apple tree is the oldest, and looks rather wizened and decrepit. To my constant surprise it produces well, showing great hardiness. This year it produced better than either of the other trees. I’ve no idea was variety this last tree is. Probably some lost breed, long forgotten. It seems well suited for a colder climate because it flowers slightly later than the other two trees, and produces a late ripening, hardy, fruit. Its fruit has a tendency to remain green, and often times looks a bit ugly, though the apples can get quite large in size. They tend to taste sour, and are very hard, but they make excellent baking apples. Since my preferred way to have apples is in a pie, apple sauce, or any other baked manner, this suits me fine.
The apple picking yesterday certainly could have been worse, but the weather wasn’t optimal. It was commented yesterday that we experienced every type of weather in the space of the day. There was a bit of rain, thunder, sunshine, and a good deal of frozen rain and hail. It was, I suppose, a classic fall day, but all the same a less than pleasant time to be up in apple trees, trying to get all the fruit down.
The earlier ripening trees had dropped about half of their fruit in the past several weeks and we had picked the apples up right along. It was fairly quick progress to finish the first two trees off. However, just as we were starting on the last, oldest–and thus hardest to climb–tree, a frozen rain and thunderstorm moved in.
We saw it come down the valley. It was quite an amazing sight. We were standing at an angle to the front as it came in and it looked like this great sheet of white advancing over the tree-covered hill. The front of the wall billowed forward like some grasping and devouring thing, coming swiftly over the land. We stood, squinting at it and wondering aloud, “Rain? Snow?” And in the end it was a downpour of frozen rain. Lightening flashed and thunder rumbled.
Caught by the weather, and there was still the most heavily laden tree waiting to be picked. I stood, looking at the tree and wavering between going inside and waiting for the storm to blow over and picking through the bad weather. The reasonable side of me said that picking up in a tree during a frozen rain and thunderstorm was not intelligent, or conducive to long life. The piggish side of me said it didn’t care, what were the chances of being struck by lightning anyhow, and why not pick through the storm and get this job done with? So I climbed up in the tree and began picking, feeling a bit guilty, but not so guilty that I got down and called off the operation.
The storm did blow over after a short while, leaving the tree wet. Even with a wind breaker I was a bit damp myself. Apple harvesting is a joyful time for me, but sitting up in a wet tree, being wet, with wet hands that are cold, makes the experiences less joyful. Still, not all of my delight could be extinguished because the apples were so large I was willing to go through a bit of discomfort to have them all safely brought inside.
I don’t know how many bushels total we brought in. We put the apples into old 10 lb. onion bags. We took in something like 24 bags yesterday, and we’ve probably used another half dozen onion bags worth of drops over the past weeks. I don’t know if there is an apple to onion weight equivalent, but if there is then we harvested something like 300 lbs. of apples. (And, I might wonder, how many more apples might have it been if I didn’t have to lop off those limbs this spring? No, I won’t go there.)
A sudden influx of 300 lbs. of apples was not exactly how I wanted to do things, but I have a tendency to not make time for projects, so it is probably best that my hands were forced. However, we now have a heap of apples in the house, waiting to be made into apple sauce and other baked goodies. Titi figures we have enough jars for five afternoons worth of applesauce making. Where am I going to find five afternoons free for making applesauce?
Needless to say, the apples are still heaped in the den, making me feel guilty. Rather than start working on them I wrote this.