We are in the midst of a slow, gradual blossom season. Most of our varieties are flowering well this year, and there has been good weather for pollinators mixed with cool temperatures that have kept the blossoms going for a long time. Our later blooming varieties, including Northern Spy, Golden Delicious, and Freedom are all in full bloom, while the petals are starting to fall from Liberty, Mac, and Williams Pride. Our neighbors' honeybees are visiting, along with bumblebees and other native pollinators. A week from now we should have a better sense of fruit set, but everything looks good at this point for the apples.
It has been great to visit with people who have come to the tasting room hours on Saturdays. We have the time to really talk with folks, which is a pleasure. We love the energy and craziness of pick your own weekends and Cider Days in the fall, but it's nice to have some more laid back retail time as well.
We are in the calm between storms at this moment, when the trees are planted and mulched, we just got a good rain, it is not quite time to start spraying for pests and diseases, and it is still the off season for our hard cider tasting room. That all ends very soon, since we have an open house May 14 from 1-5 to celebrate the release of this year's ciders, and to kick off our tasting room season. The tasting room will be open from 1-5 every Saturday all summer, so folks can count on us being here if you want to stop by and get some cider. Last year the orchard was in full bloom on May 14, so it could be a spectacular day to come visit. Nothing beats walking through the orchard full of apple blossom perfume, listening to bees buzz around enjoying the flowers.
What a whirlwind of a season. We had a great pick your own season, with plenty of apples and nice weather every weekend. It was even warm for Cider Days weekend, when we offered seminars on organic orchard management, apple scouting, making vinegar, and natural fermenting. The New England hard cider was a hit, so we are fermenting more as we speak. We were crazy busy picking and pressing apples almost up to Thanksgiving, but finally we are done, fermenting tanks are all full, and the orchard is put to bed. We took full advantage of the long fall, with few very cold days - what a contrast to last year when we were downhill skiing the Saturday after Thanksgiving. This was another year when every tree in the orchard and woods, in yards, and along roads fruited with abandon, so we picked everything we could find room for. Likely next year many of those trees will be taking a rest to recover from their overabundance this year.
In the two months since I last wrote here, the season has developed. Trees blossomed well, pollinators were busy, and fruit set was very good. Varieties we planted over the years are starting to fruit, and we will taste some varieties for the first time this year. Apples are sizing up well, far too fast to keep up with hand thinning tasks. We have more plums than we have ever had on those four trees, and despite weak looking peach blossoms the fruit is looking good on those as well. We hope to offer some of those other fruits for sale when we have the tasting room open, later in the year.
Our current vintage of Farmhouse and Hopped ciders and our Cyser are now matured and ready for sale. We have restocked our retailers, and have been offering tasting room hours every other Saturday or so. The summer dates are much less crowded and hectic than fall, so we feel like we can return to our early years of selling apples, when we were able to talk with people a lot more. It has been fun. We are also pouring our cider at the Green River Brewfest in Greenfield this Saturday, June 20. That was a fun crowd last year and I’m sure will be a blast this year as well.
With the kids done with school, the orchard and gardens growing, sheep sheared of their fleece, and new chickens getting bigger, it feels like summer is here at last. Yay for the growing season!
After a long, cold, snowy winter, we are finally looking at brown grass instead of white snow in the orchard. We had a lot of drifted snow, so were worried about vole damage. Voles can use the snow to move around, accessing things like apple trees to eat without being exposed to cold and predators. The young trees we have wire cages on fared well, with two trees suffering damage. However, we did have a number of mature trees that lost bark to voles, both lower scaffolds of branches and some damage on trunks. Given the number of trees that were engulfed in snow up to five feet deep, the losses were light. We were able to finish pruning while the snow melted, despite a late start thanks to all that snow and bitterly cold temperatures. Now we await dry ground so we can get the pruned wood out of the orchard. Snow melt has been pretty gentle and gradual, so the ground is drying faster than it often does this time of year.
Another task we accomplished to be ready for spring was grafting new trees. We have 200 dwarfing rootstock we attached to tree varieties we want to add to the orchard, as we experiment with growing small trellised trees in our organic, low-input system. If successful, these trees will fruit in a small fraction of the time we have waited for the larger rootstock varieties to mature. It’s an amazing experience to take wood from two trees, bind them together, and watch them grow into a new tree. We received a Grinspoon award that will help us set up this new planting.
Our most recent spring task was bottling hard cider. Our hopped hard cider had taken on the hoppy essence it needed from the dry hops we steeped in it, so we bottled that variety. It was a pleasure to bottle in our new cidery, with plenty of space to work efficiently, knowing we won’t have to carry all those heavy cases of cider out of the basement. What a difference a year makes. We will bottle the Farmhouse cider soon, but the other varieties will continue to age for a while longer before bottling.
We are pleased with how the ciders are turning out this year. The base cider is more assertively flavored this year, which balances the hops in that variety, and the wood tones of the barrel-aged Farmhouse well. We will also have Cyser and Ice cider in small quantities, and we are experimenting with a New England style cider. This is cider augmented with brown sugar and raisins, and was the cider making tradition that survived Prohibition around here. We model it after hard cider we served at our wedding over 20 years ago, which was made by a local apple grower.