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Posts Tagged ‘New England apple orchards’

OUR THREE-PART video series on integrated pest management (IPM) concludes with a look at one of its five basic principles: how apple growers use a diverse combination of management tools to treat pests in their orchards that pose an economic threat, including the introduction of beneficial insects, and the use of pheromones to attract, distract, trap, or confuse would-be predators.

IPM, Part 1 examines how pests are prevented and identified.

IPM, Part 2 explores how New England apple growers monitor pest populations in their orchards and decide when to treat the predators threatening the apple crop.

The series was produced for the nonprofit New England Apple Association, with funding from Farm Credit Northeast AgEnhancement and the New Hampshire Department of Agriculture, Markets & Food, and its Division of Pesticide Control.

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PLUM CURCULIO, Oblique Banded Leaf Roller, and apple aphids are the featured pests as New England apple growers describe how they monitor populations in their orchards and decide when to treat the predators threatening the apple crop.

IPM, Part 1 examines how pests are prevented and identified.

IPM, Part 3 looks at the diverse combination of management tools growers use to combat pests, including the use of pheromones, beneficial insects, and weather monitoring.

The series was produced for the New England Apple Association, with funding from Farm Credit Northeast AgEnhancement and the New Hampshire Department of Agriculture, Markets & Food, and its Division of Pesticide Control.

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FOR AS LONG as humans have cultivated the soil to grow the food that sustains them, a whole horde of beasts, bugs, and bacteria have attempted to partake of the bounty. For the modern fruit grower, the challenge of protecting their trees and fruit from predators and injury has been compounded by the introduction of new pests introduced to New England’s orchards from around the world.

The orchardist uses a continually evolving combination of tools to combat these threats, collectively known as integrated pest management, or IPM. These methods include:

  • Add nutrients to the soil to strengthen the trees’ natural defenses
  • Introduce beneficial insects to the orchard to feed on harmful ones
  • Use pheromones to attract, distract, trap, or confuse the apple’s would-be predators
  • Monitor the weather with sophisticated equipment
  • Keep records to determine pest levels and to target critical periods in their life cycles
  • Apply a chemical treatment only if a threshold for significant economic damage is reached

Growers have powerful incentives to use as few chemicals in the orchard as possible. They are expensive to purchase and apply. In New England, most farmers and their families live on the farm. Growing apples is hard work, a round-the-clock job requiring devotion to the land. Apple growers are part scientists, part environmentalists, who take immense pride in growing beautiful, delicious fruit and maintaining healthy orchard ecosystems.

There are many safeguards to guarantee the safety of the apples we eat. The heaviest pest pressures occur in the spring and early summer, beginning before the fruit is even formed, and often months before it is picked. Growers must follow the Environmental Protection Agency’s “pre-harvest intervals,” prescribed periods between the time the trees are sprayed and when it is safe to pick the fruit. Upon entering the packing house, the apples are floated in a long water bath before brushing and sorting begins.

The trend toward smaller dwarf and semi-dwarf trees means that less spray is needed to cover the tree canopies, and in some cases enables the grower to use drip lines instead. Whenever possible, growers spray near dawn when the air is still — this further limits chemical “drift.”

Consumers should always wash their fresh produce as a safeguard against mishandling between the time it leaves the farm and when it is purchased. Growers will continue to be vigilant in seeking effective, non-chemical treatments to combat the threats to their orchards. Consumers can help by being more accepting of minor blemishes to their fruit, the harmless patch of apple scab, the occasional spot or nick that typically keeps otherwise perfectly healthy fruit from the marketplace.

But as you will see from “Apple Growers Battle Pests with IPM,” our three-part video series, nearly every farmer is invested in producing healthy fruit in sustainable ways.

Part one addresses the first two of the five principles of IPM:

  • Prevent pest problems
  • Identify the pest

IPM, Part 2 covers:

  • Set an economic threshold
  • Monitor pest and damage

The series concludes with IPM, Part 3:

  • Use a combination of management tools

The three IPM programs are posted on the New England Apple Association website, newenglandapples.org, and on YouTube. Please forward the links to anyone who is interested in this important and fascinating topic.

Russell Steven Powell produced and directed the programs for the nonprofit New England Apple Association, and Associate Producer Bar Lois Weeks wrote the script. John Browne videographed, edited, and narrated the programs. Special thanks to John Rogers, Pete Rogers, and Greg Parzych of Rogers Orchards in Southington, Connecticut, Chuck Souther of Apple Hill Farm in Concord, New Hampshire, and IPM Field Scout Brian Farmer of Apple Leaf LLC, for sharing their knowledge and experiences.

The series was funded with grants from Farm Credit Northeast AgEnhancement and the New Hampshire Department of Agriculture, Markets & Food, and its Division of Pesticide Control.

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The view from Ricker Hill Orchards, Turner, Maine (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

The view from Ricker Hill Orchards, Turner, Maine (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

A GREAT USE for our fall bounty of New England apples is also among the easiest to make: applesauce. All it requires is a few minutes to wash and quarter some apples. You can use one variety or 20. If an apple is too tart or has lost a little of its firmness, toss it in: its flavor may blossom in applesauce.

Throw the apples in a big pot with 1-2 cups of liquid (water or fresh cider if you have it) to keep the apples from sticking to the bottom. On low to medium heat, cover and cook the apples until they are soft, stirring occasionally.

Either put the apples through a food mill or mash them with a fork. Add a little cinnamon or not. You are done.

It is that easy to make this naturally sweet treat. Applesauce can be enjoyed by itself or sprinkled with raisins, served over ice cream or pancakes, or stirred into oatmeal or yogurt. It freezes well and is a featured ingredient in many baked goods. Applesauce can be substituted for other liquids in recipes, from butter and shortening to water and eggs.

* * *

THIS FALL I find myself tasting many more apples than usual — and I normally taste a lot of apples. The reason for the increase is that I am working on A Field Guide To New England Apples, which will be published by Countryman Press next year. I am tasting and re-tasting dozens of apples to better describe them, fresh off the tree and a month or so into storage, and cooked, when possible.

My 2012 book America’s Apple features photographs by Bar Lois Weeks of 120 apples, and her photographs will illustrate the Field Guide’s detailed descriptions of 150 varieties currently grown and sold in New England. Add to this more than 100 rare heirlooms (including about 60 varieties preserved in an orchard at Tower Hill Botanic Garden in Boylston, Massachusetts), and I will have eaten or sampled several hundred apples by the end of my research.

Applesauce-making (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Applesauce-making (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Recently I spent several nights making sauce with some of these rare apples, mixed in with  contemporary varieties in my refrigerator. I used classic standards like Cortland, contemporary varieties like Creston, Honeycrisp, Shamrock, and Spencer, heirlooms including Arkansas Black, Cox’s Orange Pippin, and Gravenstein, and such rare apples as Crow’s Egg, Deacon Jones, and Peck’s Pleasant. The results made these batches of applesauce as delicious as they were unusual.

For the liquid, I used a jug of mulled cider left over from our booth at The Big E, which gave each batch a hint of cinnamon and other spices. I froze half of each batch and have been enjoying the rest on maple walnut ice cream or mixed with chopped dried apricots. It adds great flavor to this recipe for Apple Gingerbread, adapted from Cynthia and Jerome Rubin’s Apple Cookbook (1974, Emporium Publications).

The recipe is unusual in that the sauce is separate rather than mixed in with the batter. The nicely spiced gingerbread bakes in a bed of applesauce, which makes a nice topping when the cake is served.

The gingerbread is especially good served warm. The original recipe calls for whipped cream sprinkled with orange zest. I did not have either ingredient on hand but did not miss them, though it sounds delicious.

Apple Gingerbread

1/2 c butter

1/2 c warm water

1 c molasses

1-1/4 c whole wheat flour

1-1/4 c white flour

1 t baking soda

1 t ginger

1/2 t cinnamon

1/2 t salt

1/4 t cloves

1/4 t nutmeg

2-1/2 c applesauce

Preheat oven to 350°. Melt butter in large saucepan. Remove from heat, and add water and molasses. Sift together dry ingredients and add to liquid, beating until well blended.

Pour applesauce into an 8″ x 8″ pan. Spoon gingerbread over applesauce. Bake for about 35 minutes.

* * *

FOR MORE INFORMATION about New England apples, visit newenglandapples.org.

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Special fresh cider blends on display at Clarkdale Fruit Farm in Deerfield, Massachusetts, during 2011 CiderDays. (Russell Steven Powell photo)

Special fresh cider blends on display at Clarkdale Fruit Farm in Deerfield, Massachusetts, during 2011 CiderDays. (Russell Steven Powell photo)

CROWDS AS DIVERSE and far-flung as the apples they came to admire swarmed on Franklin County in western Massachusetts last weekend like honeybees to nectar. The event was the weekend-long extravaganza known as CiderDays, now in its 19th year.

As always, there were a host of orchard tours, workshops on cider-making, apple growing, and baking with apples, at places like Clarkdale Fruit Farm in Deerfield, and Pine Hill Orchards and West County Cider, both in Colrain. There were tastings of cider, fresh and hard, produced by mainstream companies, counterculture entrepreneurs, and backyard enthusiasts. There was plenty of food, including an apple pancake breakfast in Greenfield and a harvest supper in Shelburne.

Cider-makers large and small debated the merits of Cortlands, Winter Bananas, and Tremlett’s Bitters as they sampled unfiltered, fresh and fermented apple juice at the orchards, in the Shelburne Buckland Community Center, or on the sidewalks where they met. They came from around the country, these localvores and gourmets, the apple militia; an agricultural army celebrating the harvest, but ready to do battle to preserve, protect, and promote the apple, bottling, sipping, and trading its juice like liquid gold.

Franklin County is wide and CiderDays inclusive. Getting to all of the events is challenging and provides a logistical challenge, as it takes more than one hour to drive the 40-plus miles from the easternmost venue in New Salem, home of New Salem Preserves, to the town of Hawley along the county’s western edge, where Headwater Cider is located.

Two participating orchards in Ashfield, Bear Swamp and Brook Farm, are nearby Headwater Cider. Sunday I made these three orchards my destination. The foothills of the Berkshires are beautiful but remote, and these out-of-the-way farms are much smaller than orchards like Clarkdale and Pine Hill, with niche products and modest aims.

The cider mill at Bear Swamp Orchard in Ashfield, Massachusetts, is solar-powered. (Russell Steven Powell photo)

The cider mill at Bear Swamp Orchard in Ashfield, Massachusetts, is solar-powered. (Russell Steven Powell photo)

Bear Swamp Orchard, for example, grows apples organically on just a few acres. They make fresh and hard cider in a solar-powered mill, and an array of other apple products (including an outstanding cider donut).

They also make and sell maple syrup and firewood, grow grain and vegetables, and pasture sheep to supplement their apple income. They had sold out of fresh apples long before CiderDays. I drank a cup of fresh cider with my donut, and it was very good, but it was too early in the day for me to sample their hard cider.

Brook Farm Orchard, Ashfield, Massachusetts. (Russell Steven Powell photo)

Brook Farm Orchard, Ashfield, Massachusetts. (Russell Steven Powell photo)

Brook Farm Orchard is even smaller than Bear Swamp, with just 100 trees on a gentle hillside, including 30 varieties of apples, plus peaches, plums, Asian pears, and filberts. They sell their fruit at a local farmer’s market and Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) shares from the farm.

Among the varieties they displayed Sunday were heirlooms like Baldwin and Winesap, and newer varieties like Keepsake and Fireside, both developed at the University of Minnesota, making them good choices for the cold winters and shorter growing season of this hill town.

Fireside (also known as Connell Red) was introduced in 1943. A pretty, round apple mostly red, it had a good, sweet flavor but a tough skin, and not much juice. Keepsake (1978), another mostly red apple, is crispy, juicy, and aromatic, with a nice tangy flavor. Its biggest claim to fame, though, is that it is a parent of Honeycrisp, the biggest apple to hit the market in the past 25 years. Like Fireside, Keepsake keeps well in storage, and its flavor is said to improve over time.

A windmill towers above the trees and barn at Headwater Cider in Hawley, Massachusetts. (Russell Steven Powell photo)

A windmill towers above the trees and barn at Headwater Cider in Hawley, Massachusetts. (Russell Steven Powell photo)

Headwater Cider Company is the largest of the three orchards, with about 20 acres of apples, all cultivated for their properties in hard cider. Owner Peter Mitchell bought the orchard in 2005 from Apex Orchards, which decided it could no longer run the satellite farm profitably, nearly 20 miles from its main orchard in Shelburne Falls. Mitchell inherited Cortland, Empire, and McIntosh trees, to which he has been slowly adding (he is now up to 34 varieties).

Like many growers, Mitchell tried another career before he settled on apples. Mitchell earned his bachelor’s degree from nearby University of Massachusetts, where he rowed crew for all four years (he remains an avid boater). He went on to earn a master’s degree in English before switching to producing hard cider made from his own apples.

All three orchards welcomed good crowds during CiderDays, and visitors to Headwater Cider were treated to samples of their “New England Dry” and Ashton Bend” hard ciders, and refreshments like the apple cake below. The ciders were nice blends — not too sweet yet retaining plenty of complex apple flavor. The cake was so good we asked for the recipe.

“This is a very apple-y cake,” says Gerda Swedowsky, who baked it. “I use a mix of Cortland and Empire apples. The Cortlands are good because they hold their shape when cooked and the Empires add a nice sweet tangy taste.”

Gerda has had the recipe for “many, many years,” she says. “It is from a cookbook put together by a friend of my mother who was a wonderful cook and had lots of friends that were wonderful cooks as well. I am so pleased to share it.”

Several weeks ago we published the award-winning recipe for Mrs. Cheney’s Nobby Apple Cake. Joan Dybvig’s version is similar, but there are differences besides the silent “k” in “knobby.” For one, Joan spreads a solid layer of walnut pieces on top of the cake rather than mixing it in the batter.

Joan’s recipe does not specify an amount of walnuts, but Gerda’s version Sunday had more than the 1/4 cup used by Mrs. Cheney, and the nuts were excellent, contrasting nicely in flavor and texture with the cooked apples.

Joan Dybvig’s Knobby Apple Cake

1/2 c brown sugar

1/4 c white sugar

¼ c butter, softened

1 egg, beaten

1/2 c whole wheat flour

1/2 c white flour

1 t vanilla extract

1/2 t each: baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg

3 c diced apples  (coarse — 3/4” pieces)

Walnuts

Preheat oven to 350°.

Cream the butter and sugars. Add egg and stir.

Add dry ingredients and vanilla and mix to make a stiff batter.

Add apples, and pour in a well-greased 8×8 pan.

“I cover the top with walnuts that I lightly press into the batter,” says Gerda, “and then I finish with some cinnamon and sugar.”

Bake for 45 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean.

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Scott's Yankee Farmer, East Lyme, Connecticut (Russell Steven Powell photo)

Scott’s Yankee Farmer, East Lyme, Connecticut (Russell Steven Powell photo)

I HAVE COOKED with apples for many years and written about them almost as long. Still, it felt a little audacious for me to bring apple squares to a professional chef, Luca Paris, to share live on his radio show on WKBK in Keene, New Hampshire, last Thursday. The recipe is an old favorite, but I had not made it for some time. What if the squares were just average, or worse?

Like many recipes, the ingredients list a range of apples (in this case, four to six). While this accounts for different-sized fruit, I always use the higher number; the low end of the range strikes me as the bare minimum, if you are low on apples. Andrea Darrow of Green Mountain Orchards in Putney, Vermont, in her three-part video series on how to make an apple pie, says she likes to “pile them high” with fruit, and I feel the same. I used good-sized apples, two each of Cortland, Empire, and McIntosh (nearly any variety can be used in making this recipe).

The Empires I used were an even deeper red than this one, almost burgundy. (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

The Empires I used were an even deeper red than this one, almost burgundy. (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

I kept the skins on, for reasons practical (the nutrients are concentrated on or just beneath the apple’s surface) and aesthetic (color). The two Empires were a deep, deep red, almost burgundy, and they gave the squares a rich hue.

To avoid stringy threads of peel I cut the apples in small, irregular chunks from the outside in until I reached the core, rather than coring and slicing them. Placing the chunks in a bowl, I chopped the skins into even smaller pieces with the aid of a biscuit cutter.

There is very little spice in these squares, just a little cinnamon. This allows the full range of naturally sweet apple flavors to come through. The different varieties impart subtly different tastes and textures to the squares; too much sugar or spice can overpower them.

The original recipe, which came to me from the late Margaret Richardson of Brookfield, Massachusetts, called for cornflakes in the middle. The crisp, light cereal flakes soak up excess moisture, add flavor, and help the squares hold together better. I substituted multigrain flakes to make them a little healthier.

The crust does not have to be perfect as long as you manage to seal most of the edges. The dash of almond extract in the glaze makes a nice contrast to the apple flavor.

I sampled a square before I left for the studio, and it tasted fine. Still, there were no guarantees that Luca or his co-host, Dan Mitchell, would like them. Luca complimented me after the first one while we were waiting to go on the air, but he might have just been being polite.

Then Dan tried a square. Then they both had another one. By show’s end, Luca had eaten two more squares — four in all — and taken some home with him. That evening, he wrote in an email, “those squares were amazing!!!!!!!!!!!!!” On the strength of this endorsement, I thought it time to share the recipe.

The recipe is included in my book America’s Apple, with photographs by Bar Lois Weeks. America’s Apple can be ordered online in hardcover or as an ebook at Amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com.

— Russell Steven Powell

Peg’s Apple Squares

1 egg yolk

milk

2-1/2 c flour (use white whole-wheat for better health)

1/2 t salt

1 c butter (use half coconut oil for better health)

1 c multigrain or corn flakes

4-6 New England apples, cored and chopped

3/4 c sugar (use raw cane sugar for better health)

1 t cinnamon

Preheat oven to 375°. Beat egg yolk in measuring cup and add enough milk to make 2/3 cup liquid.

Mix flour and salt, and cut in butter with a pastry blender.

Mix wet and dry ingredients together until it forms a dough. Divide in half.

Roll out half the dough to fit into a 15-1/2” cookie sheet, pressing it into bottom and sides. Sprinkle with corn flakes. Top with apples.

Combine sugar and cinnamon and sprinkle over apples.

Roll out remaining dough and place on top of apples. Seal edges. Cut holes in dough to let steam escape.

Bake for 50-60 minutes, until crust is brown and apples are soft.

Glaze (omit for better health):

1/2 c confectioners’ sugar

1-2 T milk

almond extract

Mix with a few drops of almond extract. Drizzle over warm squares.

***

FEBRUARY IS TIME for pruning in New England’s apple orchards. See how it is done in this two-part video series starring Mo Tougas of Tougas Family Farm in Northborough, Massachusetts:

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Solar panels at Green Mountain Orchards in Putney, Vermont, sit high in a field behind the retail barn. (Russell Steven Powell photo)

Solar panels at Green Mountain Orchards in Putney, Vermont, sit high in a field behind the retail barn. (Russell Steven Powell photo)

NEW ENGLAND’S APPLE ORCHARDS are the site of more and more solar and wind installations and other renewable energy systems. It is a huge investment, but seems like a good match, as most orchards have both ample opportunity (due to their wide expanses of open land) and need (energy is one of the farm’s major expenses). Many of the installations were partially funded with state and federal grants.

New Salem Preserves in New Salem, Massachusetts (Russell Steven Powell photo)

New Salem Preserves in New Salem, Massachusetts (Russell Steven Powell photo)

Apex Orchards, Shelburne Falls, Massachusetts (Russell Steven Powell photo)

Apex Orchards, Shelburne Falls, Massachusetts (Russell Steven Powell photo)

While no one is saying that slick banks of black solar panels or sleek, industrial windmills make great art, in most cases they are artfully placed on land unsuitable for cultivation, hidden from view, or both. These photographs are just a sample of some of the installations in the region.

Smolak Farms, North Andover, Massachusetts (Russell Steven Powell photo)

Smolak Farms, North Andover, Massachusetts (Russell Steven Powell photo)

Red Apple Farm, Phillipston, Massachusetts (Russell Steven Powell photo)

Red Apple Farm, Phillipston, Massachusetts (Russell Steven Powell photo)

Carlson Orchards, Harvard, Massachusetts (Russell Steven Powell photo)

Carlson Orchards, Harvard, Massachusetts (Russell Steven Powell photo)

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