“Eleven million apple trees in Virginia produce fine fruit for the markets of the world with plenty of culls for canneries.” From the Library of Virginia’s 1939 World’s Fair Photograph Collection.
When I close my eyes, I see apples. When I step out my back door, I smell apples. When I look out my front door and windows, I see apples clinging to the trees and lying on the ground. For several weeks as I lie in bed at night I hear them falling, landing with a hollow thud.
We recently moved to five acres in Penrose. The half-acre, wedge-shaped orchard has thirty mature trees, twenty-five of them are apple and twenty of those are loaded with fruit.
Everyone I talk to, I ask if they’d like some apples. I cut and core apples for sauce, crisp, and pies. I freeze apples, I juice apples, but mostly I pick up and sort apples.
Initially I had three grades; human consumption, horse or deer consumption, and compost. Now that the neighbors’ horses are “appled out” and we aren’t going to Cedar Heights to feed the deer, I only have 2 grades; consumption and compost. Wormholes, bird pecks, squirrel bites, bad bruises or sunburn doom an apple to compost.
If I pick up the apples that fall daily, it takes two hours; if I miss a day, it takes four hours. I can empathize with migrant workers and they do this all day every day, with no end in sight. My livelihood doesn’t depend on my speed, however my sanity does, so I try to work as quickly as possible.
The apples are various sizes. I can barely pick up two of the largest ones in one hand, but I can handle six of the smallest. The taste varies too, sweet to puckery. Some have thin skins and other thick, some have small dark hard seeds and others pale soft ones. The colors vary greatly: deep crimson, wine purple, rose to pale green and light yellow.
As I’m picking up apples, I am sampling the fruits from the trees, determining my favorites. One tree seems to have two different types of apples, on one side, the apples are considerably smaller. Maybe it is the amount of sunlight since I don’t see a graft line on the trunk where the branches connect.
One tree is the favorite of the birds. I don’t know if that’s because of its placement in the orchard (it is shaded by a large elm) or the quality of the apples. There are no apples left on that tree. I didn’t like those apples too much, I thought they were mushy.
I had to get a handle on all these apples. The boxes were filling up the garage and I’d contacted everyone I could think of that might like apples. I called Care and Share to see if they were interested in apple donations. The guy I talked to was thrilled. “We’ll take all you can bring us,” he said. I felt such relief. I’m composting apples that I’d be using in a lean year and feeling guilty about it, so now I can feel good about my apple picking efforts. So far, we’ve taken three loads of apples to C&S – about 1,000 lbs.
A few weeks ago when one neighbor told me that I should spray my apple trees, I never dreamed that I’d have this many. Of course, I told him no. I want my apples to be organic and safe. It’s nice to have plenty to share with the birds, squirrels, rabbits and of course with the hungry people of Colorado Springs.
I figure that I still have a few more weeks of apple-ing before all the trees are bare. The strange thing is that I still love apples. I eat stewed apples everyday for breakfast and have several while I’m working in the orchard. When I get thirsty and come into the house for something to drink, you guessed it – I have apple juice.
I’ll enjoy the fruits of this summer all winter and to encourage next year’s crop perhaps I’ll follow the tradition that Thoreau writes of in his essay, “Wild Apples.”
“. . . on Christmas eve . . . they salute the apple-trees with much ceremony, in order to make them bear well the next season . . . This salutation consists in ‘throwing some of the cider about the roots of the tree, placing, bits of toasts on the branches,’ and then, ‘encircling one, of the best bearing trees in the orchard, they drink the following toast three several times: —
‘Here’s to thee, old apple-tree,
Whence thou mayst bud, and whence thou mayst, blow,
And whence thou mayst bear apples enow!
Bushel, bushel, sacks-full!
And my pockets full, too! Hurra!’ ”
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Pat Cook Gulya enjoys Colorado living; biking, hiking, gardening and attempting to capture such experiences through words. She teaches and practices yoga and now has the luxury of living rather than worrying about making a living. She grows a variety of plants in her urban yard, and, thanks to Colorado’s legalization of marijuana, can now cultivate a favorite plant. Her work has been aired on NPR affiliate, KRCC’s, “Western Skies” and published in Greenwoman Magazine, Senior Beacon, Springs Magazine, and The Gazette.