For me, apple trees bring back childhood memories of a Macintosh apple tree that sat on the property line between our place and our neighbours’. The girl next door and I climbed that tree, we played in that tree and we daydreamed in that tree.
It was the neighbours’ tree however, and the neighbour took care of it, so none of that maintenance work shows up on my CV of my life experience.
Was I prepared for fruit tree ownership in adulthood?
That first season after the move, neither of the trees on our property bore any significant amount of fruit. We ran through a few scenarios to explain the reasons why: Could it be the trees’ age? Could it be the drought that put the trees in survival mode? Perhaps the trees were biennuals.
Either way, I count my blessings retroactively that the trees didn’t create any additional work for us given how busy we were with other urgent home maintenance projects while unpacking and juggling busy careers.
This spring, the apple trees graced us with beautiful blossoms and the greatest hope that we might see some fruit in the coming months.
In early June, the tree with the yellow transparent apples started dropping the first of its teeny tiny fruit. To me, this was a sign that the tree was well on its way. At that point, the apples were too small for any functional purposes so I just picked them up and put them in the yard waste bags.
But every time I looked up and saw just exactly how many apples were in the tree waiting to reach fruition, I wasn’t sure whether I should be happy or afraid. It was a massive apple tree.
Either way, I had TV-inspired visions of leisurely mornings, pulling out the stepladder, picking a few choice pieces of fruit for that day and then spending time in the kitchen making glorious baked goods.
The Pollyanna in me had a very pretty sweet view of what life with an apple tree could be.
That is… until a couple of weeks later when the apples started to mature, and seemingly all at the same time. Some days, they dropped at a rapid pace like a violent hailstorm of apples. It was in that moment that I knew how Henny Penny felt.
The mildest breeze or drizzle was enough to shake apples from the tree. Every time I saw a squirrel or a chipmunk scurrying through the tree I would mutter sarcastically, “Thanks guys,” as their hopping from branch to branch only seemed to accelerate the inevitable.
Just the same, whenever I had a moment to tend to the tree, it felt like an Easter egg hunt, evaluating the day’s apples and sorting them into three categories:
Grade A were the ones I picked from the tree myself, in pristine condition.
Grade B were the recent windfall apples (just fell off the tree, in good condition, no signs of bugs, perfectly usable).
Grade C apples were the leftovers, not really fit for human consumption, too badly bruised or already occupied by bugs or worms.
Given the pace at which the apples were falling, I had to stick to a daily routine or apple picking, sorting and distribution. Even though I was recently retired and had some time to spare, what started to create stress and pressure for me was the rush to pick apples before they fell (to the extent possible, for the ones within reach) and to rescue the fallen ones before bugs got into them. It was like living with tight deadlines all over again.
The Grade C apples were becoming a concern as they were getting bigger, accumulating faster and in larger quantities than our weekly garbage pickup limit would afford us.
I quickly realized that I couldn’t store them in paper yard waste bags as they quickly turned to mush and soaked the bags, rendering them unusable. One disaster on garbage day was enough to not make that mistake again. Large plastic bags were out of the question as they required Olympic weightlifters to carry them. On top of that, the accumulating apples were attracting flies and wasps from seemingly all over the county.
I devised a storage method that seemed to strike the right balance, and then twice per week I would transfer them to paper yard waste bags immediately before running them to the land fill (just 10 minutes away) directly into the yard waste section. This seemed to prevent spills or infestations in my car, and helped maintain the cleanliness of our property. I felt very satisfied after a run to the dump, but I still felt a sense of Catholic guilt about disposing of apples in this manner.
I made a resolution that when I had a few minutes to take a breath, I would do some research online to see if the rejected apples might better serve a greater purpose. With all the farms around, there had to be a solution.
But despite my best efforts, there were some mornings that felt like I was fighting a losing battle, having completed the apple pick up and clean up, only to have gentle breeze stir things up and have apples raining down all around me. Some mornings I kept going, others I just mumbled a few choice swear words in defeat and walked away as my legs and glutes burned from the squatting.
By that point, the apples were getting heavy enough that they were falling with a resounding thud. The very ripe ones landed hard, and instantly turned to apple sauce upon impact. The morning apple clean up now required vinyl gloves.
I noticed that the bottom branches were emptying out but the higher branches were still quite full of apples. I was clearly limited by the height of my stepladder. That was when I turned into Wile E. Coyote and tried to develop some kind of Rube Goldberg system to collect the ones on the higher branches.
In one experiment, I tried using lawn chairs, opening them up to their full length and shaking branches with a rake, in the hope of catching the apples in the chairs. What I didn’t expect was that the chairs ended up acting like trampolines instead and the apples bounced off and onto the ground with even more force. More apple sauce to clean up!
Then I thought back to the large canvas drop cloths I used for painting. I wondered if they might help soften the landing. A folded drop cloth created two layers of loose canvas which worked pretty well. A nudge of the higher branches with a heavy duty garage broom helped release more apples. The unexpected benefit was that I could then hold up the drop cloth by two corners and roll them into a pile for sorting. Unfortunately, some apples landed in a messy splat, leaving a sticky mess, but the drop cloth could be easily hosed down and dried on our fence for use on another day.
But with the steady collection of apples, we couldn’t give them away fast enough. Everyone’s hands were cramping from making apple sauce… and this was just our first tree!
The apple tree was stressing me out. I didn’t want to look a gift horse (or in this case, free apples) in the mouth, but at the same time, I was clearly paying for it in time and effort trying to keep up, to the detriment of other work around the house and garden.
It seemed like my whole world suddenly revolved around apples. My days consisted of either picking apples, sorting apples, cleaning up apples, delivering them, disposing of them or working in the kitchen to make use of them.
I am sorry to say that the despite the blessing of an amazing bounty, it was turning into apple hell. As much as I was initially so optimistic and hopeful, this was turning into a “careful what you wish for” situation.
I realized that this was a temporary situation. The apples would eventually run their course and the tree would eventually run out. But the intensity of work needed to keep up was seeping into my subconscious as I was even dreaming about peeling apples.
Despite seeing the apple tree gradually emptying out, it just couldn’t happen fast enough at this point. I anxiously awaited for some sign of light at the end of the tunnel to get back to some sort of “normal” not involving apples.
Fortunately, solutions to the challenges of maintaining this big apple tree were just around the corner.
Check out next week’s blog for the continuation of this story in “My First Apple Tree (Part 2)”
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