In the winter of 2018, the previous owners of our property planted 12 heritage apple trees in a valley down the hill from our cabin complex.

Very early on, I worked out which trees were what and developed a little map of the area. Over the time we’ve been here, we’ve added a further 8 trees, meaning today I’m using the fourth version of this image.

Fruit trees in the orchard as at September 2022

We’re still waiting to see fruit off most of the trees, but some have already begun to come ‘online’.

Last year we got 2kg of Cox’s Orange Pippin apples off one tree. This year we were set to get a larger harvest off the tree that fruited last season; and smaller harvests from the second Orange Pippin tree, and the Calville Blanc d’Hiver.

Survivor

Last year we lost quite a few apples to a storm in late February. This year, the apples had managed to stay on the tree throughout Cyclone Gabrielle. They’d survived birds, bugs, and storm.

The cows had managed to hop the fence a couple of times. They tasted the trees, but were yet to sample the apples.

A munted granny smith apple tree

Somehow we managed to reach harvest without really losing much. I took quite a few off as I thinned the tree, but we were still set to pull off more than enough this year to keep us happy.

Timing

A couple of years ago, Dad learned we were growing Cox’s Orange Pippin and mentioned they were his favourite. They’re a heritage apple. It’s not impossible to buy them at the right time of year, but you’re unlikely to bump into them at your local New World.

Then last year I learned that they are due to be harvested just a couple of weeks before Dad’s birthday. This is pretty handy because it’s formed an association in my brain: when I start worrying about what to get my father for his birthday, it’s time to go harvest his favourite apples and send him a box of those.

So I knew this week was ‘about time’. I wandered down to the orchard with a knife and some bags. After chasing away an opportunistic cow, I used the knife to check a bug-eaten apple: the seeds were brown.

The apples were ready.

A simple harvest

As I lugged 5kg of fruit up the hill in shopping bags, I realised we’d probably need to use a quad and trailer for this task in future years. Perhaps even next year.

But this year was pretty simple. I pulled off all the Cox’s Orange Pippin apples from both trees and placed them in a bag. Then I put the Calville’s in a separate bag.

The trees are still pretty small so I didn’t need a ladder. I’m tall enough to just reach them all. I did manage to miss 8 of them on my first pass, but I’m pretty sure I got them all before I left.

Then I lugged them all up the hill to see what we had.

Weighing it up

After getting them back up the hill, I weighed the harvest. We had 3.7kg of the Cox’s Orange and 1.2kg of the Calville Blanc d’Hiver.

I found our best apple in each variety and set them aside for a proper taste-test.

Then I found the 10 of the best Cox’s Orange Pippin apples – exactly 1 kilo of them – and put them aside to send to Dad next week.

Then I pulled out all the damaged apples. The Calville apples in particular were quite spotty and had a bit of damage. This was by far the biggest pile, and they were destined to be turned into stewed apples.

The rest went into the fridge for us to eat over the next month or so.

Tasty trees

Our apples came from Mara Whenua Apples in Kaitaia. They describe Cox’s Orange Pippin as a “juicy, crisp dessert apple”. That’s pretty accurate. It’s similar in flavour to a Braeburn – which happen to be one of my favourite apples, so I quite like the Cox’s Orange Pippin myself.

The Calville Blanc d’Hiver is described as having an “intense rich, sweet / sharp flavour”. Perhaps they needed to be on the tree longer – I got the ‘sharp’, but I don’t know if I’d call it ‘intense rich, sweet’. They are tasty though.

Apple crumble with French vanilla ice cream.

As the week has progressed, we’ve eaten apple crumble and apple turnovers. There’s a container of apple pulp in the freezer destined to become a pie sometime in the future.

And a large bag of apple peel and cores has been frozen for making apple cider vinegar and liquid pectin – projects for another day.

Future plans

The last couple of years I’ve been pretty good about pruning and spraying our trees. I feel like it’s paying off as they begin to produce fruit. So I’ll continue with that work this year.

Fruit trees in the orchard - still very small, but starting to produce.

But I think we can do better than we have so far. This winter I’ve got a couple of plans for the area.

Firstly, I’m going to extend the comfrey that grows under some of our trees to all of our trees. We accidentally eradicated it from some when we mulched very thickly with cardboard a few years ago, but it should be simple enough to transplant back again.

Then I’m going to look at increasing the number of flowers that grow there – particularly those that bloom in late winter and early spring when the fruit trees are in bloom. I think because it’s further away from the main compound, bees don’t get down there as much.

Without the bees, we get fewer fruit. So my thought is if I increase the number of flowers down there, I should also be increasing the amount of fruit. Or at least, that’s the theory.

I’m a bit scared – even a really modest 4kg harvest off each of 20 trees is 80kg. That’s going to be a lot of fruit processing in the future.

But I’m also excited. It’s great to see these trees begin to produce. I’m looking forward to the challenges and rewards they’ll bring.

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