Apples

In 2009 we planted the espalier orchard in what we then called the Liberty Garden. We researched apple varieties and began with a very long ‘Wish List’ that had to be pared down to 14 whips. Whips are small, single stemmed, usually year old trees, that are grafted onto a specific rootstock. (If they have branches, they’re called feathered). In our case, we wanted a dwarf or semi-dwarf rootstock as the trees were to be trained on wire against a fence, as espalier, with the intention of creating a decorative, six or seven foot high, living fence, as the trees matured. When we bought the property, we acquired a tiny, disorganized, and long neglected ‘orchard’ of six apple trees, three pear trees, a peach tree and a cherry tree. The apple trees were in a terrible state, uncared for, unpruned and suffering from Cedar Apple Rust, a disease that afflicts both cedars and apples but only shows deleterious effects on the fruit trees.
At the time, the roadside frontage of the property was lined with a long row of 12 very tall (30’ high or so) eastern white cedar trees. These had clearly been planted to create a privacy screen but, as they matured, and their branches rose to six and eight feet from the ground, that purpose had ceased to function. They were neither beautiful nor aesthetically suitable but we hesitated to cut them down simply because they were mature trees and seemed to have attained some sort of merit by that fact alone. Yes, they were hosting and perpetuating an unsightly disease that manifest itself in our apple trees with rust spotted leaves, shriveled fruit and premature defoliation, but we couldn’t bring ourselves to cut them down.
Cedar wood is a traditional material used for fenceposts as it is amazingly resistant to rot and decay. When we created a rustic fence for the Potager, we crafted it with what was on hand, hardwood saplings, knowing full well that it would last only a couple or few years. Well, to make a long story short, in 2011, the planets aligned and guided our chain saw firmly into the trunks of those emminant cedars, an event that coincided with the rapidly deteriorating Potager fence and the discovery that Cedar Apple Rust can kill young apple trees. It was liberating. The cedars were cut up and dressed into appropriate lengths and configurations for future fenceposts and the grateful apple trees responded with tremendous blossoming, lush, green growth and persistent foliage, and a bumper crop of fruit.
Two nights ago I made an apple pie and served it to a very fussy ‘foodie’. He raved about it, and as he headed into the rapture, asking for my secrets, I guided him over to the recycling bin, pulled out the packaging for the IGA brand prepared Pie Crusts and said “its all about the apples”. Which were they? Who knows? My guess is that they  are Rhode Island Greenings, but the identity of that particular tree, with the tart, crisp, yellowy-greenish, dry apples, (the ones I give as treats to the ducks) will remain a mystery in the mists of time.